Privacy, Security

What Is a Zero Knowledge Email Provider?

April 5, 2022 / My Data Removal Staff
The Tutenota and Protonmail logos and maps of where they are located.

The most popular email services have changed over the years. There was AOL, Juno, Hotmail, Yahoo!, among others. Gmail has been in the lead for a while, but there are now hundreds of options.

Have you ever considered, in your quest to secure your online privacy and security that your email provider might be letting you down? Read on to find out what email providers are best for keeping you and your information protected.

Definition

Secure email means it is zero knowledge. Zero knowledge means that no one except you can access your data, even the company providing the service for example, the employees at the company can’t read your data). Secure email also means that it is housed on servers in a country that respects privacy. The email infrastructure should be open source and vetted by independent auditors. This all means that using an email provider that is zero knowledge is a smart and safe choice.

Why it matters

For many free email providers, you have very little privacy. This main reason for this is because you are the product. Gmail, Outlook, and others, make money by showing you targeted ads. Also, they would share your emails if required by law enforcement. You do not have privacy with them.

On the plus side, Google and Microsoft do have excellent security. Yahoo! Had a big leak in the past, but they are probably doing a decent job with the data they currently have.

If you go with the most popular options, you can be a target. There are countless hackers and organizations that would love to get access to Gmail, Outlook, or any number of other big players’ email data.

The main players in zero-knowledge email: Proton and Tutenota

Proton and Tutenota are the best-known providers of zero-knowledge email. They have both been around for years and both have solid reputations as protecting their users’ privacy. Their servers are located in Switzerland and Germany, respectively, both privacy-friendly countries.

Which platform matters

The catch with zero knowledge email providers is that they are only zero knowledge if sending an email within platform. So if you use a Proton address to send an email to a friend with a Gmail address, it is not zero knowledge (both Proton and Google would be able to access the email). The same goes if you receive an email from a different platform to a zero-knowledge platform (if it was sent from Gmail to Tutenota, then both companies can read the email).

It only works if it’s Proton to Proton or Tutenota to Tutenota.

This means the network effect is very strong. If more people are on your platform, then more people will join. It’s hard for others to compete when they have to start from zero with their user base. This has made it hard for competitors to gain a foothold when the privacy-conscious community is not that big to begin with.

Business model of the email provider

It makes sense to consider the business model of the email provider you are using or considering.

Freemium: This is how Proton and Tutenota operate. There are free tiers with limited space and limited options. These free options are supported by the paid users who desire more services from the platform. To use your own domain with one of these email providers requires a paid subscription. Tutenota and Proton are constantly updating their service and adding new features.

Ad revenue: This is Gmail, Outlook, and most everyone else who offers free email. They show you ads alongside your emails to make money. Gmail stopped having the ads based on the contents of your emails a few years ago. But they know pretty well who you are and your interests, and they make lots of money on their ads.

Give it a try

Sign up for an account with Proton or Tutenota today and improve your privacy and security.

Keep in mind the price you pay when you use Gmail or other free services online. While you are not paying money upfront, the advertisers are buying access to you, and thus you are sacrificing your privacy. Consider giving a zero knowledge email provider a try and realize that leaving the comfort of Gmail or Outlook isn’t so bad after all. If you aren't convinced you can take a look at our Why Privacy?, Why Security?, and Secure Communications posts.

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