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StartMail: A Secure Alternative to Gmail

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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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27 Comments

  • Reply
    looseends
    January 21, 2016 at 8:37 PM

    Startmail.com versus Protonmail.ch 0-1 As long there is a .com extension all the US secret services or whatever other services there been, they can demand to release a conversation. The difference: .com (US) versus .ch (Swiss)…The US Patriot Act.

    • Reply
      Sally Payze
      January 22, 2016 at 6:15 PM

      Greetings – StartMail is based in The Netherlands and is therefore not forced to comply with the Patriot Act. At this point, European governments cannot legally force service providers like StartMail to implement a blanket spying program on their users. Hopefully European privacy laws will stay intact for the foreseeable future!

  • Reply
    Karin
    December 9, 2015 at 5:16 PM

    I signed up for startmail last year after participating in their beta test, with high hopes for an alternative to yahoo, etc. I had problems from the start, which their support team was unable to fix. The scrolling was nearly impossible, making it very difficult to find e-mails I was looking for (note: I only had about 160 e-mails on their server), and the count on the # of e-mails was always off. In other words, the system was just not loading the e-mails. Additionally, I never received the promised companion account, which my husband was interested in trying. I used their links and followed the instructions, to no avail.

    After several attempts to get help from the support staff, I gave up after getting this from one of their team members:

    “As for your other question, this appears to be normal behavior for the system. For example, I just clicked my own inbox and in the bottom right on the blue footer I have a message that says: Loaded 36 of 3103 messages. They are all still in my inbox but they just haven’t loaded yet.”

    Oh, great. This is normal, then.

    So I stopped using startmail until I recently received a notification of renewal. I tried to sign into my account to see if the problems had been fixed, and was locked out. The support team verified that I was locked out, but all they’ve been doing is e-mailing me that the problem was referred to someone else on the team. With no resulting action. So far, I’ve received 2 links that, when I attempt to sign in, give me the following message:

    “Invalid password reset code or invalid account email address.”

    I’ve tried both of my startmail e-mail addresses, but neither works. And I very carefully typed in my password. So the problem is not on my end.

    I finally received an e-mail from their staff asking me, since the issue had not been resolved for nearly a week, to contact their vice president of operations, Sally Payze. Since I had barely used the account in the past year I paid for, and since I was still locked out of my account, I asked for a refund of my $60. She apologized and wrote, of course. She could send me a ‘gift’ certificate for the amount. For what? Another year of startmail? A box of chocolates? I declined the offer, and e-mailed that I would prefer a check, and gave her my mailing address. I haven’t heard back.

    This is a very disappointing service. Don’t bother with it.

    • Reply
      Sally Payze
      December 9, 2015 at 7:32 PM

      Karin,

      You omitted many of the details of your correspondence with me and our Support team members. I won’t bore this audience with them, but I’d be happy to provide them to whoever would like to know more about the correspondence and details.

      You received multiple password resets, but couldn’t get them to work. You are the only one of our more than 10,000 users who has this problem.

      I reached out to help you and resolve the issue. You asked me for a refund at 3:06 PM today and when you didn’t hear from me a little more than two hours later, you decided to post this review. Anyway, thank you for giving StartMail a try.

      • Reply
        Karin
        December 9, 2015 at 8:07 PM

        To the reader: because I posted this review, Sally Payze e-mailed me that she will not issue a refund. Here is my reply to her (and as you can see by the comments on this site, not all of the 10,000 startmail customers she mentions are happy about the startmail loading problem):

        Sally~

        I’m sorry about your friend. I truly am.

        However, this does not solve the problems with your company. As I read the comments on the site I posted to, it seems that loading e-mails onto the server is a universal problem that users have experienced and are still experiencing, to the point that many simply abandoned their startmail accounts. It was so bad when I tried it last December, after signing on, that I could not access most of my e-mail when I logged on. In other words, they were as good as lost to me. This is why I didn’t trust sending anything else to the server. I should have asked for a refund at that time, but I had listened to Katherine Albrecht pushing startmail on infowars, found her to be a person of integrity, and I wanted to give your company the benefit of the doubt. In other words, I was willing to give startmail some time to straighten out these issues, even though I couldn’t use what I paid for. This is why I didn’t push for the companion account, even though my husband was very interested in trying it. However, when I signed on after nearly a year, was locked out, and fruitlessly tried to get your staff to give me some concrete and workable help that was not forthcoming for nearly a week, I’d had it. When you offered to make it up to me by offering me a ‘gift certificate’ (presumably to apply to a still-dysfunctional startmail account), it felt as if you were throwing an old bone to a dog. This is not how a customer who has been more than patient and reasonable should be handled.

        Sally, if you don’t want to issue a refund, that is your prerogative. I’m a civil engineer and I make a decent salary, so it is no skin off of my nose. However, it speaks to the integrity of your company, and to you. I wrote the review in sheer frustration, and apparently, it was more than deserved judging by how you have chosen to handle this. Check for yourself how often I used the account. I gave up after a month. How many other people’s money are you collecting based on a server that can’t even load 160 e-mails? Again, I’m just thankful that I kept copies of those e-mails, or they would be lost to me forever.

        Sincerely,

        Karin

        • Reply
          Karin
          December 10, 2015 at 4:11 PM

          P.S. to Ms. Payze: you wrote the following: “You omitted many of the details of your correspondence with me and our Support team members. I won’t bore this audience with them, but I’d be happy to provide them to whoever would like to know more about the correspondence and details.”

          No, I didn’t omit anything. I just reviewed the e-mails that went back and forth while I tried to resolve the issue, both in the past week and last December. As for the ‘multiple password resets’ (two) I received, the only required entries were for an account e-mail address, new password + confirmation, and human verification. Too simple to screw up if you’re careful.

          Sorry, Ms. Payze. Nice try to make it seem as if your service is impeccable, and there was ‘more to the story’.

        • Reply
          Sally Payze
          December 10, 2015 at 4:26 PM

          Greetings,

          Actually my comments about working through your issues was more based on the fact that you sent me an email at 3:08PM and then before I had a chance to reply with next steps you (2 hours and 12 minutes after sending your email) decided to post this information that leaves out the parts about us giving you solution to the Companion Accounts and other issues that are, quite frankly, primarily user issues. Yes, our support team should have read through your questions more carefully and we’ll fix that, yes my helpfulness runs out when you go on the offensive and attack integrity.

          • Karin
            December 10, 2015 at 4:54 PM

            Sally, they were not user issues. The links I was sent to reset my password did not work. The info I was required to enter was not complicated. Regarding the companion account (actually, two were offered), here’s what Gina M. e-mailed me on 12/11/14:

            “After you upgraded your account, and got past the stage when you were able to choose your email address our system auto-generates the companion account emails. You can then forward these to family/friends if you desire. Another way to access these gift subscriptions, is to log into your account and visit the following link: https://www.startmail.com/account/gifts or click on “Account” then “Gift Invites” in StartMail webmail.”

            Unfortunately, the companion account e-mails never auto-generated. I tried to access the gift subscriptions as instructed above, and was unable to do so.

            Here’s what I paid a year’s subscription for:

            Item Purchased:
            Personal subscription (365 days)

            Bonus:
            2 free Companion Accounts, available after creating the account.

            Oh well. As for your 10,000 happy users, read the comments on this site. It seems that I’m not the only ONE out of the entire 10,000 that feels that startmail is a waste of money.

  • Reply
    Abe
    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
        Storm
        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
    Tulli
    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
        UnexpectedPancake
        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
        UnexpectedPancake
        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
      Albert
      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
        Gaston
        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
    Em
    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
    Dave
    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
      Dave
      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
    thomas
    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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