20 November 2016

In praise of Tutanota

The Tutanota email service provides end-to-end encrypted email. Gmail provides the functionality and Tutanota the confidentiality.

Today, post Snowden, the major email service providers, Google, Yahoo, Outlook, etc. all encrypt the content of our email between their servers and our browsers, even if some of the smaller providers don’t. But, despite that security, the Internet giants themselves still have access to everything passing through their servers, so they could potentially do anything they wished with our private data. Here are the main problems I have with what is actually happening:

1. Advertising: the content of our mail is trawled though, so that targeted advertising can directed at us. Discuss a death in the family and you will receive funeral related advertising. Or the information can be used for other commercial purposes (e.g. pricing car or medical insurance).

2. State snooping: The police and security services can obtain access to the content of an account. Worse still, there is periodic, if not perennial, mass surveillance: Recently, a copy of all email passing through Yahoo's servers was made available to the NSA. State surveillance is secret, so we cannot know its extent, nor how the acquired information is used. But the information can be used to prosecute us, discriminate against us, or interfere with the causes we support.

3. Mass hacking: the servers of the email providers, and also any organisation which receives copies of our emails, can be hacked, with the email content of millions of people stolen. Criminals can use the data for a variety of purposes (e.g. identity theft), or the content can be simply put up on the net for its embarrassment value.

The solution is end-to-end encryption, so that the encryption takes place on the sender's device and decryption on the recipient's. Anybody in between is shut out.

The Tutanota email provider, based in Hannover in Germany, has implemented end-to-end encryption, so email content flowing through Tutanota's servers is encrypted in transit and is inaccessible even to Tutanota itself. But end-to-end encryption can only take place if both parties use Tutanota.

Tutanota does not rely on advertising. A free account is adequate for most purposes; a premium account costs EUR 12 a year. I’m neither a technical specialist, nor a salesman for Tutanota, so please google “Tutanota” and find out more for yourself. Tutanota can accessed here.

There is no need to abandon your Google Account: but give yourself the option of choosing between Gmail and Tutanota, when you send email.

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