@Tech Talk Internet Security

StartMail: A Secure Alternative to Gmail


This may be the first of many blog postings regarding moving from a Google product. Although I have always been a fan of Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” mantra, especially since I am not a fan of Facebook, the recent news that Google has updated its terms of service to officially state they scan and keep everything will make me move on from any free Google services.

Google’s latest official response regarding their products: “Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored”. PCMagWorld.com

If your like me you use your Gmail inbox as a “one box”, meaning I have all my emails go through Gmails servers. It’s easy to set up and very easy to use but with this new scanning issue it’s about time to investigate alternatives, so here is one excellent alternative that I have started using this week:

StartMail is in Beta Testing

Startmail BetaThere are quite a few “Secure” email providers out there but the one I have been waiting for since last year is StartMail. I applied for a beta account last year from my Gmail account. I never did get a response till this week when I make a request for access from a more secure email address. As of Thursday, 4/17/14, I have been testing the StartMail service. It may be a good alternative. Here is some background info…

From the makers of StartPage, my default search engine and most secure search engine on the planet, they are now adding fully encrypted email to their arsenal. This is a company that is based in the Netherlands, where US data collection programs like PRISM, the Patriot Act, FISA courts, etc. do not directly apply to them. They have never cooperated with spying programs like PRISM. (Plus they have no user data to begin with.) The attached video should explain more…


Upon my first review of StartMail the service “seems” secure! They are using PGP encryption which is something the US Government originally tried to restrict here in the states. Here’s a copy of their digital certificate… despite being a Dutch company their digital certificate was issued in the U.S.:

Startmail Digital Certificate

So I am starting to delve into the service. I have set it up on my Macbook and iPhone. Next will be my iPad. It takes a little time to set up each device because each device has to be registered and gets its own unique passcode but once you have it done you’ll feel like you’re using any other email address.

Here is a ScreenShot of the Inbox:


Startmail Screenshot

Here are some pros & cons:

No Archive Function Yet: If you are a webmail user you’ll find it’s a pretty basic web email service. You will have the ability to create folders and filters but as of now there is no way to archive your emails. I like the archive function in gmail and the ability to search through those archives. For now I’ll do it manually.

No Alerts Yet: My only other complaint is that there is no way to alert you to when an email comes in. StartMail can send you emails up to every hour if you like to alert yourself to new emails but for a person who leaves their inbox open all day alerts can come in handy.

Once you delete an email it goes straight to the trash first. Once you delete it from there, there’s no way to get it back. It’s gone from StartMails servers.

I will post more about this new service as I continue to use it. I WILL say there is a noticeable improvement to my Macbook’s performance. I guess without all this secret back and forth communication with Google the processor has been freed up to do other important things like…

Comments? Anyone using any other secure email services and why?

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  • Reply
    August 19, 2015 at 6:49 PM

    I run a small consulting business and privacy and security are very important to me and my clients, as I’m emailing sensitive, proprietary intellectual products. I also wanted to ditch the big, we-don’t-give-a-blank-about-your-privacy-concerns email providers, so paid the $60 (US) fee for Startmail. I was initially very excited to create aliases for different purposes, and set about updating everyone with my new email address. But then I found I couldn’t actually get to my mail. For whatever reasons, Startmail is so slow it’s just impractical to use. There are many times during the week when Startmail won’t even load. Period. At other times, it’s so slow it’s frightening thinking about trying to access my mail. I wish they’d had only a month-by-month trial because I’ve already stopped using Startmail–a waste of my money.

    We are considering going back to securely delivered hard copies of sensitive documents since there appear so many risks with electronic exchanges. Too bad. We’re also experimenting with secure online document sharing, while retaining the ability to limit/revoke access to files. As far as email is concerned, I’ve advised my family not to send anything sensitive via email, to refrain from composing anything they’d be concerned over via electronic means, and to be equally careful about creating anonymous web identities, since I believe the personal data vampires are equally avaricious about discerning owners of supposedly anonymous accounts.

    • Reply
      Mike Gale
      August 22, 2015 at 6:19 PM

      Abe. One approach that might fit your situation:
      Use “hand” encrypted PGP. This can be files, emails…

      You not only cut out the email provider, you cut out any GUI based emailing tool too. (The snoopable surface is reduced.)

      It could be achieved with a tool like GPA (Gnu Privacy Assistant) and is quick once you get the hang of it.

      Participants are more fully in control and more able to sort out any problems, as a result.

      There are other ways, like command line too. If you’re on Windows GPA comes bundled with GPG4Win.

      • Reply
        September 25, 2015 at 12:41 PM

        I’m with Abe on this. We went back to hand delivery of secure documents, too, and flushed Startmail. It’s neither practical (thanks to it’s mind-numbing slowness) nor is it infallible,

        At $60 a year, it’s rudely overpriced.

        Aside from that, electronic is electronic – it will always be vulnerable to privacy issues of some sort – and/or hackers – all it takes is a disgruntled ex-staffer to cause mayhem.

        Thanks, but no thanks.

  • Reply
    March 13, 2015 at 11:37 PM

    After purchasing a StartMail account last November, I’ve finally abandoned it – as well as the $60 I paid for it – and returned to Gmail.

    Not what the StartMail creators want to hear, because they’ve blocked me from leaving honest feedback on their feedback forum – they only want to hear the positives – but after just a few months of use, I found it frustrating and unprofessional.

    Their regular ‘maintenance nights’ (where StartMail shuts down for 3 or 4 hours or more at a time) is unacceptable.

    I can’t run a business where I have to constantly notify customers that they won’t be able to contact me during certain hours because my email provider has shut down for a while.

    The fact that customizations are non-existent don’t help.

    The other annoying fact is that it’s slow as a poke to use. It’s definitely nowhere near as responsive as Gmail.

    Storage space is limited to 10GB. Gmail gives you 15GB without charging you a cent.

    All you receive for your $60 a year, is a bit more security – and even that’s debatable, given that you have to find a ‘secure’ way of notifying everyone in your address book of the correct answers to the encryption questions.

    In all – perhaps naive – honesty, I actually thought that $60 a year would give me all the bells and whistles of Gmail with a bit more security.

    Nope. Not even a little bit.

    It’s a waste of time and most definitely a waste of money.

    One good thing about StartMail, though: it cured me of my privacy paranoia.

    • Reply
      David Daniels
      March 14, 2015 at 2:30 PM

      After using Startmail for a while I tend to agree it’s not a great email provider to use as your primary email address. I do still use it for every little form on the web that asks for an email address for marketing purposes and when I feel I would like to correspond with someone privately. The spam filters work great and it keeps all that stuff out of my Gmail. It is slow because of the encryption process but I find it is easy to access from an iPhone with 1Password. I do wish they had an iPhone app but that would probably defeat the purpose of being secure.

      My privacy paranoia will never end after the local authorities were able to forward all my emails to me to prove how easy Gmail is to access. Best to keep that privacy paranoia. ;)

      • Reply
        April 7, 2015 at 10:43 PM

        I simply opened a second Gmail account for that kind of thing – no need to pay $60 a year just for that :)

    • Reply
      Mike Gale
      March 15, 2015 at 7:45 PM

      I find the comments here really interesting.

      It seems that a lot of people don’t care that much about privacy. If there is some inconvenience with it, they’re happy for others to look at their emails, maybe forever.

      This can mean the demise of privacy systems for those who want them and are determined to make them work.

      I wish StartMail every success.

      If you need this sort of thing and don’t have it to hand, you can always hand encode a text email, with simple tools. GUI’s are not essential.

      • Reply
        April 7, 2015 at 10:49 PM

        I, too, paid $60 for a StartMail account and found it so slow, I could have hand delivered a written note to the other side of the globe before StartMail even finished thinking about it.

        So I guess, like someone else here said, I very quickly got over the ‘privacy paranoia’, too. It’s just too slow to be of any value and there is still the issue of finding a secure way of giving recipients a secret answer for encryption.

        Anyway, my emails don’t ever contain anything earth-shattering – they might be a bit saucy sometimes, but who doesn’t love a good bit of ‘sauce’? ;)

        • Reply
          David Daniels
          April 8, 2015 at 10:02 AM

          I may take you up on that. Hand delivering a written note to the other side of the globe that is. ;)

    • Reply
      April 13, 2015 at 4:02 AM

      You clearly don’t understand the product you used. and this is sad. People use internet, services with no idea of what they are.
      You paid 60€ for using startmail. Your mails are not scan, startmail don’t create a virtual profile of you from the content of your mail, your queries on google, etc… You keep your privacy.
      A mail provider offer a service. And you have to pay for a service. That how people lives since a long time, and you complain about your business? But if you need mail provider for your business why refuse to pay for it? Your client give you money no?
      It’s like you’re going to the post office, send a letter, but in place to pay for a stamp, we just ask you everything you did that day, and people you talked to. Of course in the case of google, it’s only machine who scan and store your informations. But now that we know that programs of various government haves acces to the information, why accept that?

      The fact that google is free is a problem. Yes their product are amazing and free. Google is the most powerful private company in the world. With free services. Think about that 2 secondes and tell me if it’s logic.

      Startmail gonna improve, that’s only the beginning, and it’s already working very good. And if it’s not the case, they is other options than google. I understand that some people don’t like it of course, but your complain about the service show just how ignorant you are about the tool you choose to use.

      • Reply
        April 18, 2015 at 5:18 AM

        Hello! I still have one free secure Startmail companion account to give away. First come, first served! Let me know if you are interested.

  • Reply
    December 5, 2014 at 1:21 PM

    I was a Startmail Beta tester and now have a purchased account. I love Startmail. It’s everything I had with Gmail that I liked but I don’t have to put up with the ever increasing creepy and creeping Gmail stuff I didn’t like. Gmail isn’t free when you think about what the cost really is and I had my Gmail account from when it first started so was not going to leave for just any old service.

  • Reply
    Mike Gale
    November 20, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    What’s your opinion after more than 6 months?

    (I guess one way to be secure with any email system is to hand encrypt content before putting it into your email client. Issue is finding others who are doing the same!)

    • Reply
      David Daniels
      November 20, 2014 at 7:38 PM

      How many people are going to go thought the extra trouble to encrypt their email account? I think this is where services like Startmail will make a difference, by doing that for the average person. At least you know the NSA doesn’t have access to these accounts and that’s half the battle.

  • Reply
    November 6, 2014 at 3:53 PM

    I like StartMail a lot. Now that they’ve named their pricing — about $60 for a regular account — we can now decide for ourselves. Is our privacy worth $60/year to us? If not, hey, keep using Google. It’s convenient. It’s ubiquitous. It works.

    But I’m moving my email, documents, and services (contacts, tasks, etc) elsewhere as quickly as I can. These days the Google motto — “Don’t be evil” — just sounds like a bad, ironic joke.

    • Reply
      November 6, 2014 at 3:59 PM

      As a satisfied customer, may I also highly recommend SpiderOak for cloud-storage needs: https://spideroak.com/

      Dropbox (which has warrantless-wiretap fan Condi Rice on its board) is the Google of cloud storage — and that’s not meant as a compliment.

  • Reply
    I have 2 Secure Email Accounts to Give Away | DavidDaniels.com
    October 19, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    […] so I kept it. Here is the blog posting from April reviewing the Startmail service – http://daviddaniels.com/2014/04/startmail-a-secure-alternative-to-gmail/. I would recommend […]

  • Reply
    May 31, 2014 at 12:04 PM

    Moved over to Thexyz last year… Privacy, reliability, etc. improvements aside — the iOS app alone is worth it. https://www.thexyz.com

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