By Marie Flanagan June 8, 2021
Summary: Staying secure is an important part of your high-speed internet access. One place where privacy is often overlooked, though, is your email. If you’re using a free email provider, chances are high that they’re compromising your privacy to make money off of your data somehow. We discuss why email privacy actually matters and why you should switch providers today.
Remember that old adage that nothing’s free? Unfortunately, it’s also true when it comes to email. Free email providers still have to make money somehow, and that’s likely from selling access to you and your data. Unfortunately, they can also be less invested in users’ privacy than their paid counterparts. But, long as you’re not sending your social security number in an email, why does it matter?
Well, at a minimum, your data should be protected from breaches, and you should decide who has access to your information. As more of our lives take place through our high-speed internet connection, we need to ensure security measures are keeping up, too. Plus, because email accounts are used to recover forgotten passwords, vulnerable ones put linked accounts at higher risks, too. That includes access to accounts that do house your social security number (or banking and credit information).
Many free email providers — like Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook — collect personal data on their users that can then be sold off and used to create a profit. In other words, while they’re not charging you for their service, they are still making money off of you as a customer.
You deserve email that keeps your private messages private, rather than selling your information or picking through the messages to pull data to create ads — sometimes even in your own inbox. Let’s take a look at how you can spot privacy issues and what steps you can take to stay safer online.
Just like almost everything related to internet security, each of us has our own comfort zone when it comes to privacy levels. What’s convenient to one person may feel over-protective to another — and that’s okay! But it’s still important to know what’s happening to your data so you can make those decisions for you and your family. So, let’s take a look at a few email privacy issues that might look familiar to you.
Email parsing extracts text from an email and transforms it into data that can be used and sold. Think tracking things like purchase confirmations from an online retailer or airline — or your apartment management or real estate broker. Congrats on that new home! You can spot your email service provider parsing your messages in a few ways.
Targeted ads: These ads are often based on recent searches and purchases as well as the user profile created by your provider with your data. They’re designed to show you things that the advertiser thinks you’ll like based on your search or shopping history.
Event alerts: Things like event alerts that were found in messages (or from things like airline ticket confirmations). This typically appears as an “Add event to calendar” prompt.
Predictive text: You guessed it. It also comes from parsing previous messages to suggest relevant text based on words or phrases you use more often.
Like many technological advances, this is meant to make our lives easier. You no longer have to physically copy your flight itinerary to your calendar — it’ll automatically integrate. You might receive in-inbox coupon codes for that new monitor you’ve been eyeing. But for others, it may be disconcerting that an email provider has that much access to the details of your life. (As for us, we like to err on the side of caution. That’s why we’re dedicated to providing secure, private email access for all of our users.)
If you’re comfortable with ads and automated event information, should you still be concerned about email privacy? Well, yes.
Most free email platforms don’t provide end-to-end encryption.
End-to-end encryption encodes the message on one device so that only the device (or email address) that it’s sent to can decrypt it. The message travels all the way from the sender to the recipient in encrypted form.
(Sound familiar? It’s a similar process to using a virtual private network, or VPN.)
Without that encryption, the content of your message is easier for hackers to access and exploit. For some emails, like coupon codes or newsletters, this isn’t necessarily a problem. For others, like home security alerts, banking information, or purchases, easy access makes you more vulnerable to harm.
In other words, the messages you send through free email platforms could be more susceptible to hacking or a data breach. Data breach leaks often result in personal information — like bank account routing numbers, social security numbers, or credit card information — being for sale on the dark web. If you’re committed to keeping your information secure, that should include your email.
With all of that said, should you just go off the grid, pay only in cash, and communicate by telegram? The good news is, there’s an easier solution. And it involves technology!
First, find an email provider who is committed to privacy. Or, better yet, choose an internet service provider that includes secure email access with your account. EarthLink is one of those ISPs, by the way.
Many free email providers collect personal data on their users that can then be sold off and used to create a profit. In other words, while they’re not charging you for their service, they are still making money off of you as a customer.
If moving your entire digital life to a new email address and platform is daunting, start by moving the most valuable communications. This includes things like bank and credit card accounts, online shopping, travel plans, and housing information. Free subscriptions, like to newsletters, store sales, and events, are okay to stay connected to a free email provider.
While the process may take a little time to get set up, it will be more than worth the increased security. As a bonus, you can view it as a time to declutter your inbox and unsubscribe or block irrelevant senders. (Yes, your digital life needs decluttering, too.)
If you’re looking for a high-speed internet service provider who is committed to your privacy and security every step of the way — from service to email to identity theft monitoring — then EarthLink is the right connection for you. Get started today.
Marie Flanagan is a contributing writer for EarthLink. She’s a life-long Atlantan with a passion for SaaS, IoT, AI, fintech, and everything technology. Her ideal offline situation is volunteering in STEM education for girls or on her front porch with a book.
See all posts from Marie Flanagan.