Switching from Gmail to ProtonMail to protect privacy and save money
Over the past several months, I’ve become less-than-enamored with Google and other big tech companies continuously collecting data about me. So last month, I decided to something about it: I closed almost* all my Gmail accounts — including the Google email accounts I paid for — and switched to a paid ProtonMail account.
I first researched ProtonMail and other encrypted mail services over a year ago. Inertia kept me from taking the plunge back. Then the Facebook Files came out this past September. All those internal documents showing Facebook knows its social media platforms cause harm, yet the company chooses to put their profits over the public’s safety (no surprise there, honestly) — that disclosure was just the push I needed to extricate myself as much as possible, from big tech companies, starting with Google and Gmail. I know Google and Facebook are different companies, but actually, Google gathers more data about people than Facebook.
Enter ProtonMail. It’s an encrypted email service based in Switzerland and founded by CERN scientists in 2013 in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leak of secret documents showing the U.S. government conducted extensive phone and Internet surveillance.
My #1 concern: Data privacy
ProtonMail prioritizes privacy. There are no ads. There’s a free basic plan that offers you one email address, one user and 500 MB of storage. Anything more than this and you’ll pay between $5 and $30 per month.
There are so many ways that ProtonMail protects you and your data, including not storing IP addresses and automatically encrypting emails end-to-end so that even ProtonMail employees can’t read your messages. Before learning this latter fact about ProtonMail, I never thought about whether or not Google employees had the ability to read my messages. They do, in certain circumstances.
Another way ProtonMail protects you and your data is by being based in Switzerland. Privacy laws there are tighter than in other countries, including the United States. According to an article on HowToGeek:
“This means that ProtonMail can’t be forced to hand over data to authorities in the U.S. Switzerland is not part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing agreement that exists between the U.S., Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.
By comparison, Google is located in the U.S. and may be forced by law to turn over information on its users. (And in the U.S., emails are considered “abandoned” after 180 days, so the government can request them without a warrant.) This includes inbox contents, metadata, IP addresses, and more. This information can then be shared with other members of the Five Eyes allegiance.”
I doubt my emails will ever be of interest to law enforcement. But if I can protect my online correspondence, yes, I’d like to do that.
ProtonMail bonus: For me, it’s cheaper than paid Google email accounts
With Google, I paid for two email addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. I spent $12 per month for both, a total of $144 per year. Each email address came with 30GB of Google Drive storage and I’m not sure how much email storage, but I’m guessing at least 15GB since that’s the limit for free Gmail accounts.
With ProtonMail, I pay $48 a year for five email addresses, 5GB of storage for my email messages plus a few other features. That’s a $96 savings ever year over Google.
Of course, there are some trade-offs. My ProtonMail plan allows me to have only one customized domain name email address. So, I opted to keep my firstname.lastname@example.org address and ditch my email@example.com address in favor of firstname.lastname@example.org. The pm.me address is one of three free domain name/domain combos that ProtonMail lets you choose. The others are protonmail.com and protonmail.ch.
Another trade-off is the amount of email storage. With Google, there was so much space for my messages that I let them all pile up, the junk ones as well as the important ones. With ProtonMail, I find myself deleting messages right away if I don’t want them or if an issue has been solved. There may come a day when I need extra email storage. In that case, I’ll pay the extra $9 per year per GB of storage. For now, though, the storage constraint is motivating me to keep my inbox tidy.
Should you switch to ProtonMail, too?
I think many of us have been conditioned to believe email should be free. But if you’ve also been thinking of switching to a paid email service that prioritizes privacy, then I definitely recommend ProtonMail (and ProtonMail definitely did not pay me to write that or anything else in this post). I’m one-and-a-half months into using it and so far things are good.
First, the pros.
– Their amazing tech support staff helped me successfully import all my laurapohl.com emails from its previous Google home. One guy even followed up with me, just as he said he would, when I told him I’d need a few days to implement the import steps he told me to take.
– It’s been easy for me to organize my messages into folders and create filters to ensure incoming messages go where I want them to go.
– And of course, there’s the data privacy and the cheaper price compared to Google.
Second, the cons. These cons are slight, nothing that would have convinced me NOT to sign up for ProtonMail.
– All my emails seem to travel about 15-20 seconds slower than when I was with Google, but it’s not a big deal. In my mind, this is the extra time it takes to super-encrypt my message (though this probably isn’t true).
– The ProtonMail app doesn’t nest messages like my Google mail app did, which can be annoying.
Are you thinking of switching away from free email to a paid service? What companies are you looking at and why? Or do you have any questions about how I moved my emails from Google to ProtonMail? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.
*I haven’t closed all my Gmail accounts because there are a couple addresses I share with other people.