For the past couple of years I have been trying to de-Google-ify my life, in other words, remove my dependency on Google for providing services. Mostly due to privacy and business practice concerns (80%), 15% to see if it’s possible and what alternatives there are, and perhaps even a 5% of being different than others.
The last major pillar that Google was still supporting with me was Gmail. Probably the oldest and hardest of their products to switch away from. Tough because Google owns everything
- Your “name” i.e., your email address
- Your existing data
- Your future data (emails you will receive)
- The service you use to send emails
You can easily create a new email account at any provider (or even Gmail again) but disseminating that information to the people that matter is a very tough task. Although switching has the added benefit of letting go of the people/newsletters/ad agencies that had it against your desire.
I figured if I was going to switch away from Google, I wanted to have something better than another 3rd party email address tied to just another service.
Effectively what I wanted was control of my digital name (email address) as well as forward control of emails I would receive. I achieved this using a custom domain, not tied (at least insofar as the email address) to an existing service; I do not want to be a digital advertisement. Plus I want to have the ability to migrate my backend provider without having to go through a whole transition period again of having to disseminate my email address. A custom domain allows me to transparently change how I send/receive email.
I have registered many, many domains by now, through many various registrars
over the years. The two that have made me the happiest and I am willing to give
my patronage to are: namecheap and
name.com. For this time, I decided to go with namecheap
lankenau.io which has the advantage of being first-name
agnostic, which means I can provide email addresses to my family!
Once I had a domain, I had to figure out how to send/receive emails
Sending and receiving emails
You basically have two options: host your own email server, pay someone to use theirs. The former can be the more secure and private (assuming you find private way to secure a server, whether in person or VPS), but has plenty of added complexity in terms of managing and keeping secure, not to mention that major email services (cough cough gmail) have really strict spam detection that harshly treats low-traffic personal mail servers.
The three options that I considered were
- $30/year, 5GiB of storage, end-to-end encryption
- $48/year, 5GiB of storage, 1000 emails/day, custom domains, 5 email aliases
- $60/year, 30GiB of storage, custom domains, unlimited aliases
Ultimate I decided go with FastMail because:
- I could migrate not just my email, but also my contacts, calendars, and notes.
- Supports 2FA and logging in with cert installation (instead of app passwords)
- Supports my custom domain
- Has plenty of storage
One of FastMail’s most attractive features to me was their routing
customization. Basically, I can configure my email so that I can create
infinitely many addresses that will all deliver to my mailbox. That means that
I can create unique addresses per use (for example, while signing up for a
service, or for forms that require an email). This is the equivalent of what I
used to do with Gmail by doing something like
firstname.lastname@example.org. Except that now it would be
random_tag@your_email.com. Much cleaner, and way less likely to be
automatically scraped off.
This also means that if any one of the email aliases gets leaked to some ad company or annoying publisher, you can blacklist that one particular address and never receive an email there again!
Emails for the family
I was also able to set up email accounts for my family members, so they too can take control of their digital life. None of them were interested in having a new separate inbox, so for them I set up simple email forwarding, so they can receive from and send to their new email address, but continue use their existing provider.
It has been some 16 months since I started the switch, and I could not be happier. Now I have all my calendars, contacts, notes, and most of my new emails going to my new provider. I still have to have my old gmail account on my phone and computer in case of old emails, but it is becoming less and less common.
There was only one time I was unhappy with the transition which is when FastMail had an outage with downtime which rendered me unable to send an email. As a software engineer myself, I know these things happen, so I was more happy with the transparency and time to fix it, than mad that it happened.
There was also one interesting side-effect from my switch, is that now I know who leaks my emails! When I get publicity emails to the custom email I made for just Amazon AWS… I know exactly who did it. Shame on you amazon.
If you decide to go down this route, be prepared for some funny stares and interesting questions whenever people ask you for your email in person (e.g., at stores) and you give them a specifically tailored email. Also it goes without saying that this setup benefits the most from a good password manager to keep track of all your custom emails.