Up to 1 GB Free
- ★ Best private email service
- ★ Zero-access encryption
- ★ Affordable plans
Written by: Per-Erik Eriksson
ProtonMail is one of the leading private mail service providers in the world. The Switzerland-based company, which enables its users to communicate safely and privately via email, was founded in Geneva in 2013.
ProtonMail uses end-to-end encryption (E2EE) and zero-access encryption to ensure maximum safety. Thanks to E2EE, only the sender and the recipient can read the messages. Zero-access encryption keeps your information safe when it is stored on Google Drive, iCloud, etc.
ProtonMail uses open-source code, which gives it an added layer of protection. Others can inspect the code and even contribute to its improvements, thus making it even safer.
In 2017 the provider introduced the first encrypted contacts manager. This feature is particularly in demand for high-risk professions, and journalists and activists often use it to protect their sources. To allow email filtering, ProtonMail does not encrypt email addresses. Still, it does encrypt other information such as telephone numbers, addresses, etc.
ProtonMail’s Password-Protected Emails is a feature that ensures your emails are encrypted even if the recipient is not using ProtonMail or does not have PGP encryption. First, the recipient receives a message telling them they have received an encrypted message. Then, they must enter a previously agreed-upon password to be able to read that message.
The messages sent via ProtonMail do not expire by default. However, you can enable the ProtonMail message expiration feature if you wish specific messages to be destroyed after a while. The option is available in case of encrypted messages between two ProtonMail users or password-protected emails between ProtonMail and non-ProtonMail users.
ProtonMail has a free plan, with which you get 1GB of storage, one email address, three folders and labels, and up to 150 emails a day. Proton’s MailPlus plan ($3.99/month) offers 15GB of storage, ten email addresses, an unlimited number of folders, labels, and messages, and support for one custom email domain. Proton Unlimited ($9.99/month) provides 500GB of storage, fifteen email addresses, unlimited folders and messages, and three custom email domains.
ProtonMail is headquartered in Geneva, and all the data are stored on servers located in Switzerland. As a result, the company operates under Swiss jurisdiction. This is extremely advantageous because the country has strict privacy policies and is not a member of any surveillance alliances.
ProtonMail can be used on various devices. You can get the web app to access it through your browser, the iOS app for iPhones and iPad devices (available on App Store), or the Android App for Android devices (available on Google Play or directly from the provider’s website).
ProtonMail offers ProtonMail Bridge, a feature reserved for paid subscribers that allows you to connect to third-party email clients such as Thunderbird, Microsoft Outlook, and AppleMail. ProtonMail generally does not allow this, but the Bridge adds end-to-end encryption to your favorite mail apps, making your email exchange safe. Unfortunately, so far, the feature can only be used on desktops.
Another thing to mention is that ProtonMail’s search function works only on subject lines and not the whole content of your emails. While this means more safety for users, many actually find it inconvenient.
Last but not least, even though ProtonMail offers a free plan, its paid plans are a bit pricey. This is partly due to the fact that the company is located in one of the most expensive countries in Europe but also because it runs its own data centers and networks in Switzerland, which requires extra funds to purchase servers. Also, their support team works seven days a week, both night and day.
ProtonMail vs. Other Private Mail Services
Private mail services are very similar in some respects yet different in others. What can make a big difference is the type of package you choose, i.e., how much you pay and what is included in the plan.
Like ProtonMail, Tutanota also has a free plan and two paid plans. Its most expensive one costs $4 a month, for which you get 10GB of storage, one custom domain, and five alias addresses. You can also pay another $2, $10, or $50 per month for an additional 10GB, 100GB, or 1TB of storage, respectively.
In addition to its free plan, Mailfence has three paid plans. The medium one ($7.50/month) offers 20GB of mail storage and 50 aliases. Mailbox, on the other hand, does not have a free plan. Still, for $1 a month, you can get 2GB of storage, and for $9, 25GB of mail storage and 50GB of cloud storage, 25 aliases, and 250 aliases with custom domains. Finally, Runbox has as many as six plans, with annual rates ranging from $19.95 ($1.66/month) to $179.95 ($14.99/month).
Private mail services may differ with respect to PGP support. This type of encryption makes your communication extremely safe but is not very user-friendly. Most providers (ProtonMail, Posteo, Mailbox, StartMail, etc.) use it, but Tutanota does not. Instead, Tutanota uses recognized algorithms (RSA and AES) that automatically encrypt the subject, content, and attachments.
If you are looking for safe private mail service, there are several essential things to consider.
Check the provider’s jurisdiction, security standards, and privacy policies, and find out what user information they store and possibly have to pass on to authorities. If you need added protection, check which encryption the provider uses and to which segments that encryption is extended. Last but not least, compare the different prices and plans to see what is included in each one.
First, go to account.proton.me to create your account. Choose a username that has not already been taken, and type and retype your password. Then choose between a free and a paid plan, pick a display name and the service you are interested in (ProtonMail), and you are good to go.
First, according to standards, the subject line is not end-to-end encrypted. Secondly, if the subject line were encrypted, it would be impossible to search through emails by subject.
You can use all four means of payment to pay for your ProtonMail service: card, PayPal, Bitcoin, or cash. ProtonMail accepts payments in USD, EUR, and CHF.
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