Protect your digital identity from Google for $70 per year

I’ve never trusted Gmail. Google does too much creepy stuff, and they have zero customer accountability.

While there’s no escaping Google for some services, I think it’s reasonable to draw the line at email. It’s deeply personal content and the gateway to all of the rest of your internet accounts. If you used a Gmail account for your other account signups, and one day Google decided to take your account away, you could find yourself locked out of your entire digital identity.

Best of all, it’s entirely possible to assemble your own email service—if you can part with a few dollars each year.

Start with a domain

This part is essential. As long as you control your own domain, you can always decide where your email is routed.

If you do nothing else, register a domain. You can at least set up free mail forwarding from your domain to a Gmail address. If one day you need to leave Google in the middle of the night, you can redirect your mail forwarding to a new service.

I like Namecheap. Every registration comes with free whois masking, so no one can look up your address through your domain. Here’s a bit on how to set up email forwarding through Namecheap, but most registrars offer this option. Just search the web for [registrar name] email forwarding.

Once you’re using a custom domain for email, you have a lot more control over how you receive email. But there are limits to the free forwarding service that comes with your registration. It can be finicky to successfully send mail using your new address. For a fully-integrated experience where your address always works consistently for sending and receiving, you have to go further.

Add an email host

You can actually pay Google to be your email host. This is called Gsuite and it costs $5 per month. But the whole point of this is to get away from Google.

This is the beauty of holding your own domain, though: you can decide. If Google happens to be convenient for you, you can point your address there. If you’d rather keep your email private from a company like Google, you can use someone else. While it’s entirely possible to stand up your own server for email, dedicated entirely to you, with no other users, I’m not going to get into those details. Instead, there’s a nice middle ground between complete DIY and revealing all your data to a massive advertising company.

You can use a service like Fastmail, whose only ambition is to provide secure, reliable email for a reasonable price. Also for $5 a month, they’ll host your email and, if you want, completely configure your domain for you. Here are the details.

But Fastmail isn’t the only option. If you’re especially worried about privacy and security, you can use ProtonMail, which is headquartered and hosted in Switzerland. Mmm, Swiss privacy laws.

What’s important here is that, at any moment, you can point your domain to new service if the host you’re using doesn’t work out. Your emails won’t be trapped with one service.

Backing up your email

Web-based email is convenient but it means giving up a lot of power. When you use an email application on your local computer, you can be assured that all of your messages are stored to your hard drive. If you do automatic backups, your email will be safely backed up as well. If you host with Fastmail, they have complete documentation for setting this up on macOS, Windows and Linux. ProtonMail offers something similar, again with a privacy emphasis.

Coexisting with Google

After all of this is set up, you’ll probably still need Google for some things. You can sign up for a Google Account with your email address and not get Gmail. This is convenient for Google Calendar especially—most people seem to use Google/Gsuite for calendaring, so having your invitations automatically caught by Google Calendar is helpful.

Of course, for all non-email services provided by Google, you’re again at their mercy. But your email is safe.