Discover 5 email services that respect your privacy

· 8 min read
Discover 5 email services that respect your privacy

Outlook (formerly Hotmail) and Gmail are the most popular email services in the world and are owned by Microsoft and Google respectively, a circumstance that makes many doubt the privacy they offer.

It is important to differentiate between security and privacy, because obviously Outlook and Gmail are secure services. However, it is known that at least Google tracks its users through various services, including email, and although it is assumed that there are options to limit the actions that the corporation can take around the data collected, one can never be 100% sure because we are talking about a proprietary, centralized infrastructure that no one can audit except the company itself and authorized persons (natural or legal).

The alleged lack of transparency of services such as Gmail and Outlook suggests that Google and Microsoft are actively collaborating with the intelligence services of various Western countries and their allies, starting, of course, with the controversial US NSA, an agency that had to take certain restrictive measures and be limited by law after the scandals uncovered by Edward Snowden. I'm sure the NSA is still spying just as well today, but its activities are now supposed to be somewhat more targeted and less indiscriminate.

Finally, the great popularity enjoyed by Gmail and Outlook in the West makes their users prime targets for spam and thus for phishing and other malicious techniques, which are employed for things ranging from encryption of local files via ransomware to massive theft of user data or money.

As we've already said, Gmail and Outlook are secure, but it never hurts to go beyond the comfortable to explore options that offer, above all, more real privacy, so we're going to mention five email services that put security (and thus privacy) at the center. We would like to warn you that some of the options offer a limited free experience or are paid, which is logical if we take into account that this is necessary if they are to be independent and properly maintained.

ProtonMail

We start with the most popular choice among secure email services: ProtonMail. It is of Swiss origin and its development was initiated by a team of scientists working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN.

ProtonMail has approximately one million active users, employs end-to-end encryption with AES, RSA and OpenPGP, supports two-step authentication, custom domains, self-destructing messages and its official clients are open source. It also has calendar and VPN services.

Unlike Gmail, it does not track users' IP, but it is important to take into consideration that it will collect and gather data if legally required to do so by the Swiss authorities, although the Swiss country has quite strict privacy legislation.

The user can use ProtonMail through the web interface or via the official apps available for Android and iOS. As for the plans it makes available the following:

  • The free one only offers up to 500 megabytes of storage, 150 messages per day and limited support.

  • Plus, which costs 4 euros per month and offers 5GB of storage.

  • Visionary costs 24 euros per month and offers 20GB of storage.

  • For companies, there is the Professional plan, priced at 6.25 euros per user.

Mailbox

And we continue with another well-known name in the segment: Mailbox. This service is based in Germany, so it is under the direct jurisdiction of the European Union and therefore under the GDPR, the EU regulation on privacy in communications that was so much talked about a few years ago.

Mailbox makes private email available with easy-to-use PGP encryption through its integrated interface or through plugins such as Mailvelope, and all services provided by the company require mandatory SSL/TLS encryption. In addition, it employs perfect forward secrecy algorithms, which should reinforce the privacy it offers. Other details to note are that it removes from all outgoing mail any metadata about the web browser or email client, as well as public or private IP addresses of the user's host, and it has no mobile apps.

So far, nothing particularly revolutionary compared to the previous options, but possibly some people will appreciate the fact that Mailbox runs 100% on green energy. As for its plans, it has the following:

  • Light, which costs 1 euro per month per user and offers 2GB of email storage, three aliases, calendar and contact list.

  • Standard, on the other hand, is more attractive, offering 10GB of email storage, 5GB of cloud storage, 25 mailbox.org aliases, 50 @eigeneDomains aliases, online office suite and secure video conferencing for 3 euros per month.

  • Premium has 25GB mail storage, 50GB cloud storage, 25 mailbox.org aliases, 250 @eigeneDomains aliases, online office suite, secure video conferencing and telephone support (we assume in German and English) for 9 euros per month.

Tutanota

And another service based in Germany, and therefore falling under EU law in general and the direct application of the GDPR in particular.

Tutanota is an email service widely used by journalists and human rights activists because of its ability to encrypt communications. But it encrypts not only sent and received emails, but the entire inbox, so only the addresses of senders and recipients are exposed.

Among its privacy features, it offers two-step authentication and both symmetric and asymmetric end-to-end encryption for all emails, even those sent to external recipients.

At the interface level we are possibly facing the most complete option due to the fact that it provides applications for Linux, Windows, macOS, iOS and Android, in addition to making available a web interface. The source code of the applications is published under the GPLv3 license, so it is free hardline software. The plans for private use, leaving aside those available for businesses are as follows:

  • Free for a single user with 1GB of storage, a single Tutanota domain, narrow search and access to the calendar service.

  • Premium, which costs 12 euros per year or 1.20 euros per month, offers 1GB of storage, a custom domain, unbounded search, multiple calendars, 5 aliases, mailbox controls, email support and the ability to add a user for 1 euro.

  • Teams, which for 48 euros per year or 4.80 euros per month provides 10GB of storage, a custom domain, unbounded search, multiple calendars, 5 aliases, mailbox controls, e-mail support, calendar sharing and the ability to add a user for 2.40 euros.

Mailfence

Mailfence is an industry veteran based in Belgium, a member country of the European Union. As we have already said several times, this results in the direct application of the GDPR.

Mailfence is a privacy-first email service. It offers end-to-end encryption using OpenPGP and provides symmetric password encryption, opening the door for the sender and recipient to agree on a password to decrypt emails. It also makes available custom domains, two-step authentication and, according to information posted on the website, does not track users.

However, it doesn't have much in terms of interface compared to the other options mentioned in this post because it is only possible to use it via the web or, by checking out first, via the IMAP and SMTP protocols. In other words, it does not have any apps for now, not even for Android and iOS. The following plans are available:

  • The user can start using the free plan, which offers encryption, email support, 500MB of email storage and 500MB of document storage.

  • Entry offers for 2.50 euros per month 5GB of email storage, 10 aliases, 12GB for documents, email and phone support, user management, personalized email domain, DKIM, SPF, DMARC and support for POP, IMAP, SMTP, iOS, Android and ActiveSync.

  • Pro, which for 7.50 euros per month upgrades the Entry plan with 20GB for emails, 50 aliases and 24GB for documents, while the Ultra plan, for 25 euros per month, offers 50GB for emails, 100 aliases and 70GB for documents.

Librem Mail

Linux users may be familiar with Purism, the non-profit company that sells privacy-oriented devices such as mini-PCs, laptops and smartphones running Linux-libre. Apart from hardware, it also offers a suite of services covering mail (Librem Mail), chat (Librem Chat), social networking (Librem Social) and VPN (Librem Tunnel).

In this post we will focus on Librem Mail, the email service, which employs state-of-the-art end-to-end encryption standards through components such as OpenPGP. In its favor it has that it is decentralized and fully Open Source, so source code is available and can be forked and audited independently and without compromise by anyone who wants. As interfaces it has the web, Android application and can be used through third-party applications, although the latter option may have some drawbacks.

Librem Mail is that it is paid, since the free package of the Purism suite of services only covers the chat and social network. The user will have to pay a minimum of $7.99 per month and the following plans are available:

  • Complete bundle, which is priced at $7.99 per month or $71.91 per year and offers email, chat, social networking and VPN.

  • Five complete bundles, which is the family pack for $14.99 per month or $134.91 per year.

Conclusion

Unfortunately we live in a world eaten up by convenience, so Gmail and Outlook/Hotmail have it very easy to continue to maintain their dominant positions through Android and Windows respectively (not counting other sites and services owned by Google and Microsoft).

It is paradoxical to see that, at a time when more privacy scandals are being uncovered, the less privacy matters to the general public, more so seeing that Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram continue to maintain exorbitant levels of popularity despite the grotesque scandals uncovered around the matrix.

Despite the bleak outlook ahead, we must not desist from continuing to show that there are other ways of understanding and using the Internet, although privacy itself is a war that was lost in the 90s of the last century. Seeing how the Internet is set up, at best we can aspire to put a certain brake on the abuses perpetrated by large corporations, and it is of little use to blame the users of that time, because no one imagined where we were heading, not only as computer users, but also as a society.

Private e-mail services are one of the spearheads of that Internet that is worth fighting for, although there are many other issues that can be complex to address.