Are you using an email service like Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo? Those so-called “free” services aren’t really free. In fact, they cost you plenty and you may not know it. Think about it. Why would a global corporation give you anything for free?

Email isn’t a product these companies are giving to you out of the kindness of their hearts.

The truth is that you’re the product. Email is the bait to lure you in to what is, in essence, a marketing research tool. They scan and store every email and attachment that passes through their servers. They do this to learn more about you, so they can make money by using or selling information about you. And of course, once these companies snatch your information, the government can get its hands on it, too.

Read the fine print in the terms of service and you may be shocked. (Let’s face it. Most of us don’t have time to read these kinds of documents and simply click “agree.”) For example, Yahoo states that it scans messages that pass through its servers and tells you why:

Mention your toenail fungus in a Yahoo email, and don’t be surprised when ads on websites you visit start touting a cure. If your accountant attaches your tax return and sends it through his Hotmail account, now Microsoft has it, too—along with your social security number, income, and more.

Think of the personal and sensitive information you share by email every day and what insights it gives into your hobbies, interests, politics, personal finances, education, friends, family and medical conditions. Do you really want companies like Google or its partners having access to things like emailed medical records, your travel plans, financial information, and messages to friends that should be kept private?

Even if this “trade” of information for services doesn’t bother you, consider the other people in your life, because your choice of email provider affects them, too. Just ask Benjamin Mako Hill, Acting Assistant Professor in the University of Washington Department of Communication in Seattle.

Hill had been running his own email server for many years, in part to protect his privacy. He wondered why some people who should know better about the privacy risks of using Gmail were using it anyway. One friend confided that he used it because if all your friends use Gmail, Google has the information anyway by virtue of the email exchanges passing through Gmail servers.

Hill got curious and found that his friend’s assertion was essentially true, and the results are documented at his blog in the article, “Google Has Most of My Email Because It Has All of Yours”. This points out how important it is for all of us to take a stand against email surveillance by choosing our email providers responsibly!

People have had excuses for using invasive services in the past. For example, the private email options weren’t very good or easy to implement, and using gold-standard Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption was notoriously difficult, even for tech savvy consumers. But all this has changed.

Fortunately, privacy-friendly email services like provide a way for everyone to follow Ed Snowden’s advice to use encryption. Encryption scrambles email messages so all those free email providers see is gobbledygook if they get a hold of it. For example, StartMail empowers users to encrypt their messages with PGP in just one click! In addition, StartMail does not mine customer data for marketing revenue, and never reads people’s messages. (Katherine helped develop StartMail, with privacy in mind!)

In order to protect our privacy we all must do our part to keep personal information out of the hands of marketers, and we encourage you to help take a stand against unbridled surveillance. Please adopt a privacy friendly email service to not only protect yourself, but the people you care about.

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