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My Take on Email

freddy profile image Freddy Originally published at write.privacytools.io Updated on ・3 min read

Email has been discussed a lot lately. Perhaps it's because we all rely on it more during this period of lockdown. Maybe it's due to Hey being released? Or are we all realising that email is an old technology and we need to move on? Whatever the reason may be, people are talking about email; heres my take on it.

To start we should figure out what email is. According to Wikipedia:

Electronic mail (email or e-mail) is a method of exchanging messages (“mail”) between people using electronic devices.

Now that the definition is out of the way, what problems are there? In his article, Kev Quirk suggests three main aspects that I am going to focus on:

Spam
Privacy
Workflow management

Spam

Spam is a problem that exists on every communication platform. The supposed issue is that the amount of spam is greater on email than on other platforms. As we have established, email is just an electronic version of mail. Just like mail, email is susceptible to spam, and even with filters some will always slip through.

However, there are ways to prevent this. Email cloaking services protect your personal email being given away when you sign up for something. You can use spamgourmet or a temporary email when signing up for online accounts anywhere that you don’t trust. Similarly, you can use an email client like Thunderbird which has additional spam filters built in. As Kev mentioned, you can also train your spam filter to make it better at identifying what is and isn't spam.

Privacy

While some providers allow you to sign up anonymously on Tor, email will never be private. It will also never be as secure as platforms like Signal or Briar. You can improve the privacy of emails by encrypting their contents or using a provider that encrypts account data at rest. Email is not private and shouldn't be treated as such. Instant messaging is more secure and private than email, but email still has many benefits.

Workflow management

Everyone uses email differently. Your children might use email to submit their homework; while you might receive emails about your next meeting. I may use an encrypted email provider; you may use Gmail. I may use an email client; you might use webmail. You may prioritise ease of use over security; I might not. It doesn't matter. For this reason workflow management is a very subjective matter and hence its not for me to say whether email has got this right or wrong. Everyone has a different situation, so making generalised statements doesn't achieve anything.

Because of its decentralised nature, email allows for large amounts of flexibility. When it comes to workflow, you can customise email for your needs. If you developer wanting to use email with git you can use aerc. If you are concerned about privacy you can use a privacy respecting email provider. If simplicity is all you are after then Gmail or Outlook might be worth a look. If you want to shake things up a little then try Hey.

A few other points

Email is a very good way of getting important updates to people. Its relatively fast and efficient, and doesn't rely on people creating new accounts (like on a forum). It probably isn't the best discussion platform because it wasn't what email was intended for.

While NeoMutt is great for mailing lists, I wouldn't recommend it for most people. This brings us back to the customisation that email allows for, because everyone is viewing the message differently, you shouldn't optimise it for one client.

Conclusion

Email is the most widely used, decentralised online platform. There is no correct way to do email. That's a part of its beauty. It's also incredible that products created in the 1960's are still in active use today. It would be futile to try and replace email, and although it has its problems, it is certainly not broken.

Discussion (8)

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thefern profile image
Fernando B 🚀

Great article, email is one those things everyone has but no one really think about it much in terms of privacy and security. Is the main reason why so many people get pwned.

I kind of wish you could create random aliases without having your main email in the front. This could deter automated attempts to brute force passwords. Then again email accounts should have a strong password and 2FA enabled.

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mnmnotmail profile image
mnm is not mail

What you're looking for is mnm, which provides one or more aliases per account, and can support limited-time aliases.

mnm is an open source project to replace email & SMTP.

mnmnotmail.org

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freddy profile image
Freddy Author • Edited

That exists! Check SimpleLogin or AnonAddy, they offer that exact sort of service.

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thefern profile image
Fernando B 🚀

I know those services exist, but companies always go out of business. What happens then? I would love to do it from my current email. Most of them you can do aliases gmail, protonmail but your email still there for pwn.

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freddy profile image
Freddy Author • Edited

That's the joy of open source! You can fork either of these services and maintain them yourself. It doesn't matter if the companies go bust because they code is in public domain.

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thefern profile image
Fernando B 🚀

I thought all services get created equal, simple login looks exactly like something I would use. If the service dies, spinning your own server isn't the thing your average user can do. I used msgsafe.io before but the problem with that one is that all your email gets forwarded to them for all the aliases you create. And they had no app or desktop app. Simple login looks like the better service, going to set it up on my cloud server and see how it goes.

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freddy profile image
Freddy Author • Edited

While I understand that your average joe isn't going to be maintaining a fork of an abandoned open source project, chances are someone might be? If the service is good enough people will try and keep it alive. Though you make a good point.

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richardlikestea profile image
Richard Shepherd

Enjoyed your conclusion: 'There is no correct way to do Email'. So important I think to think creatively and critically about how we want to use email.

I love this problem too because so much of it is about culture, etiquette and human behaviour. Everyone uses email slightly differently.

What are your thoughts on Paul Graham's assertion that email should become a to-do list protocol?

paulgraham.com/ambitious.html
(you have to scroll down to number 2)

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