Privacy is an ever increasing concern as most of our communications, business transactions and enterntainment occur online. The foundation of our online identity from social media accounts to bank payments is our email address.
I’ve had an email account since the late 1990’s, but these were always free accounts such as AOL Mail, Hotmail or more recently, Gmail. Of course “free” always comes with strings attached. This has probably been the case with other services, but it becomes clear to Gmail users, that Google (now Alphabet) has full license to read and analyze all of your email messages (data mining) to serve more relevant ads and profile you for future marketing purposes. Through a combination of scanning your emails and saving your web searches, Google will begin to serve ads within webpages that you visit that relate to items in your search and email history. It’s probably happened to most of us, and it’s an Orwellian experience.
When I had first heard of these practices I was annoyed, but I didn’t see any obvious alternatives. I was willing to sacrifice privacy for the convenience of a useful service that I didn’t have to pay for. As time went on (particularly after the Edward Snowden revelations) I recognized the fact that both the federal government and a variety of corporations had far too much access to my personal information. Though I don’t have anything to hide, it’s none of their business who I write to and what I write.
There is no 100% guarantee that an email service is safe from hackers and prying eyes, but I’m comfortable with the fact that FastMail will not scan my email and data mine my personal correspondence for marketing or other purposes. They are also based in Australia, so they cannot legally hand over my data to US government agencies such as the National Security Administration (NSA) without going through an international legal process.
We’ve gotten used to getting things for free online, but as we know, “free” always comes with a price. FastMail is a subscription-based service with no free tier, but the privacy, peace of mind and pleasant and straightforward inferface or well worth the investment. Given that I use email every day, it was an easy decision for me.
Annual plans begin at $10 for 250mb, $20 for 1GB, $40 for 15GB and $120 for 60GB. The latter two plans are also available in 6-month increments at $25 and $70 respectively. The $10 option is basically suitable for a test drive of the service, unless you receive a very modest amount of email with few attachments, otherwise the $20 plan offers more flexibility. I have recently moved to the $40/year plan which nearly matches Gmail’s 16GB of “free” storage. Further pricing details can be read here.
Committing to a new, secure, private email address needn’t be a once-and-for-all decision. I started using FastMail several years ago and have gradually transitioned most of my email communications to this address. A good place to start is by unsubscribing from mailing lists and resubscribing them to your new address. If you have other, little-used email addresses, you can begin forwarding mail from those accounts to FastMail. My Stanford University email address recently expired so that was another motivation to make my focus on FastMail. Starting fresh with a new email address is also a great opportunity to decide what communications are really important to you. I’ve permanently unsubscribed from many lists and find dealing with email now a more peaceful experience than ever.
It’s easy to be complacent about your email service, especially if you can’t imagine informing different people of your new address and learning a slightly different interface, but the effort is well worth it, trust me. Though FastMail doesn’t have a free tier, they do offer a 30-day free trial. This is how I got my feet wet with the service and their superior product has convinced me to stay with them.
If you have any questions about the service, please leave a comment or send me an email (nick[at]researchteacher.com). In my honest opinion, beyond the privacy aspect, it’s simply a better service than any free email account out there. No ads, no clunky features, just email.
(Note: If you sign up for FastMail through one of the links in this post I will receive a referral credit which will help pay for my email service. It doesn’t cost you anything.)