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13 Best Gmail Alternatives That Are Privacy Friendly

If you-re reading this, there is a fair chance that you use Gmail. The free email service is incredibly popular, and in some ways is a great email service to use.

But only in some ways. As with any ‘free’ service (like Facebook and Instagram, for instance) you have to remember that, if you use Gmail, you are the product. Put simply, Google makes money by using your information to sell you stuff, and it also sells this information to a huge range of other companies. 

As a result, Gmail is a privacy nightmare. Every email you exchange on the service is read by Google’s bots, and this is used to build up a detailed profile on who you are and what you do.

Thankfully, there are alternatives to Gmail that have been built with privacy in mind. The best of these offer all the functionality of Gmail, but with much stronger protections for your data.

Before you switch to an alternative for Gmail, it’s highly recommended that you begin by removing Gmail from your smart device.

Why you need to stop using Gmail

Gmail is not the only ‘free’ email service that allows advertisers and governments access to your data, but they are among the worst offenders. 

There are loads of examples of email services compromising their users’ privacy, but here are just a few:

  • Gmail has been caught giving third parties full access to their user’s emails, in order to better target advertising. 
  • In fact, any advertiser who pays for the privilege can scan Yahoo and AOL accounts to “identify and segment potential customrs by picking up on contextual buying signals, and past purchases.” 
  • Governments are also involved. Documents released as part of the Snowden leaks showed that the PRISM surveillance program relies on large email providers giving US surveillance agencies unlimited access to their servers to perform “extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information”. 
  • It’s not surprising, then, that Yahoo was also caught scanning emails in real-time for US surveillance agencies in 2016. 

If you are concerned about your privacy, you’re not alone. Plenty of people have swapped to alternative email providers in the past few years, and in response Google has tried to convince people to continue to use its service by stressing how secure it is.

The problem, though, is that whilst Gmail has been made more secure, Google are still reading your emails, and you cannot opt out of this. 

So if you’re looking for an email provider that respects your privacy, read on.

The Best Gmail Alternatives 

There are plenty of factors to consider when choosing an alternative email provider. Some services prioritize security, privacy, and encryption. Others aim to offer increased privacy (and certainly better than Gmail) but also a range of other services like calendars and document editing. 

Because of this, the ‘right’ email provider for you will depend on your needs. If you just want a second email to send truly private messages, go for one with a focus on security. If you want to leave Google completely, you can find a service that replicates most of services that Google offers.

Beyond this choice, there are also a few extra factors to consider in a secure email provider:

  • Jurisdiction is important, because email providers in the US and China (in particular) have to share your data with their governments. Those in Europe don’t.
  • Some secure email services will let you use PGP encryption, and some won’t.
  • With some of these services, you can import your existing emails, which is useful when you are making the switch.
  • Secure email providers also offer different levels of encryption: some encrypt your emails only when they are in transit, and some also encrypt them when they are on the servers.
  • It’s also worth considering ease of use. Some of the most secure email services can be a little annoying to use, because they see apps and third-party email clients as a security risk. Whether this is a problem for you will depend on how much usability you are willing to sacrifice for extra security.
  • Lastly, you should also pay attention to the privacy policies of the email provider. Any online service will need to store some data about you, but what is collected and how long it is stored for depends on the specific provider. 

In this guide, we’ll look at the 13 best alternative email providers out there, so you can make up your own mind.

1. Hushmail

Hushmail is the granddaddy of secure email providers, having been around since 1999. It’s still a great secure email service, but doesn’t come with many of the advanced features of newer competitors.

That said, Hushmail is a great place to start if you are looking for a secondary, secure inbox. The service is free, but unlike many free email providers there are no ads in your inbox. This is pretty rare for a free email service.

In terms of security, Hushmail performs pretty well. It will automatically scan all incoming mail for viruses, and the spam filter is effective. Hushmail also offers POP3 access, so (unlike a few of the email services on this list) you can use third-party clients to access your mail. Hushmail doesn’t have a dedicated app for this, but you can configure Android or iOS apps to fetch your mail.

On the other hand, Hushmail lacks some features that might not make it the best choice for your primary email provider. It can only handle plain text messages, for instance, and it lacks a spell checker. 

Overall, Hushmail is a good solution if you are looking for a free secondary inbox with added security. But if you want a fully-featured secure email provider, it’s best to look at some of the paid options below.

2. SCRYPTmail

SCRYPTmail is another simple, straightforward email service that aims to provide an easy way to use secure email.

There are several advantages of SCRYPTmail in comparison to some of the other secure email providers on this list. First, and perhaps most importantly, it actually looks like it was designed for 2019, with a clean and user-friendly interface.

In terms of security, SCRYPTmail uses end-to-end encryption to secure emails in transit, and also encrypts emails when they are at rest on the servers. SCRYPTmail also promises never to use third-party scripts, since these scripts can leak data about your emails, your location, and other information. It also uses AES-256 encryption, which makes your messages essentially uncrackable, and supports both plain text and HTML messages.

On the other hand, there are a few concerns about SCRYPTmail. Unlike some of the other secure email providers on this list, SCRYPTmail don’t provide detailed technical information on their service. That doesn’t necessarily make the service insecure, and in fact the source code for the platform is available, but unless you have a lot of technical knowledge that’s not going to tell you much. In addition, the service doesn’t seem to have been updated for a while.

Overall, SCRYPTmail is a decent service that, like Hushmail, will give you secure email for free. If you are looking for a secondary inbox, give it a go.

3. Disroot

Disroot is a volunteer-run service that is designed to replicate many of the features that Google offers. Though primarily a secure email solution, it also gives you an encrypted online document editor, and secure cloud storage. That makes it a good choice if you are looking to move all of your online features away from Google.

Besides the secure email service that Disroot offers – which we’ll come to in a moment – it-s worth noting that, as an almost-complete secure online productivity suite, Disroot is hard to beat. They have partnered with Lufi, for instance, to offer users encrypted temporary online storage, and with Matrix to give you secure online chat.

The Disroot email client, though, is the mainstay of their offer. This client is called RainLoop, and gives you a secure and intuitive online interface for your inbox. It also supports GPG encryption, so you can add another level of security if you want to. Disroot also supports IMAP, so you can access this inbox from almost any desktop or mobile client. 

In terms of disadvantages, Disroot does have a few. It uses server-side encryption, for a start, so you don’t have total control over your private key. But that’s still a lot more security than you will get with Gmail. The other (slight) drawback is that you are limited to 2GB of storage, which is not that much if you are a heavy email user.

Still, Disroot stands out as a great all-in-one service for email, secure cloud storage, and encrypted document editing. If you want to make your transition from Google as pain-free as possible, this is the way to go.

4. Runbox

Runbox is a secure email provider based in Norway, which is a real bonus when it comes to privacy. Norway has among the strongest privacy rights in the world, and these are secured at a constitutional level, so there is no chance that they are going to share your information with government authorities.

They are also a good choice if you are looking for a green provider, because they run all of their servers from clean, renewable hydro power plants.

Their email service is fully-featured, and user-friendly. They also offer some features that make transitioning from Gmail much easier. You can import all of the messages from your existing inbox, for instance, and Runbox provide a guide for doing that. The service also supports IMAP, POP, SMTP, FTP, and DAV services, so you can access your inbox from almost any device using a third-party email client.

In terms of security, Runbox is also among the best secure email providers, using strong encryption, and advanced virus scanning. Best of all, all of your emails are stored in a physically secured data center in Norway, on servers that are owned by Runbox, so you don’t have to worry about third-party access.

Runbox isn’t free, but also isn’t that expensive for a fully-featured secure email service, and you can pay by cryptocurrency or anonymous cash payment. 

5. Mailfence

Mailfence is another alternate email provider who have been around for a while. The company was founded in Belgium in 1999, and is a straightforward privacy tool for securing your email.

First up, jurisdiction. Belgian law is very strong when it comes to preventing third-party access to email, and so with Mailfence your privacy is guaranteed by law. Not many secure email providers can say that. 

What makes Mailfence stand out as a secure email provider is that their service is entirely browser-based. This might not be right for everyone, but in terms of ease of use it’s actually a great advantage. The service runs entirely through your browser, so you don’t have to download apps or plugins. This gives you a full secure email service through your browser, which keeps things simple.

Encryption is then performed through your browser, but this doesn’t mean that Mailfence is any less secure than dedicated clients. Best of all, the Mailfence browser interface also acts as a VPN, which adds anonymity to the security it provides.

Mailfence also supports OpenPGP keys, which allows you to generate and share your own private keys. This gives you a greater level of control over your encryption in comparison to server-side security. 

Though Mailfence is a paid service, it’s not that expensive, with plans starting at €2.50 per month for a basic package. If you are looking for a straightforward solution for secure email, it’s a great choice.

6. ProtonMail

Mention secure email to most people, and they will think of ProtonMail. This service is arguably the highest-profile encrypted email service out there, thanks largely to its unique history. The Switzerland-based service was originally setup in the wake of the Snowden leaks, and was advertised at that time as the ‘only email service the NSA can’t break’. 

More recently, this claim has been cast into question, partially because ProtonMail accepted a large investment from a US-based company. Although debates about exactly how secure the service is? At the moment most people seem to be agreed that ProtonMail offers a good level of privacy.

Because ProtonMail was designed with privacy in mind, it does all the basics correctly. All emails are secured using end-to-end encryption, and are also encrypted at rest. ProtonMail also offers a unique feature: self-destructing messages that automatically delete themselves after a specified time. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that the service does not encrypt the subject lines of emails, so it doesn’t offer the absolute security of some other providers.

In general, though, ProtonMail remains one of the best alternatives to Gmail. The platform is now well established, and offers great support to new and experienced users alike. It also feels like a modern email service, so swapping from Gmail will not feel like a chore. There are, of course, slightly more secure providers out there, but they will all come at the price of reduced usability.

7. Tutanota

Tutanota is arguable the most secure email provider out there at the moment, but this extra security does come with some drawbacks. If you are looking for the ultimate in security, it’s the best choice.

The service is based in Germany, which has strong data privacy laws, and is run by a group of enthusiasts who are genuinely dedicated to providing a secure communications platform. In terms of encryption, the team at Tutanota have developed their own encryption standard which makes use of both AES and RSA. 

This standard automatically encrypts the subject lines of emails as well as their content, which several of the other providers on this list do not offer. It also supports forward secrecy, and even – believe it or not – can be updated to protect against quantum computing attacks, if and when they start to occur.

Emails between users of Tutanota are seamlessly encrypted, with no key exchange required, but you can also use the service to send encrypted emails to users of different email services. 

All this makes Tutanota an extremely secure service, but there are some sacrifices involved in using it. One is that you cannot import existing emails into the service, though the dev team promise that this will be possible one day. The other is that Tutanota does not support PGP, IMAP, POP, or SMTP. This makes it impossible to use with third-party email clients.

Still, if you are happy to accept these (slight) drawbacks as the cost of having secure email, then Tutanota is a great (and very secure) service.

8. Posteo

Posteo are another secure email service based in Germany, where they can take advantage of strong data privacy laws. In many ways, Posteo is similar to Tutanota (above), but with a few extra features that ensure even higher levels of security.

Posteo have really thought about their business model in order to offer their users a high level of privacy. The company does not accept loans, debts, or investments from outside entities, keeping it entirely independent. They also support anonymous registration and anonymous payment, so not even the development team will know who you really are.

In terms of security technology, Posteo offer strong encryption options, but also supports IMAP so you can use the service through third-party clients. Posteo also go further than most other providers when it comes to encrypting or hiding all aspects of a message: IP addresses are stripped from emails, for instance, and the service keeps no logs on its users. The subject line, header, body, metadata, and even the attachments of every email are encrypted by default.

Posteo have also sought to build trust among advanced users by releasing all of their code in an open-source repository. This has allowed devs to check for any security holes in the system, but so far they have found none.

The only slight drawback to Posteo, in truth, is that there is no spam folder, so you will have to be pretty vigilant when it comes to your inbox. But in every other way, Posteo offers a fully-featured, highly secure alternative to Gmail.

9. Kolab Now

Kolab Now offers a huge range of service, which make it the closest competitor to Google on this list. A standard subscription includes secure email, contacts, calendar, scheduling, collaboration tools, and cloud storage, so it constitutes a full email suite.

The service also supports POP, SMTP, and IMAP, so you can use it with third-party email clients, and offers custom domains, team support, and dedicated resources for business users. This makes it perfect for teams.

The drawback is that Kolab Now doesn’t have quite the same level of security as some other providers. Whilst emails are encrypted when they are in transit, they are not encrypted when being stored. In addition, end-to-end encryption is not implemented as standard. On the other hand, Kolab Now is based in Switzerland, so you don’t have to worry about jurisdictional issues, since that country has very strong data privacy laws.

Whether this is a problem for you will depend on your needs. If you are looking for a feature-rich service for a team, and one that does pretty well when it comes to privacy and security, Kolab Now could be the right choice. It will certainly offer more privacy than Google’s services, but not that of some other secure services. 

If you are looking to move your business over to a secure set of services, Kolab Now is probably the best choice. For individual users, there are more secure (and cheaper) solutions out there.

10. CounterMail

CounterMail take your privacy and security extremely seriously. The service has been operating for more than 10 years now, and the team behind it describe their goal as to “offer the most secure online email service on the Internet, with excellent free support.”

They have certainly achieved this. The service uses Open-PGP encryption with 4,096-but encryption keys. Those are the longest encryption keys on this list, and make CounterMail’s encryption absolutely secure from hacking. CounterMail keeps no logs on its users, and uses diskless servers to add another level of security. 

CounterMail also encrypts everything that it is possible to encrypt. IP addresses are stripped from emails before they are sent, and even at rest messages are encrypted on physically secure servers in Sweden. And as one final layer of security, CounterMail implements RSA and AES-CBC encryption on top of the standard SSL protocol.

All of this security comes with a couple of drawbacks, though. One is that CounterMail is slightly more expensive than other providers, though it is worth noting that the team explain this difference as the cost of providing absolutely secure servers. The other is that the interface for CounterMail is a little dated, without the clean design of some other providers.

Whether these drawbacks are a problem for you will depend on what you need from an email provider. But you are looking for an absolutely private channel of communication, run by a team that has developed a high level of trust, CounterMail is for you. 

11. Mailbox.org

Mailbox.org is a secure email provider that, like ProtonMail, was set up just after the Snowden revelations. Based in Germany, the team behind Mailbox.org are experienced developers with over 25 years experience in providing secure communications solutions.

Mailbox.org itself was released in 2014, and aims to be a fully-featured email suite. A standard subscription includes a whole range of tools, including calendar, contacts, groupware, full PGP key management, and secure cloud storage with all accounts. And unlike some of the email providers on this list, the support offered by the team at Mailbox.org is quick, effective, and knowledgeable.

In terms of the specifics, Mailbox.org stores emails on two servers in Germany (two  in order to provide geo-redundancy), and emails are secured on these servers using PGP. Cloud storage is also secured as standard. All of these features make Mailbox.org a great choice for teams looking for a secure alternative to Gmail.

The only issue with Mailbox.org, in fact, is that it stores IP addresses. However, the team are very upfront about this in their privacy policy, and IPs are automatically deleted after 4 days.

In general, the primary value of Mailbox.org is simply the trust that the team has managed to build up. Unlike some other secure email services, the team at Mailbox.org are upfront about their skills, experience, and mission. And if you’re going to trust your data to anyone, that’s important.

12. Startmail

Startmail is a secure email service from the same team who are behind Startpage, a private search engine based in the Netherlands. This jurisdiction is pretty good for privacy, because the Netherlands is covered by Europe’s strong data protection legislation. 

Startmail, as the team has explained in various whitepapers, aims to store as little data as possible while still offering a full email service. They have managed to build a system that automatically strips headers and IP addresses from all emails, and do not keep logs of user activity. 

There are a couple of features that sets Startmail apart from other alternative email providers. One is that all the encryption for this service is handled server-side, which Startmail feel is a more secure solution. The other feature is a very useful one: Startmail lets you set up one-use, disposable email addresses that then disappear automatically. This is great for maintaining your anonymity when signing up for online services, and also keeps your inbox free of spam.

IMAP and SMTP are also supported on Startmail, so you can use third-party email clients to access your inbox. You can use custom domains, and even the standard account gives you a respectable 10 GB of file storage.

The only drawbacks here are that Startmail feels a little outdated in comparison to some of the slicker interfaces available on other services, and that there is no dedicated mobile app. Still, both of these ‘problems’ can be avoided by using a third-party client.

Overall, Startmail is a solid, reliable alternative to Gmail that gives you a huge amount of security and a straightforward email interface.

13. Thexyz

Thexyz has been long overlooked as a secure email provider, but the service offers a good range of features and a high level of security. 

It’s probably been ignored for one reason: it’s based in Canada. This is not the ideal location for private services, because Canada is part of the Five Eyes network and therefore shares information with the US and UK. However, for some people and businesses this will not be of great concern, and this aside Thexyz is a great deal.

Accounts feature secure email, encrypted cloud storage, and a range of other productivity tools including calendars and team emails. Messages are encrypted in transit, and also when they are at rest, using the industry-standard AES 256-bit protocol, which is essentially uncrackable. 

Thexyz also aims to be a fully modern email service, and so it comes with a range of apps, and a beautiful user interface. You also get custom domains, an autoresponder, and advanced spam filters.

All of this is also available from other secure email providers, but the difference with Thexyz is that it is really affordable. If you run a small business, and are looking to keep your team safe from hackers, it’s a great service. If you are concerned about your data falling into the hands of the US government, perhaps less so.

A Final Word

All of these alternatives to Gmail will provide you with much greater security than Google’s mail service. 

At the most basic level, all of these services provide you with a whole lot more privacy than using Gmail. That’s because Google won’t be able to read your mail. As a result, your data won’t get sold to the highest bidder, and advertisers won’t be able to bombard you with ads they think you’re going to like.

Using encrypted email also has a number of other advantages, though. It is an important part of you cyberdefenses, because it means that if an attacker (or a government) manages to intercept your emails, they won’t be able to read them. This will reduce the chances of you falling victim to a targeted cyber attack, and will stop surveillance agencies (and others) tracking what you do online. 

Beyond these practical considerations, though, there is a principle at stake: we believe that your private data should stay private, and you probably do as well. If you use Gmail, you are consciously giving Google permission to read everything in your inbox, and to use it to enrich themselves.

When it comes to choosing an alternative to Gmail, there are plenty of options. All of the services above are great, but each comes with it’s own mix of advantages and drawbacks. You will need to strike a balance between usability and security, for instance, because the most security-conscious email providers won’t let you use third-party apps which are an integral part of how most of us interact with email today.

Still, by choosing any of the secure email providers in this list you will be hugely improving your resistance to cyber attack, reducing the ability of advertisers to spy on you, and ultimately securing your privacy.

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

Which email account is best for personal use?

This is a tricky question, because each of us uses email in a different way. Because of this, everybody needs a different mix of features and a different level of security.

One thing is clear, though, and this is that ‘free’ email providers like Gmail and Yahoo are not the best email accounts for personal use. That’s because, despite what they claim, they are not free. You pay a price in terms of your data being stored, read, and sold by Google, Yahoo, or whoever else.

Today, the best alternative mail services provide a range of features that are as good as – and sometimes better than – Google and Yahoo. In addition, these providers will not read your mail, and will help you encrypt it so no-one else can either. 

So, if you’re looking for the best email account for personal use, take a look above.

Is Gmail a secure email server?

It depends what you mean by secure. Given the number of users that Gmail has, it reports a fairly low rate of data breaches and successful hacks. In this sense, Gmail itself is pretty secure against hackers.

The more accurate answer is that there are some serious problems with Gmail. For a start, emails sent through the service are not encrypted as they are being sent, and so they can potentially be intercepted and read by hackers. They might be secure when they are in your inbox, or in your friend’s, but not in between.

The second issue is that whilst Gmail might be secure, it is definitely not private. That’s because, by using the service, you are giving Google permission to read all of your emails. They will then share this information. Even worse, Google are forced to share this data with the US (and other) governments.

So this is the real answer: Gmail might be secure, but it’s definitely not private.

What is the most secure email account?

Purely in terms of security, email services like CounterMail are probably the best. These are purely web-based services that encrypt absolutely everything, and implement strong encryption protocols that can never be broken. 

However, when choosing an alternative email provider to Gmail, there is always a balance to be struck. The most secure services are typically the most difficult to use, and as such are best suited to occasional use: when you really want to send a message that you want to stay absolutely secure, you can use a service like this.

Most people most of the time, though, want an email account that they can use on their smartphone or tablet, which filters out spam, and which they can use to communicate with friends who are not so security conscious. For that reason, in the list above we’ve struck a balance between security and usability.

Is Yahoo email better than Gmail?

Meh. Neither are very good, in truth. That’s because both Yahoo and Google read every mail that is stored on their servers, and sells your data to make money. 

So if you’re looking for an alternative to Gmail, please don’t choose Yahoo: all you are doing, in that case, is letting someone else read your data. A much better option is to choose one of the privacy-oriented email providers above, and keep your data secure and private. If you wish to get rid of Yahoo Mail for good, learn how to delete Yahoo account.

Bilal is a tech enthusiast who loves writing and creating awareness on various evolving technological trends including IoT, Cybersecurity and AI. You can connect him on twitter @bilalmunir91

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