Protonmail—Why I switched and you should too
Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.
Email privacy has historically been less friendly than one might hope, with the most widespread technology being PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). While PGP is actually relatively easy to use, it remains solidly outside the comfort zone of the average user. This is true even with increasing awareness and concern about government snooping and corporate tracking. Privacy is fundamental to the human experience, yet it continues escapes the purview of most people.
Enter ProtonMail, a secure email service designed to be free, easy to use and mobile friendly. Developed by scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)—the place where all the Higgs Boson hype came from—ProtonMail seeks to give encryption to everyone, protecting them from mass surveillance by governments and corporations. It uses very strong open source cryptography to encrypt your data before it even leaves your computer (or phone or tablet). It stays encrypted _even if you’re sending it to someone who doesn't use ProtonMail_. The ProtonMail servers don't have the key to your encrypted emails, which means they can’t see what your email holds even if they wanted to, so your email couldn't be shared even if a government ordered it. Plus, the servers themselves protected with Switzerland's very strong privacy laws.
Other features include the ability to set an expiration time on your emails, easy to use filters and tags for organization. While there are paid versions which add extra functionality (like extra storage, custom aliases, priority support, etc.), most users have and only need the standard version, which will be free forever with no ads. How do they keep running a free service without ads?
Besides their record-breaking crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, they receive donations from their many users. This is combined with heavier users like myself who use the paid services to gain access to functionality like using custom domain names (ProtonMail secures my public-facing email). In addition to all their features, they don’t track or log any identifiable information—unlike Google or Yahoo.
ProtonMail offers a beautiful, Lovie design award nominated web-based client, as well as highly rated easy-to-use apps for Android and iOS. For the more-than-average security minded, a standalone APK is in the works also. Plus–a necessity with personal data–ProtonMail offers two-factor authentication.
Of course, nothing can be perfect. ProtonMail is fully released, but doesn’t yet offer the full functionality of a service like GMail. Don’t get me wrong, email is their focus and that part is fantastic. However, the service does not yet offer a calendar or even calendar integration. Nor is there an instant messaging capability, nor a desktop client. The spam filter isn’t perfect (though none are), and I would prefer more storage space. However, with many of these features on their way as development continues, I am more than very pleased with the state of ProtonMail.
Privacy is an important part of life and secure email is a huge step in the direction of this basic freedom. Going against the grain of less user friendly—though still very secure—methods of encryption like PGP, ProtonMail brings email privacy back to the people while still maintaining a fantastic user experience characteristic of a first-class email service. This is why I’ve switched all my mail to ProtonMail, and why I encourage without hesitation that you do the same. And for the record, no I have not been paid or asked to write about this, I really do love ProtonMail that much.