2 Years Without Gmail

 ( 6 min read ) 

What happened?
I signed up for ProtonMail in 2015 and ditched Gmail. I’ve been using it ever since.

Why did you do that?
Mainly because of better privacy, but it has the added benefit of being highly secure.

1) Gmail is not secure in transit. Which means, when the emails are being transported from server-to-server. ProtonMail offers end-to-end encryption using OpenPGP and symmetric encryption to non-PM users.

2) Gmail is not secure at rest. The emails are just sitting there in plaintext on Google’s server. ProtonMail encrypts your mailbox so not even PM can read it.

(Plus, its located in Switzerland, and I like to imagine their data center is buried deep within the Alps and their staff hikes to the office everyday!)

Who Cares?

That’s part of the problem. Lots of folks don’t care or they still think, “Well I don’t have anything to hide” or “I don’t even use Email anymore”. (Which, I doubt. Lots of things require or want your email address, like where you buy socks.)

You should care about your privacy. Watch this Ted Talk from Andy Yen about how email is actually like a postcard. I promise its worth it, and you just might care enough to protect your privacy. But I’ll cover two big reasons why I don’t use Gmail anymore.

Your Gmail is being scanned. Its being read by a bot at the moment, that’s building a profile of your interests to send you targeted advertisements that are based on your email contents. Buy the Harry Potter books on Amazon? Google knows about it now. Signed up for that dating website? Google knows about that too. Email your father about what SmartTV he should buy? Google knows, and will probably suggest a Samsung TV with YouTube’s App builtin. Literally, anything to or from your email account will be scanned.

Google considers that users have no “reasonable expectation” of privacy.

Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored. (1, 2)

Google also tailors your search results, using your Gmail history. Its scarily convenient. Some people might like it, but it scared the shit out of me the first time I saw it. Here’s an example, and another:

A flight to new york

Notice the right-side bar showing results from Gmail.

Searching for flights shows this user’s upcoming flight from their inbox.

When it happened to me, I had searched for a computer motherboard model number to find the specifications from the manufacturer. The top result was Google saying “You purchased this motherboard for $39 from eBay on July 8th 2016” with a link to the specific email I received from eBay. I nearly choked to death.

Once you see something personal given the spotlight in your search results, its enough to say “I’m done”. And yes… I know that Google promises its only showing these personal results to just you, but where does that line end? Where did it start? And why is Google storing all this data about me in the first place? All valid questions for the world’s largest advertising company.

What I miss about Gmail…

  1. Mobile App PM added this March 2016!
  2. Two-Factor Authentication PM added has this Dec 2016!
  3. Folders PM added this last week!
  4. Gchat / Instant Messaging
  5. Undo send email

Ok, the “undo button” for accidentally sending an email, is not that important. It was a nice feature though. Simply because as a human, I tend to make mistakes. Like forgetting to attach a file to my email. Clicking “undo” is a life-saver feature for dorks like me.

Gchat (or Hangouts) for instant messaging other Gmail users in my contacts, was super convenient. Sometimes it was nice to quickly say “Hey what’s up?” to them. But just like Gmail, the chat service was insecure and probably scanned just the same. I still have friends and family using it today. They even open “gmail.com” to send an IM to someone, rather than opening “hangouts.google.com”. That’s how ingrained that feature is to them and myself included. (By the way, if you’re looking for a secure replacement, try Signal.)

I’m confident the ProtonMail team will build out each of these missing features eventually. But their core service is ready and free for anyone to use. They are still actively building more and keep listening to feedback from the /r/ProtonMail community to guage what features to include in the next version. But as it stands right now… I’m happy with my switch from Gmail to ProtonMail. Plus, I like my custom flat theme I built for it!

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with ProtonMail, nor was I asked to blog about them.

Published: Apr 3, 2017
Category: privacy
Tags: email, encryption, privacy, security