Back in March, I had a little scare with my Gmail account and was locked out for about 48 hours. That was a wake up call for me. I’ve been a Gmail user since the beginning. If I remember correctly, I was probably in the first week’s worth of invitations to create a Gmail account way back in 2004. With an account that old, it has been tough moving on from Gmail.
Starting in early 2020, pre-pandemic, I’d already started thinking of taking a more privacy focussed approach to my email with an account on a domain that I own. I’ve done this in the past, but Google made it so damn easy to just push that email to your Gmail account too.
With that in mind, I set out to test a couple of providers I saw most mentioned on Hacker News threads. In this case, I opened accounts with ProtonMail and Fastmail. It’s been well over a year, but I’m actually still using both. But more on that later.
Why Did I Start Thinking About Moving On From Gmail?
Like I said, I was in the very early adopter group and as such I had an OG first-initial-last-name @ account. That was fancy and has served me well over the years. I occasionally would get emails intended for others because of human error. I’d politely reply that they had the wrong person and delete the email. I even a canned template action set up for quick replies. But somewhere over the last 2-3 years this started to become a very common occurrence happening on nearly a daily basis.
In addition, I’ve grown wary at what information Big Tech has compiled on you. Google scans all Gmail to tailor the ads it displays and builds a digital footprint of you. Granted this isn’t a person doing this, it is all machine learning and algorithms. Have you ever noticed that Amazon doesn’t list the products in purchase confirmation emails anymore? That is because Amazon wants to keep that info and not let other tech firms like Google capture that data from your emails.
Also, queue up my comments from my Why I Switched to Fathom Analytics post: If the service is free, you are probably the product.
I’m not overly paranoid about this. I realize that just about any person on the planet could probably be identified with about 10-20 data points. But we’ve all heard the horror stories from “data points” like the Target Teen Pregnancy debacle from nearly a decade ago. So part of my decision was just making a conscious effort to scale back some of my data points.
Locked out of Gmail for 48 Hours
But the bigger issue for me was getting locked out of my Gmail account for almost 48 hours back in March. And I was suddenly faced with the scope of how many accounts/logins/data that were tied up with my Gmail address. I had nearly 600 accounts in my 1Password vault that was using my Gmail address as the login. Granted that is probably a bit overblown as far as active accounts in use, but when you see that number, no matter how small it might be, if there is a critical account in there and you lose access to it. That becomes pain and suffering.
ProtonMail – For Secure, Encrypted Email
The first provider I went with was ProtonMail. ProtonMail is based in Switzerland and provides end-to-end encryption of their email. It works best if you use ProtonMail in the browser or via their iOS/Android apps. But because this is end-to-end encrypted, you can’t just drop your IMAP & SMTP servers into your third party mail application. You’ll also need to download the ProtonMail bridge to do this.
That is of no concern to me as I’m already browser centric with my email since I was coming from Gmail. On my phone, the iOS app is very well designed and easy to use.
Pricing starts at about $5/month USD and they do offer a limited free account if you just want to try things out. A few months into my paid account I actually upgraded my plan to include their ProtonVPN service which also gave me access to Proton Calendar and Proton Drive beta.
My ProtonMail account now manages email on my own custom domain and if I were ever to lose access to my ProtonMail account, it would be as simple as setting email services for that domain with a new email provider.
Today, ProtonMail is my primary email provider for my most secure accounts. And with their email migration tool, I was able to bring my 95k emails from my Gmail account right into it.
Fastmail – For a Fast and Private Alternative to Gmail
My second provider was Fastmail (affiliate link). Fastmail is a privacy-first, secure email service starting at $3/month. They do offer a free trial to get started. They aren’t end-to-end encrypted, but is the type of service that is most suited for most Gmail users. They have a browser-based interface, you can drop their IMAP/SMTP server information into whatever email application you prefer, or you can use their dedicated iOS and Android apps.
Plus they have the ability to import your existing email just like ProtonMail so you can really get a seamless transition.
Fastmail also gives you a generous amount of email aliases just in case you want to maintain a level of anonymity. If you start getting spam to one of those aliases, delete it, no problem.
Like I said, I’m still using Fastmail too. All of my important secure email goes to ProtonMail, everything else goes to Fastmail. I love the fact you can bring your own domains to FastMail and set up email delivery. As someone who has many domains laying around, this is easy for me to start a new domain project, add a custom email address to it and get started. Get Started With Fastmail (affiliate link).
Switching Out my Account Email Addresses
The hardest part of moving on from Gmail to a new email address was updating all of those accounts that were using my Gmail address. Let’s face it. That was my biggest fear prior to March and getting locked out of my account. But after that event, I just went through my 1Password account and switched my most important accounts; my banking account, credit cards, utilities, mortgage, etc. just did those.
After that, anytime I Iogged in to an account I’d just take a minute or so to update the information as I encountered them. I also set up my Gmail to autoforward all incoming mail to my primary ProtonMail account. I just looked in 1Password and I’m down to about 80 accounts left to switch. And since I probably haven’t logged into any of those 80 accounts in 5 months since I made the hard switch, I might be better served to just delete those accounts.
Am I done with Google?
While I’m moving on from Gmail, I haven’t ditched Google entirely. I still manage some Google Analytics properties for clients, but I have added backup admin accounts just in case. I also still maintain a
Google Apps for Domains, nay, Google GSuite, nay, Google Workspace account for this domain. But all of that email automatically forwards to my ProtonMail account.
That said, I’m pretty sure that if you use a paid Google Workspace account, they are more privacy focused than the free offering of Gmail.
I still haven’t found a worthy competitor to Google Docs, but I do make sure to keep the vast majority of my Google Docs under my Google WorkSpace account and I do back them up with physical downloads.