Secure Alternatives to Gmail

by Vincent Board
File under: Fake Tech17 May 2014 6:22 EDT

Old habits die hard.  I've been using Gmail for years now, but due to some of Google's dubious policies and the general lack of internet privacy in the US, I've been forced to find an alternative.  Initially I thought it would be very hard if not impossible to transfer all my contacts and update my contact info around the web, but it actually turned out to be a pretty painless process.  There is literally no excuse to continue using Gmail (other than laziness, complacency, or complicity).  But it is a bit challenging to find good, secure email alternatives, so I thought I might share with you what I found when I went through the process.  This list is by no means exhaustive.

First of all I should say that I have deliberately avoided all US-based email services, such as Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail, and Microsoft's Hotmail/Outlook, etc., for reasons which should be obvious.  It's not even clear that these companies offer a better webmail experience than Gmail (which is very feature-rich),so I didn't consider them to be real alternatives.

GMX
GMX initially seemed to be the best option, but significant problems arose.  GMX is owned by 1&1, a huge web hosting company based in Germany.  The email service is probably the biggest outside of the US, it has features that rival Gmail, and a large, satisfied user base (mostly Europeans).  Here's a look at the basic webmail interface:

The problem is that GMX actually offers two free email services: one for English-speakers (insecure),and one for German-speakers (secure).  As I learned after creating my account, the mail servers for English-speakers are based in Lenexa, Kansas, which makes them worthless to me.  However, if you understand basic German, you can open a free account at gmx.de or gmx.at (Austria).  Each site uses mail servers in the local country, and Austria has slightly better privacy laws than Germany (or so I've heard).

Pros: Feature-rich, solid webmail service
Cons: Secure servers for German-language accounts only

 

SWISSMAIL
Swissmail is based in Switzerland, a country well known for its strong privacy laws.  It offers secure English-language email accounts.  The only trouble is, there are no free accounts (only 'free trial' accounts) and the non-free accounts are quite expensive, given what you get ($35/year for 50MB of space!).  One nice thing about this service is that when you create an account, you can choose from about a half dozen domain names, including generic ones like "generalmail.net".  The big problem here, though, is webmail.

The webmail interface (and the site in general) is very ugly and a somewhat confusing/unintuitive to use.  The whole thing looks like it was built 10 years ago and hasn't been updated since.  But if you don't use webmail (i.e. you use mail client software, as I do),everything is fine.  In general it's a solid (though expensive) service.

Pros: Secure, Swiss-based email servers
Cons: Expensive, bad webmail interface

 

LUMAIL
Lumail is based in Luxembourg, a small EU country that like Switzerland is associated with tax havens and private banks.  They offer both free and non-free English-language accounts.  The free accounts come with a modest but adequate amount of features, and the webmail interface is far nicer to use than Swissmail's.  There are no ads anywhere.  You can even create your email address "@loveyou.lu", which I found kind of charming.  In general, the site is very easy on the eyes.

As with Swissmail, you won't have access to all the features (like using POP or IMAP) unless you pay for your account.  In general, the cost is slightly cheaper than Swissmail ($5/month for 1GB of space),but it might still be prohibitive for some.  Personally I don't use webmail too often, so I basically have no choice but to pay.  But I guess making a direct payment is better than indirectly paying for the service by having your personal information sold to advertisers.

Pros: Secure, Luxembourg-based email servers, free accounts
Cons: Free accounts are basically limited to webmail only

 

 
I almost didn't try   because it seemed too closely associated with the US, but the company is apparently based in Canada (British Columbia),and the IP address points to mail servers in "Anguilla", a small island in the Caribbean.  This was not exactly trust-inspiring, as Anguilla appears to be something of a lawless banana republic.  If push ever came to shove, I'm sure the people running the servers could easily be bribed by the highest bidder.  That fact aside, they do offer free webmail, and it seems to work very well.

They also offer a range of nonfree accounts and optional PGP encryption.  I've tried using PGP before,  but it seemed far too cumbersome for everyday use, and also nearly worthless if you need to send mail to people who use non-PGP friendly services like Gmail.  An account here might be good as a second email account, for "special occasions" or something, like when you need to send the launch codes to a foreign operative in Belarus, for instance. 

Pros: Secure Non-US free accounts, PGP available
Cons: Somewhat sketchy, not appropriate for everyday use

 

These are the best alternatives I could find, but I'm still open to suggestions if anyone has them.  One conclusion I've come to is that you can't really get a secure email account without paying, as the profit model for these services excludes advertising.  Google has addicted everyone to "free" services, and as I said at the start, old habits are hard to break.

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COMMENTS

Melissa Hart says:24 Aug 2015 5:08 EDT
try servermx.com .. there are also some promos that you can get from their official facebook page.
Ross says:09 Sep 2014 17:40 EDT
FastMail (fastmail.fm) is a good option. Not free, but very cheap ($10/year). Excellent UI, and HTTPS always.

Some (not all) of their servers are based in the US, but the company itself is Australian. This means you might be vulnerable to NSA hacking, but not to FISA-style court orders.
Anonymous says:22 Jul 2014 21:07 EDT
https://protonmail.ch/ - A newer email service that was created after the Snowden revelations last year.
Albin says:14 Jul 2014 11:33 EDT
Interesting article. I'm also looking for a secure but polished email service that will be around for some years to come. I believe your post is dated before a pretty big upgrade to GMX, that led me to open a test account with them. I am getting the "https" encryption prefix to the URL for my account. I wonder if that is your criterion for "secure" and this changes your mind about it. Looks like a pretty good service.
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