Leaving Gmail for ProtonMail

2019.09.23
- 5 min -
Joe Buhlig

There’s a trend. It’s a typical trend. It’s one you see in many sectors. It’s a trend that comes from one of two sources. One, people need a break. Two, people know and understand more about their sector than the general population. But the question is, what do you do about it once you know?

This is a trend that I’ve seen developing in myself and a handful of friends over the last year. People tend to exercise increasing moderation with the products they develop or work with in their career. And in my case, I see my moderation of technology growing as the time I spend with it and building it increases.

And for the most part, that moderation has been in the amount of time I devote to screens. That’s the typical response we see today as exposed by Cal Newport and his awesome book Digital Minimalism. And the core motivator behind the screen time limitation is a dedication to a life outside the screens and a knowledge of the detriments a screen-filled life causes. It’s that knowledge of the negatives that eventually leads to a choice to leave the norm.

These negatives also become a conversation point when discussing screen moderation with those outside the practice. And like all harmful actions, they can lead the individual to research and understand the “why” behind their practice at deeper and deeper levels so that they have better arguments for their actions. Thus, confirmation bias. But sometimes that research can lead to knowledge of tangential issues.

It’s becoming common knowledge that too much time with screens can lead users to increased levels of loneliness. That is primarily due to countless studies on the long-term effects of screens. And as people try to understand why this happens, we’ve uncovered a difficult truth about the companies that develop the core apps that we find on most phones: they’re in it for the money. And that means collecting ridiculous amounts of data about their users and fine-tuning their products to convince you to use them even more.

Again, these reports on user data collection continue to surface and are slowly becoming common knowledge. But does it matter if tech companies collect this data on us? I think you have to decide on that yourself. Some people care and others couldn’t care less. In my case, I care. And that means I decided to start taking action to protect my privacy. I also decided that the next step to take in that process is to move my main email account away from Google.

And if I leave Gmail, it only made sense to me to move it to ProtonMail. I first became aware of ProtonMail while watching Mr. Robot. The lead character has an email address despite being crazy particular about where is online data lives. That piqued my interest and I did some research. It turned out that ProtonMail was the provider of choice for the show. And after digging into the company behind the tool, I realized it was perfect for what I needed.

It turns out that moving to ProtonMail is pretty straightforward. I set up my account with them (Plus account), pointed my domain, and then set about migrating all my archives. That last point turned out to be pretty easy. They have a tool, ProtonMail Import-Export, that does all the migration steps for you. It made the transfer easy for me.

Side note: There’s an entire knowledgeable article for moving from Gmail to ProtonMail.

Readers of my newsletter know that I made this move a while back now. And since then I’ve learned some of the great things and not-so-great things about it.

First off, I love the feeling of knowing no one reads my emails without asking. My data is my data. But that only goes as far as the recipient of the email. If they’re on Gmail, Google is still reading the email. But I have peace of mind knowing that I’m doing my part in the battle.

It has become easy to send passwords to people. I didn’t expect this to be something I do, but I occasionally need to send temporary passwords to others and ProtonMail makes it easy. I can set up a message that expires in an hour and send that to the recipient. They’ll get an email with a link to the message that will then self-destruct an hour after I sent it. That means that if I send a password to someone, the record of it only exists for an hour. And if I want to secure that encrypted email even more, I can add a password to it and require the recipient to type in the password to decrypt the message.

Amid this move, I wanted to transition this email account (my main account) to the Apple Mail client. Again, this was pretty simple with the Bridge application. ProtonMail doesn’t allow direct SMTP with any client because it can sacrifice privacy in the process. So they have the Bridge application to make sure your emails are encrypted when passing in and out of the client.

But the Bridge app also makes it easy to set up in Apple Mail. One click in the settings was all I needed to set it up. Now I will say that it took a long time to get my messages to sync the first time. It was roughly two weeks before it completed. That was a nuisance, but worth it.

One aspect of this transition that is a big sacrifice is the move away from not only Gmail but the entire Suite. I no longer have Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, Meet, and more. Leaving Google Calendar wasn’t an issue. I had already moved those to iCloud. And I already have a personal NextCloud instance that has been slowly replacing Drive and such.

I could see this being a pain in the future, but for now, I haven’t had an issue without these. But that’s also because I keep a junk Google account for things like a YouTube account, Google Analytics, and a few miscellaneous pieces. Anything I need Google for I can use under that account until I can transition each piece away.

Overall, I’m happy with this move. It has brought a TON of mental peace that I didn’t know was weighing me down. So I highly recommend moving to ProtonMail.