Since email was invented, it has become a crucial form of communication in our private and professional lives. Even with the growing popularity of other communication platforms, such as instant messaging and video conferencing, email continues to hold the keys to our digital identities. Over 300 billion emails were sent and received per day in 2020, and that figure is expected to rise steadily in the coming years.
Since email is not going away any time soon, it is important to understand how it works. In this article, we explain how email functions, its limitations, and the factors to consider when picking a free email provider.
How email works and its limitations
Email has played a big role in how people connect to each other today. However, considering that emails now contain plenty of sensitive information about users, not enough thought is given to how secure it is. The bad news is that email was never designed to be secure in the first place, as it was built during a time when the internet was a much smaller place. The good news is that it can be secured — with the right encryption protocols.
A common misconception about email is that it travels directly from the sender to the recipient once it has been sent. In fact, an email travels across multiple networks and servers along the way before arriving at its intended inbox. As it progresses from one point to the next, there is a chance it could be intercepted or read by an unauthorized party.
Most mail providers solve this problem by encrypting emails sent from your computer to their servers using Transport Layer Security (TLS). After receiving your email on their servers, your email provider encrypts it with your public key. However, your email provider also holds the private key that can decrypt your email. Your messages are therefore vulnerable to eavesdropping and manipulation by your email provider, hackers, and hostile governments. To go a step further, if your email provider encounters a security breach on their servers, all of your emails could be exposed publicly and put your personal information and data at risk.
How encryption can help secure your data
Fortunately, the right encryption protocols can encrypt your emails from end to end, meaning your email is protected from spying eyes the moment you hit “send” to the moment it reaches your recipient. Only end-to-end encryption can guarantee the total privacy of your communication, restricting access to the contents of your email only to its sender and recipient.
Additionally, there is zero-access encryption that encrypts all data at rest and prevents your service provider from reading your emails. Only the recipient of an email can decrypt the data locally on their device with their private encryption key. Since the email is not decrypted on a server, your service provider does not have access to it and cannot read its contents.
What to look out for in a free email account
While encryption and security are two of the most important factors to picking an email account, here are other factors to consider.
Email providers have evolved over time, and the number of features has expanded to become more sophisticated. Although some providers offer basic email functionality, others boast several advanced features. In addition to sending emails, a good provider should enable you to:
- Organize and label your inbox
- Archive old emails
- Attach files
A user’s email account can be an important asset to their private and business lives, but it is vital that their account has sufficient storage space to store it all. While some people may use a free email account for their personal communication, others use the space to send company emails, establish business deals, and store big files. Whatever the reason, it is crucial to select an email service provider that offers enough space to meet all of your storage needs.
Usability is key to ensuring you have a great experience. The best free email accounts should be easy to register and optimized for daily use with different labels, filters, and a search function. The interface should also be clutter-free, intuitive, and require little to no learning curve.
Choosing an email provider with mobile apps also increases your mobility, enabling you to check your inbox on the go.
While free email accounts may sound appealing, most email providers offset the costs of operating them by displaying ads. Through the use of web cookies that track browsing behavior, these ads are specifically targeted at you based on your internet activity, physical location, and what you’ve searched for online.
Even if your email provider is not serving you ads, they are still collecting payment in the form of your personal information. Even though Google has stopped reading your emails for advertising purposes, it still allows third-party apps to scan your emails for information that helps them build new product features. While data collection may seem mundane on the surface, it enables third parties to profile you and sell your information to advertisers and marketers without your knowledge. As the saying goes, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product itself”.
Why ProtonMail provides the best free email account
At ProtonMail, we believe that privacy should be the default online, and we began that journey with email because it is one of the oldest and most widely used technologies in the world. We want everyone to have easy, reliable access to email and encryption technology without having to trade sensitive and valuable personal information for it.
ProtonMail is also based in Switzerland, a country outside of the 5 Eyes and 14 Eyes surveillance networks and known for its strong privacy laws. We offer both end-to-end encryption and zero-access encryption, hiding the contents of an email at all stages of mail delivery until it is safely dispatched to the intended recipient. We own and invest heavily in our server infrastructure, and all of our code is open source.
If you believe only you should have full access to your private information, you can sign up for a ProtonMail free account. Our free accounts are funded by our paid users, and we will never profile you or collect your data. With our free account, you can:
- Send up to 50 emails per hour and 150 emails per day
- Store up to 500 MB worth of files and attachments
- Use our short domain email (@pm.me) to receive emails
- Create up to 3 folders/labels
- Sign up without sharing personally identifiable information
- Send end-to-end encrypted emails to non-ProtonMail users
- Set emails to self-destruct after a specified length of time
Best free email account FAQ
When it comes to free email accounts, there are many options out there. However, if you care more about privacy than cost or features, ProtonMail offers the best free email account with end-to-end encryption. We will never profile our users, spy on your emails, or sell your data to advertisers.
For personal use, it is best to pick an email provider with ample storage space, as well as anti-spam and anti-phishing technologies to prevent spam and malware attacks. An email provider that offers secure encryption technologies is also a good choice if you don’t want your data to fall into the wrong hands.
Gmail is the world’s biggest email provider with lots of great features to offer. However, Google funds its free email accounts by collecting its users’ data and using them for targeted advertising. If you think the internet should be for people and not for profit, this might not be the best solution for you.
Feel free to share your feedback and questions with us via our official social media channels on Twitter and Reddit. Note that while blog comments also remain open, questions and feedback will not be responded to individually. Where relevant, we will incorporate the most frequently asked questions or comments into a blog update.