The Dark Side of Email: The 7 Worst Email Providers for Online Privacy

Popular email providers aren’t perfect when it comes to safeguarding user privacy; here we uncover the top alternatives for secure spam-free communication.
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Email is crucial for communicating, serving as a hub for sensitive data. Yet, the rise in cyber threats has cast a spotlight on the security practices of popular email providers like Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo! Mail.

We’ll shine a spotlight on the email providers who lack privacy safeguards, suggest some better alternatives, and offer tips for a more secure online experience, including using the best VPN apps and ad blockers.

In this article
7 worst email providers for online privacy
How can email providers invade your privacy?
What to look for in a secure email provider
5 best email service providers for online privacy
3 more tips to secure your privacy online
Worst email providers FAQs
Bottom line

7 worst email providers for online privacy

The email providers listed below are on this list due to their lackluster approach toward data security and user privacy.

An email provider is expected to act as a vault for user data, ensuring that personal and professional communications remain confidential. However, these providers have shown, either through data breaches or privacy policy loopholes, that they are less than trustworthy when safeguarding user privacy.

Be it inadequate filters for spam emails, lack of end-to-end encryption, or questionable data handling policies, the following email providers have been found wanting in various aspects of data protection.

1. Gmail

Gmail, despite its widespread popularity, has been a topic of discussion among privacy advocates. Google's business model, heavily reliant on data mining for advertising purposes, poses a significant concern.

Prior to 2017, every email that landed in your inbox or was sent from your account was scanned for keywords to tailor advertisements to your profile. Although Google ceased scanning emails for ad personalization in 2017, the company’s overarching collection of data remains a concern.

One such concern is that using any tool from Google may result in the tech giant utilizing your data to train its algorithms and AI.

Moreover, Gmail's lack of end-to-end encryption (at least for non-Workspace users) leaves the content of emails susceptible to interception during transit. While Google has made strides in implementing strong security measures against external threats, the inherent design related to data collection and the absence of robust encryption cast a long shadow on the privacy of your Gmail account.

2. Microsoft Outlook

Microsoft Outlook, another heavyweight in the email service realm, has also been scrutinized for its privacy policies. The service has suffered from several notable data breaches, exposing sensitive personal data. One such breach in 2019 allowed hackers to access email metadata and folder names, although Microsoft claimed that the email content remained inaccessible.

Furthermore, up until recently, Outlook lacked end-to-end encryption, leaving emails vulnerable during transit. While Microsoft has a relatively better stance on data privacy compared to Google, the recurring security breaches and lack of robust encryption make Outlook a less-than-ideal choice for privacy-conscious users.

3. iCloud Mail

iCloud Mail, while sporting a clean and user-friendly interface, has its share of privacy and security concerns. Apple has been known to scan emails for prohibited content, which raises eyebrows regarding user privacy. Additionally, while iCloud Mail employs encryption, it's not end-to-end, implying that Apple holds the keys and can decrypt emails if required.

Moreover, there have been instances where Apple has shared data with law enforcement agencies, further questioning the level of privacy offered. While Apple portrays a strong commitment to user privacy in its marketing rhetoric, the actual practice surrounding iCloud Mail suggests room for improvement.

4. Yahoo! Mail

Yahoo! Mail has a blemished history regarding data security and privacy. The massive data breach of 2013, where every Yahoo account was affected, is a testament to the lax security measures in place. That's approximately three billion accounts compromised, making it one of the largest breaches in history.

Furthermore, Yahoo’s parent company, Verizon, has a history of using supercookies to track user behavior online for advertising purposes. Yahoo's turbulent past and Verizon's tracking practices make Yahoo! Mail a dubious choice for those prioritizing online privacy.

5. AOL Mail

AOL Mail, like Yahoo, is also under Verizon’s umbrella, and shares similar privacy concerns due to its parent company's data tracking practices for advertising purposes. Moreover, AOL has faced several significant data breaches over the years, which have exposed user emails and contact lists to hackers.

The lack of end-to-end encryption and a history of security lapses make AOL Mail a less trustworthy candidate for those seeking a secure and private email service. Despite its longevity in the email service space, AOL Mail has not kept pace with the privacy-centric features that have become paramount in today’s digital landscape.

6. Hotmail (Now Outlook)

Hotmail, now rebranded as Outlook, carries the same privacy concerns as Microsoft Outlook such as data breaches and a potential lack of strong encryption. Its transformation into the Outlook brand hasn't significantly altered the core privacy and security framework, leaving the same vulnerabilities intact.

7. Mozilla Thunderbird

Mozilla Thunderbird, unlike others on this list, is an email client rather than a standalone email service. However, its inclusion is warranted due to the privacy concerns surrounding its default settings. While Thunderbird supports encryption and privacy-centric add-ons, these features require a manual setup, which may be a hurdle for less tech-savvy individuals.

Moreover, Thunderbird's privacy is also contingent on the email service it is paired with, making it a bit of a wild card in the privacy discussion. Users must pair it with a secure email service and tweak the settings appropriately to ensure their online communication remains private and secure.

How can email providers invade your privacy?

Email is essential for both personal and professional communication. However, the convenience of free email services like Gmail or Yahoo! Mail often compromises user privacy.

The primary revenue model for these free email services is data collection and advertising. They analyze email content to tailor ads to individual users, thus intruding on users' privacy.

The absence of end-to-end encryption (E2EE) in many mainstream email services poses significant privacy concerns. Without E2EE, email providers can access and analyze email content, compromising user privacy and escalating the risk of data breaches, which can have severe consequences.

Data breaches, a harsh reality in the digital realm, expose personal information, affecting individual users and trust in digital communication channels. The intersection of data monetization, inadequate encryption, and potential data breaches underscores the importance of choosing a secure email provider to safeguard online privacy.

Worried your email was hacked? Here’s how to re-secure your account and protect it from future hacks.

What to look for in a secure email provider

Choosing a secure email provider is a pivotal step in safeguarding your online privacy. It can help to ensure a spam-free and secure communication experience.

While the mainstream, free email providers often fall short in these aspects, there are several other providers specifically designed with privacy and security at their core. When contemplating switching to a more secure email provider, certain features act as hallmarks of a robust, privacy-centric service. Here's a brief rundown of essential features:

  • End-to-end encryption (E2EE): Ensure that the email provider offers end-to-end encryption to keep your emails private and secure from any prying eyes. This includes the email service provider.
  • Open-source: Search for open-source platforms, which are often more secure and transparent, thus, allowing for community code vetting for any security vulnerabilities.
  • No ads: Opt for a provider that doesn’t rely on advertising for revenue, which often involves scanning your emails to tailor ads to your profile.
  • Zero-knowledge architecture: Seek a provider that employs a zero-knowledge architecture, meaning they have no knowledge of your encryption keys and cannot access your data.
  • Strict privacy policy: Look for a strong privacy policy that clearly states the provider’s stance on data logging, sharing, and protection.
  • Two-factor authentication (2FA): Look for a provider offering two-factor authentication, which adds an extra layer of security to your email account.
  • Anonymous sign-up: You’ll want the ability to sign up anonymously, without providing personal information, which enhances privacy.
  • Custom domain support: While not a privacy feature, custom domain support can be valuable for professionals looking to maintain a branded email address.
  • Automatic spam filters: Look for robust spam filters to automatically move unwanted emails and potential phishing scams to your spam folder instead of your inbox.
  • Data servers located in privacy-friendly jurisdictions: Ensure that the email provider’s servers are located in countries with strong privacy laws.
  • Excellent customer support: Look for an email provider that offers multiple ways to get help, including self-help resources and methods of contact like email and phone.
  • Compatibility: Make sure your potential new email service offers apps for iOS and Android mobile devices as well as your browser of choice, such as Chrome.

These features collectively create a secure and private email environment, minimizing the risks associated with data breaches and unauthorized access.

Tired of spammers clogging up your webmail? Here’s how to get your name off the email marketing lists and enjoy a quieter, less cluttered email inbox.

5 best email service providers for online privacy

In the quest for enhanced online privacy, choosing a reputable and secure email service provider is a critical step. A dedicated privacy-centric email service is a stronghold against potential cyber threats, ensuring your personal and professional communications remain confidential and unscathed from prying eyes.

Below is a list of email service providers committed to user privacy and robust security measures.

1. Proton Mail

Proton Mail is a paragon of privacy-centric free email accounts. It is based in Switzerland, a country known for its stringent privacy laws.

Proton Mail operates under Swiss privacy laws that prioritize user privacy. The service offers end-to-end encryption to ensure your emails remain inaccessible to anyone other than the intended recipients. Thanks to its zero-knowledge architecture, not even Proton Mail can access your email content.

Furthermore, Proton Mail offers a user-friendly interface and the ability to customize email block and allow lists, auto replies, and other automations.

This adds an extra layer of privacy. It also provides a free tier with 500 MB of storage, ample for basic usage, and paid plans offering more storage and additional features.

Pros
  • End-to-end encryption ensures robust privacy
  • Zero-knowledge architecture
  • Based in privacy-friendly jurisdiction (Switzerland)
Cons
  • Free tier has limited storage (500 MB)
  • Paid plans can be pricey

Proton Mail is made by the creators of Proton VPN, an excellent security app that encrypts your data and masks your IP address to improve your online privacy. Learn more in our Proton VPN review.

2. Tutanota

Hailing from Germany, Tutanota is another stalwart in the realm of secure email services. Tutanota offers end-to-end encryption for emails and attachments thanks to its focus on streamlining and securing emails. The service takes pride in its open-source approach, ultimately allowing for community scrutiny to ensure the highest level of security. 

Tutanota also offers a free service tier with 1 GB of storage. This is quite generous when compared to other secure email services. The platform's simplicity and intuitive design make it an attractive choice for individuals and businesses prioritizing privacy.

Pros
  • End-to-end encryption for emails and attachments
  • Open-source platform
  • Generous free tier (1 GB storage)
Cons
  • No support for PGP/SMIME
  • Search functionality is limited in the free tier

3. Zoho Mail

Zoho Mail is a secure and privacy-focused business email service that also offers several features catering to individual users. Its ad-free interface ensures a pleasant and private user experience.

Zoho Mail supports SSL/TLS to keep your emails secure during transit and at rest, as well as S/MIME to encrypt the message itself.

Moreover, Zoho Mail offers ample storage — starting at 5 GB. The availability of a lite plan also makes it an attractive option for users on a budget. The service also includes integrated applications like Calendar, Tasks, and Notes, thus, enhancing productivity while ensuring a secure email communication environment.

Pros
Cons
  • Ad-free interface
  • Generous storage options
  • Integrated productivity applications
Cons
  • No end-to-end encryption out of the box
  • Support could be improved

4. Hushmail

Hushmail has been in the secure email space for a long time, offering a simplified yet secure email service. With a strong emphasis on privacy, Hushmail provides built-in encryption for email communication. The service also allows users to create and manage email aliases, enhancing privacy.

One notable feature of Hushmail is the ability to create encrypted web forms, making it an attractive option for healthcare professionals and others who need to collect sensitive information securely.

However, it’s worth noting that Hushmail does require valid verification during signup, which might deter privacy purists.

Pros
  • Built-in encryption
  • Ability to create encrypted web forms
  • Email alias management
Cons
  • Requires verification during signup
  • Interface could be updated

5. GMX

GMX offers a straightforward and user-friendly email service that focuses on providing a secure platform for email communication. While it doesn’t boast the same level of encryption as some other providers on this list, GMX employs strong SSL encryption to keep your emails secure during transit.

One standout feature of GMX is its unlimited email storage, which is quite rare in free email services. Additionally, GMX provides powerful spam filters to keep unwanted emails at bay, contributing to a safer and clutter-free email experience.

Pros
  • Unlimited email storage
  • Strong spam filters
  • User-friendly interface
Cons
  • Lacks end-to-end encryption
  • Privacy policy could be more transparent

3 more tips to secure your privacy online

Your email provider is just one facet of your online privacy. If you’re looking for more ways to keep companies from logging and selling your data, these tips are a great place to start.

1. Use an ad blocker

Ad blockers are an excellent way to not only get rid of annoying ads and popups but also to block trackers that companies use to collect your data. Many ad blockers are low-cost, but if you opt for a free app, be sure it’s reputable and won’t cause security concerns in the future.

  • Total Adblock: A strong ad blocker made by antivirus company TotalAV, Total Adblock performed well during our ad blocking tests.

    Get Total Adblock | Read Our Total Adblock Review
  • NordVPN Threat Protection: A VPN, ad blocker, and malware blocker all in one, Threat Protection is an excellent addition to your security stack.

    Get NordVPN Threat Protection | Read Our NordVPN Threat Protection Review
  • Surfshark CleanWeb: Another VPN and ad blocker combo, Surfshark’s CleanWeb comes in at a slightly lower price than NordVPN Threat Protection.

    Get Surfshark CleanWeb | Read Our Surfshark CleanWeb Review
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    2. Update your privacy settings

    Most apps and browsers have security settings that you can adjust to your liking. Even if you’ve updated your settings in the past, it’s a good idea to regularly revisit them in case they’ve been reset or additional options have been added.

    3. Use a VPN

    A VPN (virtual private network) encrypts your data while you surf the web. This makes it more difficult for hackers to intercept your data and use it to infiltrate your device or steal your information.

    Additionally, VPNs hide your IP address so other entities, like your internet service provider (ISP), can’t track your online activity. The best VPNs balance security features with price, and these three offer the best value based on our testing:

    • NordVPN: A combo of a VPN, malware blocker, and ad blocker, NordVPN also offers additional security features that set it a notch above several other VPN apps.

      Get NordVPN | Read Our NordVPN Review
    • ExpressVPN: While it comes in at a higher price than most other VPNs, ExpressVPN is a reliable and secure app that offers a handful of security tools to keep your Wi-Fi connection safe.

      Get ExpressVPN | Read Our ExpressVPN Review
    • Private Internet Access (PIA): One of the cheapest VPNs we’ve tested, PIA doesn’t skimp on features. While its headquarters in the U.S. may turn some away, it still offers multiple security features along with strong encryption.

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    Worst email providers FAQs


    +

    What is the least safe email provider?

    The least safe email providers often have lax security measures, a lack of encryption, and a history of data breaches. Examples include AOL, Gmail, and Yahoo! Mail.


    +

    What is the least hacked email provider?

    Email providers with robust security measures like Proton Mail or Tutanota are less susceptible to hacking due to their end-to-end encryption and strict privacy policies.


    +

    Is Yahoo the worst email provider?

    Yahoo! Mail has had a history of significant data breaches and lacks some privacy features compared to other providers, making it less favorable among privacy-conscious users.


    +

    What should I use instead of Gmail?

    Consider using privacy-focused email providers like Proton Mail, Tutanota, or Zoho Mail, as they offer strong encryption and better privacy policies than Gmail.

    Bottom line

    Securing your digital correspondence is crucial in this age of escalating cyber threats. Selecting a robust email provider is a significant stride toward this goal.

    Key features to seek in a secure email provider include end-to-end encryption, an ad-free interface, open-source architecture, strict privacy policies, and reputable jurisdiction. Our top recommendations for safe email providers are:

    1. Proton Mail
    2. Tutanota
    3. Zoho Mail
    4. Hushmail
    5. GMX

    These providers uphold high standards of user privacy and security, ensuring your emails remain confidential and protected.

    For your next steps, consider exploring these email providers, evaluating their features against your personal or professional needs, and making an informed switch to bolster your online privacy. Additionally, research practices like email encryption and strong passwords further fortify your email security.

    Check out our best antivirus software for phishing emails tips to ensure your account remains safe.

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4.9
Editorial Rating
Learn More
On Total Adblock's website
Ad Blocker
Total Adblock
Special deal: Save 75% off
  • Instantly blocks distracting ads on millions of websites, including YouTube video ads
  • Blocks third-party trackers to protect your privacy and information
  • Improves page load times and enables faster browsing
  • Free version excludes top 15,000 websites

Author Details
Ryan Clancy is a freelance writer and blogger. With 5+ years of mechanical engineering experience, he's passionate about all things engineering and tech. He loves bringing engineering (especially mechanical) down to a level that everyone can understand.