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StartMail: A Secure Alternative to Gmail
April 20, 2014

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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11 Responses

  1. Tulli

    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.

    1. 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. ;)

    2. 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.

  2. Em

    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.

  3. 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!)

    1. 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.

  4. Dave

    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.

    1. Dave

      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.

  5. thomas

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

    1. Trying it now. Thanks for the heads up.

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