How To: Use Email Privately without Being Tracked

by Tracy Knauer •

Virtually everyone needs an email account. Yet keeping emails private and secure is challenging because, by design, email identifies the sender. You also can’t protect emails from tracking with privacy tools like Tor or VPN. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to protect your email privacy. Here are our tips for secure email:

  • If possible, use an email provider that doesn’t track you. For a detailed guide to private email providers click here. But in a nutshell, our top recommendations are MyKolab and FastMail. You have to pay for these and most other private email providers, but it’s worth it if you are concerned about email security.

If you have to use an email provider that does track you, like Gmail or Yahoo! Mail, you can mitigate their ability to do so by:

  • Using an offline email client (like Thunderbird) instead of browser-based webmail. Offline email is generally more secure, and some providers don’t monitor messages that are sent and read offline.
  • Use a VPN when you check your email (whether via an offline client or through the browser). Your email connection should already be encrypted, but the VPN will add another layer of privacy. It can’t hurt.
  • If you do use webmail, install the PixelBlock (for Chrome) or Ghostery (for Firefox) extensions. They provide anti-tracking features, which you can use to limit the extent to which your email provider monitors your messages.

Last but not least, if you’re really committed to email privacy…

  • Consider setting up your own email server. Doing so securely requires a fair amount of expertise, but if you already know something about servers, you could try this route. Mail-in-a-Box is an open source email server that is designed to be easier to configure than most. When you become your own email provider, no one can track you — and it’s free (not counting what it costs to run the server, at least).

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