How Google dropped the ball with Gmail privacy issues
Google’s Gmail service is one of the most popular email providers in the world, with over 1 billion account holders at the most recent count. So it would be a big deal if their email accounts were shot through with privacy vulnerabilities and backdoors for surveillance, right?
Well, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, that’s exactly what has happened. While Gmail was once a pretty well-trusted place to keep your correspondence, a host of issues have dented that reputation, and no-one who is serious about their online privacy should rely on their service to handle sensitive communications. This article looks in a bit more depth at the problems involved, and offers 5 alternatives to Gmail that do take your privacy seriously.
What happened to “Don’t Be Evil”? How Google abandoned email privacy
Once upon a time, Google was the darlings of the online world. Their fresh new search engine was rising to dominate over stale, inefficient competitors. And their auxiliary apps offered plenty of innovations for personal and business use.
But at some stage, innovation slipped over into intrusion. In 2017, we learned that Google had been routinely scanning personal emails to use as raw data for targeted advertising. That exposure led to an apology, and Google supposedly changed their behavior.
But now, the situation has returned with a vengeance. As the WSJ explains, third-party developers which use Gmail have been given the ability to access the email accounts of Gmail members, as long as they bury their activities in T&Cs.
Google has been complicit in all of this, allowing users to be duped, and exercising zero oversight over rogue app developers. This situation has enabled developers of potentially useful apps to partner with email marketers to monetize information held in private emails.
And that’s just the material that’s come to light. Usually, in cases like this, there’s more below the surface. To some people, it’s enough to make them doubt Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) commitment to online ethics.
Why these app intrusions matter for email protection
Some other people might shrug their shoulders and argue that it’s the rules of the online game. These days, marketers need to access as much information as they can get to track complex consumer trends. The more info they have, the better they can serve their demographics.
That’s naive at best. This isn’t just a case of software scanning through emails for numbers of keywords. Many cases documented by the WSJ, such as Edison Software, found employees manually reading private emails.
Imagine that ability in the hands of private investigators or political enemies. Or in the hands of cyber-criminals who are seeking to enrich themselves through targeted phishing scams.
It’s obvious that alternatives to Gmail are needed. This time, Google has gone too far, and there’s no way back for the search engine behemoth. So let’s discover some email providers who will protect your privacy, and not sell it to the highest bidder.
Choose the best alternative to Gmail from these leading contenders
Although Gmail is massive, it’s far from the only email provider around, and it might not be the best in terms of features and speed, even when privacy is taken out of the picture.
Many people are unwilling to migrate to smaller companies. We know it’s often a big step, and it takes a bit of work, but this is one change you won’t regret. Anyhow, here are 5 alternatives to Gmail that you can rely on.
Reckoned by security specialists to be the gold standard among current email providers, ProtonMail appears simple on the outside but has a rock solid, hyper-secure core.
The whole USP of Protonmail.com is to protect your privacy via sophisticated encryption techniques. When you sign up, they won’t demand a huge amount of verification information. All you need to supply is a username and a password. And they won’t offer extras on the side – just a plain old email client for sending securely encrypted mail.
It’s a great option for people who need to send secure messages every now and then. But beware. If you lose your password, there’s no getting it back, and the contents of your account will be lost. That’s how seriously ProtonMail takes email privacy.
Another stripped-down, nuts and bolts email client, Fastmail.com says it all with its bare-bones title. This is an email account that’s fast to set up, easy to use, and disposable. It’s not great for sending elaborate emails with embedded content, but it’s fine for sending secure messages.
Security is provided by a virus scanner, efficient phishing filter, and spam filters, and you can also create up to 100 custom filters to set your own access parameters.
There’s no encryption, but it scores highly for security features, although with just 10MB of storage space, some people may feel cramped.
Like secure email provider ProtonMail, Hushmail.com offers a simple way to send private messages without fear of surveillance. Security features tick most peoples’ boxes, with a virus checker, a spam filter that works pretty effectively and easy to use black/white lists.
Although it’s free to use, Hushmail doesn’t come with ads beamed to your inbox, which is reassuring from a privacy point of view as much as anything else. The only problem is that the free version auto-deletes if you are inactive for 3 weeks, so it’s a good option for regular email users.
4. Zoho Mail
Zohomail.eu is one of the best security options for small businesses who want to protect the email privacy of their clients and themselves. Group accounts for up to 25 members are free of charge, so most small businesses should be fine, and it works nicely with various browsers, Excel and Word.
On the downside, Zoho might not offer enough space in free mode for serious users, although DKIM and SPF authentication and excellent filters make it as secure as most services on this list.
One of the most exciting new secure email providers around, Tutanota.com encrypts everything you send, from the first letter of the title to the last byte of attachments. It will even allow encryption of email from correspondents if required.
As far as webmail clients go, Tutanota is easy to get to grips with, and 1GB of free storage is fine, while Android and iOS apps will be welcome for mobile users.
It’s all free right now, but expect premium features to be added and payment packages to appear. With a slick interface and impressive security features, you might be tempted.
What about other options for sending secure encrypted email?
Those 5 email services are the elite of the current generation of webmail companies, but they aren’t the only options. The sins of Gmail (not to mention the NSA) have sparked plenty of innovators to join the crowd, and there are some that we simply have to mention.
Kolab Now – Kolab Now is particularly exciting because it hooks up seamlessly with LibreOffice – the flagship Linux Office suite. So if you rely on Linux for business, it’s a great secure option.
Runbox – Hailing from Norway, Runbox offer 1GB of free space and excellent security, as well as the added attraction of using 100% sustainable energy sources for their servers.
GMX – Easy importing of social media contacts and unlimited storage are major enticements from GMX, but it’s a little ad-heavy, and some users find the security procedures to be a little unwieldy, resulting in occasional lock-outs.
Countermail – One of the oldest anonymous email services, Countermail offers OpenPGP encryption and only stores email data on removable CD ROMs – an unusual layer of extra security.
Yandex – Russia’s answer to Gmail, Yandex offers good functionality for mobile and desktop users but is let down by the lack of two-factor authentication. One to check out, but with reservations.
Work around Gmail privacy issues by using the competition
Given Gmail’s well-documented history of evasions and deceptions, it’s about time we all shifted to a different email provider. As you can see, there’s no lack of alternatives to Gmail, so be sure to protect your privacy whenever you send and receive mail. There’s no need to let Big Brother know a thing about your life with so many secure email providers to choose from.