The paradox of free email

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Why free email is not free at all, and what you could do about it.

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So, you’ve come to the conclusion that you need a new email address. With habits dating back to the early days of the internet, most of us expect an email service to be free of charge. And there are tons of free alternatives out there.

“There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch” was the name of the economist Milton Friedman’s popular book from 1975, a paraphrase of Robert Heinlein’s 1966 science-fiction novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (according to the internet). The idea is that, if someone invites you to a free lunch, it’s because they want something in return. So in principal, the lunch is not free after all.

The same thing can be said about email services: There’s No Such Thing as Free Email.


Your are the product

When the internet giants like Google offer “free” email service (Gmail), they want something in return from you. And you most certainly pay back through offering access to all thinkable data about your personal life. You pay back by creating traffic to their network of websites, so they can sell your data to advertisers (with higher willingness to pay the more detailed data Google can provide).

As such, you are not a customer of these internet giants. You and your personal data are their product, which they sell to their real customers – the advertisers.

I once asked a few of my friends to name the product and the customer of Google. Most of them pointed to the search engine and an email service as Google’s product; and themselves as a customer.

I would claim that this thinking fundamentally shapes how we relate to the internet giants and the services we use. When we think that we are customers, we also tend to believe that Google’s best interest is fully aligned with our best interest. This impacts the decisions we make when dealing with Google’s services, even though the fact is that today’s internet giants are heavily incentivized to expose your personal data to their real customers.


Try something different

It is now time to turn around our general perception, and acknowledge that we are not the customers of Google et al.

Here are some examples of Google alternatives that you should try: The web browser Brave, the search engine DuckDuckGo, and (needless to say) the email provider Fjordmail.

For more ways to de-Google yourself, see this list of great non-Google alternatives.

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