Mobile SEO

A Definitive Guide to Email Services

I came across this post talking about Google mail alternatives and since it’s apparently just a tip of the iceberg it inspired me to write all I can come up with regarding various options one can use for handling email.

Falling Out of Love with Gmail

Once upon a time, circa 2006, Gmail used to be cool. At first it was invite only. Only the cool kids got the first batch of invites and we allowed to invite their friends. The invites used to be rationed carefully over time, after using them up you would get more but not right away. (If I were Google, I would have started analysing all the connections between people inviting each other right there and then and taking notes – which Google very likely did anyway. But that’s a separate story for another time.)

Later on, Google opened free access to its online email service – and eventually started monetising it by displaying ads in users’ inboxes. That involved “analysing” the contents of said inboxes – but of course that was fully automated and perfectly secure in terms of privacy. It didn’t stop people from using it though – it had too many handy features (like putting dots anywhere in the username to create unique aliases for all those sneaky account registrations on all sorts of sites). Registration was pretty painless as well and did not yet require a ton of verifications, texting a special code to your mobile etc. Handy filters, forwarding and plenty of disk space looked like a nice tradeoff.

Fast forward to 2013 – now we have login IP tracking, phone verification on registration, Google forcing people to use all services under one account, inability to keep more than one account open in the same browser… Oh the pain. Dunno about you, but my healthy paranoia also wouldn’t let me use Gmail for anything related to client work, discussing sneaky ideas, storing sensitive information and the like.

The Alternatives?

Before we begin, we need to ask ourselves one question: what is the purpose of an email service? Are you looking to replace your main mail account which is your actual online identity? Are you looking for an alternative to your main account to use in cases where you don’t want to expose your main account? Are you looking for a quick throwaway solution that will be used once and forgotten the next moment and never accessed again?

There is an answer to each of those needs. In the first case, depending on your privacy concerns,you could indeed go either with one of the solutions suggested in the original article or, if you are much more concerned, use a much more paranoid option like this one (one of the selling points as outlined by this service is that it’s hosted “outside the US and Europe”). Remember, however, that’s it’s not even an insecure email service that can cause troubles in critical cases but a human mistake (just like, allegedly, in this case).

Looking for a secondary email provider for occasional use? The same options as above would likely all do, except that you need to make sure your account won’t be closed down in case of inactivity (well, that was the beauty of Gmail – they never closed down accounts). In Yahoo’s case, they used to disable your account after half a year of inactivity (what’s even worse, potentially someone else can get your account these days). In Hotmail’s case (before it became Outlook), the time gap was only 30 days – not sure about the current regulations.

If, again, your main concern is security and, say, you need to send a one-off encoded message, here is this option as well.

The Juicy Bits: Spammer’s Choice

A list of mail services used by one of the spam tools, some with automated email account registration

I am not talking about email spam here. I am talking purely about link spam. A multitude of platforms frequently used for spamming links require some sort of registration, from simple form filling to a multiple step procedure involving email verification, entering a code, clicking a link emailed to the user, etc. (like that ever stopped a real spammer!)

If we go for volume (and with link spam, we do as that’s a numbers game), we do not want to waste much time and effort registering those email accounts. Some go the route of bulk buying Gmail and other popular services email accounts – but you really need to trust your seller or have your own tools in place for a quick post-purchase check to be sure 1) the accounts you just bought are not already banned/disabled by the services and 2) you won’t get banned/disabled upon accessing the account for the first time. As Google people are reading this blog regularly, I won’t be posting all the precautions you should be taking and all the ways Google can theoretically use to still catch you (not doing their job for free). Anyways, the point was to find a worthy Gmail alternative – so here we go.

There are two types of “throwaway” email services. One would be like MyTrashMail where you actually have an option to password protect your email box, add your won domains to it etc. Another would be like FakeMailGenerator – an email box accessed on demand and live for 24 hours since you last checked it. While technically a faster and easier option, this is also the least secure one as anyone knowing your email can access your inbox. If you do use that one, either change your passwords wherever you register right away – or use it just for throwaway accounts you don’t care about.

The things to watch out for with these services, however, are whether the service adds new domains frequently (as the old ones will eventually get on all sorts of blacklists and you might not be able to register any accounts with them), and whether the mail actually arrives to the mailbox reliably enough. Other than that, I honestly wish sometimes the Tor Browser would come with FakeMailGenerator being one of the tabs opened by default on launching a new identity.

Free Email Service as a Business Model

As with anything free, you have to ask a question: why? What’s the service owner’s reason for offering a free service? The days of charity on the web are long gone, so the question is inevitable.

On the scale from legitimate to paranoid, here are the ones I can think of:

  • Serving ads in your email box;
  • Upselling a paid option with more functionality;
  • Spying on you and stealing your logins and passwords.

Keep this in mind when choosing your free email provider, and match the services to the purposes.

Got your own suggestions? Feel free to share them in the comments!