I've been on an email-decluttering mission recently. Partly because I had six Gmail accounts, which was (perhaps unsurprisingly!) hard to keep on top of. But also partly because I've been feeling the pressure to step up my online privacy and security…
Thanks to my business I'm constantly learning more and more about the digital world.
There's a whole lot of good, or great – even, when it comes to the internet. Without even considering the wealth of information literally at our fingertips, there are so many incredible tools and services that we can use for free, and which genuinely help us to better organize or manage both our personal lives and our businesses.
However, as is fairly common knowledge – when things are free, there's often a catch.
And in the digital world, that's the case more than ever – mainly because when it's digital, it all comes down to data: seemingly invisible, yet in reality, now (according to many) the most valuable commodity on earth.
Paul Jarvis (a brilliant writer and entrepreneur I've followed for a long time) sums it up pretty perfectly with the following quote:
“If you aren't paying for the product, you are the product.”
And that, ultimately, is what ignited my email-decluttering decision.
The reasons I wanted to start moving away from Google
I'll start by saying that Gmail, and Google generally, is a great product and service. I'll admit that. It's super convenient, it works brilliantly, it's high-tech and full of genuinely useful features. It's also totally free (from a hard-currency perspective!), and so generous with its capacities that you're unlikely to ever run out of space.
But – it isn't focused on privacy enough for my liking.
A lot of people take the attitude “I have nothing to hide, so why worry.” But for me, that's not the issue. It's about the secure feeling of knowing that everything is in good order, totally safe, and only where it should be (and where I know it is). I guess that’s partly due to my love of organization, as these two needs definitely connect. But taking better care of your privacy and security online definitely isn’t a bad thing these days, either.
So to me, it's also about the unknowns of the future…
Google doesn't use any kind of end-to-end encryption, which means that the entire contents of my inbox (and yours, and every other person with a Gmail account) can theoretically be read – by Google, by hackers, or by the authorities… if they had a “justifiable-enough” reason to request access.
And it's not only the contents of my inbox that is a concern – which is concern enough considering the private conversations and the private information most of us share via email these days.
But Google also stores all additional information such as our IP addresses, real (full) name, phone numbers, locations we've logged in from, etc., alongside our inbox contents. Literally our entire on- and offline identity is held, unencrypted, by Google…
Simply put, if there was a data breach, there's no way of preventing all that incredibly private and potentially-very-dangerous-in-the-wrong-hands personal information, from being used.
And personally, I think that knowing exactly where our personal data is, and having total control over who else might have access to that info, can only be a good thing.
So that was my main reason for starting to look at alternative email providers.
The other main reason was that I was sick of the ads being constantly displayed (also relevant to Paul's “you're the product” point), plus I was getting way more dodgy-looking spam than I felt was good or normal…
Paul Jarvis recommended ProtonMail as a great option for a privacy-focused email provider, so I checked that out. And here's what I discovered:
The pros and cons of ProtonMail – a private and secure email provider
ProtonMail is a (relatively) new email provider 100% focused on protecting your privacy.
It uses automatic end-to-end encryption meaning even ProtonMail can't read your emails, and no personal information is needed to set up an account, so you have total anonymity and privacy by default. They don't keep IP logs, either.
It's also a Swiss company (and its servers are all located in Switzerland) meaning it's protected by Switzerland's famously tight privacy laws.
So basically, when it comes to privacy, it's pretty much a failsafe. You can even send encrypted emails to users of other mail providers, giving you total control over how secure you make the information you share by email.
Security aside, I also love its usability. It's a clean, simple interface. The whole program has a modern design that's been optimized for organization and productivity, and they have apps that work with all operating systems.
The main downsides are – basically – all the “best bits” that Google offers in exchange for a less secure service…
Because it's so tight on privacy, you can't benefit from connecting your ProtonMail account to all other corners of the internet… so you can't get your emails to automatically detect and sync new calendar events, or new contacts, etc. You also can't use your phone or computer's default mail app; ProtonMail only works through their own app and interface. Not a major issue, but a bit of an inconvenience when you're used to having all your mails in one place.
One of the biggest issues for me, however, is that – because of its tight encryption – you also can't link it to external sites such as Dubsado.
I love Dubsado – it's a seriously useful business management system that makes business life a whole lot easier, and you can link it to Gmail (and other more “open” email providers) so as to automatically include all relevant clients communication within a specific project.
This isn't possible with ProtonMail, which – from a convenience perspective – is a definite downside. Dubsado is just one example, too. It's possible to integrate Gmail with just about any other tool or software out there, and every time it means added convenience.
ProtonMail's free plan is also pretty limited. They only offer 500MB (vs Google's 15GB), and have a cap of 150 emails per day. There are also limited options for e.g. folders, labels, and custom filters. Given we're all so used to unlimited plans with every feature you're likely to want, this takes a bit of getting used to. That said, their upgraded paid plans aren't unreasonably expensive given the security and peace of mind they give you. It's just a case of adjusting to the idea of actually paying for email. Not something many of us have done before!
My ProtonMail vs Gmail decision
Ultimately, convenience often wins out, and for me – when it came to managing my business – the features that Google offers are just too useful to completely walk away from right now…
The inter-connectivity and ability to sync both within and between different accounts was the main decider for me. And for that reason, I ultimately chose to keep my business accounts running through Google's mail servers.
However, my personal stuff? That decision was easy: I've moved it all over to ProtonMail.
I send far fewer personal emails than work emails so I don't need as much space, and I certainly don't need to send more than 150 emails a day.
Yet I get to benefit from total and complete peace of mind that any communications about my finances, my health, my family, and even just my personal relationships, will stay private – both now, and in the future.
And who knows, maybe at some point I'll find ways to restructure my business management sufficiently so that I won't need to rely so heavily on Google's highly convenient yet largely unsecured offerings.
In the meantime, I'm happy knowing my personal information is secure, and I'm busy finding lots of other ways I can keep both my own and my client's business information as secure as possible in other ways.
Want to know what I've found so far… or interested in moving some of your email accounts over to ProtonMail too? Drop me a line, I'll happily talk you through what it involves!