Treat your email right

Email was born as a more convenient and rapid way to exchange messages in an attempt to replace physical letters. Indeed, this is what has happened in the 50 years that passed since its inception. Nowadays email is considered an absolute basic communication medium. It is required for accessing almost any digital, and sometimes physical, service (even the dentist asked for my email address!). As such, an email address may convey more personal details than a physical one.

So, today seems like a good time to update your email safety.

Your email address is split in 3 major parts (as specified by RFC-5322):


Usually the domain name conveys information about your affiliation or your email service provider.

Having multiple emails, unaffiliated with a company, is a common way to protect your digital privacy, improve decentralization of the Internet, and help confining and reducing spam.

To put it in Lorenzo Cogotti’s words:

The strategy works by making it harder to associate different services' subscriptions together by a single email address, reducing the chance to track you. Keep in mind though, that other information may still be used to link them together (e.g. there’s still your phone number).

Some basic tips

Let’s cover some basics on how you can improve your safety even with non Free and Open Source (FOSS) email solutions.

This won’t be enough to ensure you won’t receive spam. In practice, we have to accept nothing on the Internet can guarantee you a 100% spam-free life, unless you use services expressly designed to fight spam and promo emails. However, it will make the lives of those who are trying to reach you, for this reason, a bit more complicated.

What about email service providers?

This partially settles the problem with other services using email addresses to track us, but what if we suspect the email service provider is the one scanning us?

Probably, the best bet would be configuring your own mail server. Unfortunately, it cannot be considered gratis or easy, but if you are a business owner or an enthusiast it may be viable. Creating a domain is not enough, as managing emails needs storage space on a server. Which practically means buying a piece of hardware. Prices range from 30 to several thousands euros, with the basic options being a good solution for small initiatives and individuals. For some business owners, the hardware price and the increase in energy bills may justify renting a server. Though, running it still requires advanced knowledge and maintenance.

The average user may look for simpler solutions, like relying on existing servers provided by dependable mail service providers. Surely, it is not that easy.

Let’s introduce a sad fact about our world.

Nothing is gratis.

As we have just seen, running a mail hosting server is not trivial. It involves expensive hardware, complex knowledge, storage space, disaster recovery plans, web traffic distribution and Internet domain management, to name a few, - so, it is naïve to expect it all free of charge.

In fact, it is not. Even when there is no subscription fee, one should look for a more complex one. Most “gratis” mail services actively track their users’ data, for further monetization, such as targeted advertising. In other words, some mail servers may scan your emails or share the history of your message with third parties and governments. This practice is not considered illegal, as some of this data is not regarded as personal or sensitive. Plus, a user should be aware of everything as they are always welcome to read the 20+ pages of Privacy Notice to understand how their data is treated (and do not forget to check yearly privacy updates timely).

Additionally, big famous mail servers are the most popular targets of attacks and consequent password leaks, plus their email addresses are easier to guess. As for smaller ones, if you are unsure where to look, it is not obvious to avoid third-party involvement and ensure data safety. For example, numerous services still use ReCaptcha, a service by Google (the existential “I am not a robot” thing).

So, it is important to stay informed and make sure you understand how the service treats your data and who can access it.

The Free Software Foundation provides some interesting insights on the subject.

Stay informed, and stay safe!