By S.J. Robinson
I often think of using the internet as similar to navigating the high seas. Each time we turn on our computer/phone, we are heading out into this vast unchartered territory, where attacks from pirates are becoming more and more frequent. Not-to-mention the relentless data mining which now takes place as a standard (constantly recording your interests, choices, habits and personal details) in order to make an all-pervasive online profile of you, which can then be sold to the highest bidder.
Considering this new wave of vulnerability which has emerged for internet users, it seems like now is as good a time as any to start taking a few steps to safeguard your privacy online from unscrupulous predators.
While laws continue to be introduced to protect people’s privacy, at the end of the day the buck rests with us … ultimately, we are the ones responsible for our own privacy and for what information we choose to share with others.
One of the most important things for many people right now is communications privacy and e-mail security. There are many reasons why people need a secure e-mail, be it for legal or financial purposes or simply to share family photos, and they need to have some peace of mind when sharing sensitive information.
Having had my own e-mail compromised in the past and my account deleted in the process, I felt like a massive breach of trust had taken place with the e-mail provider. This sentiment was heightened by the fact that customer support was near-impossible to reach, and even when I did succeed in getting through, I felt the issue wasn’t being taken very seriously at all. For me, enough was enough. And so began my search for an e-mail provider who respects your privacy and who operates with integrity, transparency and accountability to its service users.
For e-mail providers, there are many alternatives, so let’s look at just three of them here: Startmail (Dutch), Posteo (German) and ProtonMail (Swiss).
Startmail is provided by Startpage, a company based in The Netherlands who has been committed to online privacy since 1999. Startpage does not collect or share personal information about you and doesn’t track or profile you across the web. It adheres to European law which defines data as ‘personal’ when it can uniquely identify a human being. At Startmail, the company’s entire ethos revolves around protecting privacy. This is achieved through core values such as privacy by design, minimal data retention and transparency of purpose i.e. having no hidden agenda where your personal data is concerned.
Startmail uses security measures on both the technical side (ex. SSL/TLS encryption with ‘perfect forward secrecy’) and on the organisational side to protect your data (ex. staff confidentiality agreements). At $49.95 for a yearly personal/business email subscription, Startmail is the dearest option examined here, however, with that you do have an option to get two extra free accounts to share the privacy message with others – (www.startmail.com).
Posteo is a fairly recent and successful alternative email provider who aims to “provide an impetus for greater security, privacy and sustainability on the internet”. The Berlin-based company is self-financed and so does not sell your personal information to the highest bidder from the advertising industry. Posteo is against all-pervasive surveillance and unnecessary data collection. For this reason, it does not collect personal information, does not use tracking tools and uses the latest encryption technologies.
It is also not a faceless company difficult to contact; you can see exactly who they are and what the company is about on their website where they actively promote openness and transparency – at €1 per month, this is a very affordable option – (www.posteo.de/en/).
ProtonMail is Swiss based e-mail provider, which offers end-to-end encryption, anonymous e-mail (incl. no IP logging) and a modern design… Plus the highlight is that a basic ProtonMail account is completely free. ProtonMail combines physical security with online security to give you peace of mind.
From the physical security perspective, not only is ProtonMail’s data centre 1,000 metres beneath solid rock, it has gone to great lengths to ensure none of its servers are stored on a cloud. From the online security perspective, data is encrypted at all stages of the messaging process and is done in such a way that ProtonMail itself has no access to your data.
One of the most interesting features of ProtonMail, is that it is outside of both US and EU jurisdictions and that all user data is protected by stringent Swiss data protection laws. For value (i.e. FREE), trendiness and ease of use, ProtonMail is a great alternative email option – (www.protonmail.com).
YOUR PRIVACY IS YOUR RIGHT TO CHOOSE
The bottom line here is that you cannot rely on many internet companies to protect your privacy and personal data online. This task is essentially up to us.
Thankfully it’s not as difficult as one would imagine and usually it’s the small things we do every day that can have the biggest impact long term.
We tend to forget the very real power we have as consumers and that companies live and die by our decisions to support them or not.
At the end of the day, we should celebrate that right by making our voices heard. If our privacy is directly linked to our freedom, autonomy and individuality, then our privacy should not be subject to piracy … Period.
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