Why you need a private email service

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Private email is not just about blocking prying eyes or avoiding creepy online ads. Privacy is a basic human right that you need to protect yourself and ultimately defend your freedom, whoever you are, wherever you live.

Your personal email is part of your digital identity and contains intimate details about all aspects of your life. Here we explain why you need a private email service and what to look for in a provider to protect your privacy.

What is private email?
Is Gmail private?
Why you need private email
Control your personal data
Beat data breaches
Avoid spam, phishing, and malware
Secure your business
Block government surveillance
Say what you want, be who you want
Protect your freedom, defend democracy
Key features of a private email provider
Protect yourself with the best private email

What is private email?

Private email services use encryption and other advanced security measures to ensure that only you and the recipients of your messages see them. Send a secure message to a friend, and no one but them can read it.

Being private online is different from being anonymous, which means hiding your identity. For example, if you send your doctor a private email, they know who you are.

Privacy also differs from security, though they’re two sides of the same coin. A common “free” email service like Gmail may be secure enough for most people. It may be difficult to hack your account if you use strong passwords and two-factor authentication. But that doesn’t make it private.

Is Gmail private?

Gmail isn’t private because it collects vast amounts of information about you to support Google’s business model — surveillance-based advertising. Like other Google services, Gmail collects your personal data in various ways. 

First, it may directly access your emails. Although Google stopped scanning emails to serve personalized ads in 2017, Gmail was caught giving third-party developers access to users’ data a year later. And Gmail still scans emails to enable smart features by default, though you can switch this off.

Second, Google monitors just about every way you interact with your Gmail account, such as who you write to, the dates and times of your emails, and what’s in them. Take a look at Gmail’s privacy label in Apple’s App Store to see what data Google collects:

Gmail privacy label from Apple's App Store

Like Gmail, other “free” services like Outlook and Yahoo Mail also collect a considerable amount of personal data, as shown by the Outlook and Yahoo Mail App Store privacy labels.

Outlook and Yahoo Mail privacy labels from Apple's App Store

And questions remain about how the big email providers cooperate with governments. For example, Yahoo! was once caught secretly monitoring emails for the National Security Agency (NSA) and FBI.

Overall, the old adage “If the service is free, you’re the product” usually applies. If your email is free from one of the big providers, chances are you’re giving up some personal data and privacy.

Why you need private email

Signing up for a private email account is one way you can take back control of your data and protect yourself online.

Control your personal data

With a private email account, you own your personal information, not Big Tech companies.

That’s important not only to stop Big Tech tracking you across the internet. Big data personal profiling can also seriously impact your life prospects and increase societal inequalities, as Cathy O’Neil shows in “Weapons of Math Destruction”.

Beat data breaches

Most modern big email providers, like Gmail and Outlook, use TLS encryption to protect your emails in transit. But the provider retains the encryption key so that they can access your messages. 

As the hacker attacks on Yahoo! and the 2021 Microsoft Exchange Server data breach have shown, your personal data remains vulnerable.

The best private email services use end-to-end encryption, protecting your data at all times — in transit and stored on the server. Your emails can’t be read by your provider, hackers, or anyone else you don’t authorize.

Avoid spam, phishing, and malware

While most big email providers have measures to combat spam and phishing, private email providers may offer enhanced protection.

For example, our Proton Mail uses multiple layers of security to protect your data, including advanced measures to block phishing, a major source of malware.

Secure your business

If you run a business, you need to guard against business email compromise, a growing threat that has cost businesses over $40 billion in recent years. 

The best secure business email providers offer multiple features to counter phishing and other methods of attack. And if your business network is ever breached, our zero-access encryption should ensure your confidential data remains secure.

Block government surveillance

The best private email providers protect you against blanket surveillance by government agencies like the NSA or GCHQ, its British counterpart.

Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013 inspired Big Tech companies to radically improve user privacy. Yet questions remain about whether they still build “back doors” into their products to give security services access.

That’s one reason why we built Proton Mail, as Proton CTO Bart Butler explains here:

Say what you want, be who you want

A private email account allows you to be yourself online. “When people know they are being watched and that whatever they do can have bad consequences for them, they tend to self-censor,” writes Carissa Véliz in “Privacy is Power”.

With private email, you can feel free to say and be who you want without fearing how Big Tech data collection may profile you. You can also share whatever intimate and private details you like with who you like — a friend, your doctor, your mom, or a lover — like a sealed letter.

Protect your freedom, defend democracy

Private email helps protect not only your personal freedom but also democracy itself. 

Data-driven microtargeting is already being deployed against voters, as Neil Richards observed in “Why Privacy Matters”. That means trying to change your behavior based on what the campaign knows about you, as we saw in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The more you control your data, the less others can manipulate you — what Bruce Schneier dubbed surveillance-based manipulation. And the less data you share, the less you’ll fuel filter bubbles that can spread disinformation and undermine democracy.

Key features of a private email provider

If you want a genuinely private email service to take back control of your personal data, here are the main features to look out for:

  • Strong encryption everywhere: A private email service should ensure your emails (including attachments) are encrypted at all times. Proton Mail uses end-to-end and zero-access encryption, so only you and those you authorize have the key to access your emails.
  • No ads or tracking: An email service can’t be private as long as it’s funded by surveillance-based advertising. Choose a service whose funding is independent and transparent.
  • Advanced security features: Your provider should offer two-factor authentication (2FA), spam filters, and anti-phishing controls as a minimum. Check out Proton Mail’s additional security features.
  • Encrypted emails to anyone: Since most people haven’t switched to private email yet, it’s important to be able to send secure emails to any email account. With Proton Mail, for example, you can use Password-protected Emails or PGP to send end-to-end encrypted messages to anyone.
  • Open source and transparent: The best private email providers are open source, which means anyone can verify that they’re secure. Proton Mail apps are both open source and independently audited
  • Secure company location: It’s important to choose a provider based in a privacy-friendly jurisdiction. That’s why Proton Mail is based in Switzerland, which has some of the strictest privacy laws in the world.

Protect yourself with the best private email

Signing up for a private email account is one step you can take to back control of your data and defend your privacy and freedom.

At Proton, we don’t violate your privacy to target you with ads. We don’t collect your personal data, as the Proton Mail App Store privacy label clearly shows.

Proton Mail's privacy label from Apple's App Store

At Proton, our vision is to provide privacy and security for everyone, everywhere. That’s why we offer Proton Mail free, so join us — get a free private email account.

All our funding comes from paying members of the Proton community, not from exploiting your personal data. If you’d like to support our vision, sign up for a paid plan. Together, we can build a better internet where privacy is the default.

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