Leaving the Oligarchy - Part 1 - Email

The Big Tech Oligarchy has built a rich set of products and services that are available at "no cost", but in fact the users of these services are in fact the currency exchanged. Google, for example, scans every email message passing through its servers in order to target advertising and train its AI, among other things.

It's much deeper than just trying to optimize targeting for advertising, it is literally used to manipulate behavior. The 2020 Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, is truly sobering.

Google, for one, allegedly started out with noble intentions to "Do no Evil/Not be Evil." Clearly, their objectives have changed. Although it's not practical to completely disconnect from the internet in the 21st century, there are some steps that we can take to not outright feed the machine that studies and manipulates us.

It is a daunting task to disconnect from these pervasive services that were exciting, revolutionary, and foundational to so much of the world's digital transformation over the past 15-20 years. In this, and the following posts in this series, I'll

Step #0; Custom Domain Name, or not

For me, it's important to have stability in my email address. I have basically worked for two companies over the last 20 years, but I've had four or five different emails because of mergers and acquisitions. If I can avoid that in my personal business, all the better.

Step #1; Email

For me, the first step in getting away from the Oligarchy is to limit my use of their email services like gmail.

We generally have three options for email:

  • "Free" email from Google or Microsoft, for example gmail.com from Google. Microsoft's Hotmail has been relaunched as Outlook Web. A lot of people still use Yahoo! for email.
  • Paid 3rd-party email service from companies offering email services. Many of these companies are also domain registrars, but not necessarily. Several reliable email service providers simply offer email service.
  • Self-Hosted email service built using a maintained solution such as Mail In A Box that you can install and managed on your own mail server somewhere in the Cloud

Personally, I use all three, but am gradually migrating toward the 3rd option. My "Free" email was an easy way to integrate into my use of various social media platforms and services; from Twitter and Facebook to Eventbrite, etc. I also relied on Google's calendar and contacts synchronization between my phones (personal and work) and my computer/laptop.

However, privacy is non-existant on those "Free" services from the Oligarchs. This article on secure private email services gives some good, current, options for paid email services that make the promise of privacy and security for your email. Some of those have a free tier of service, but if you want to use a custom domain that you bring yourself, you'll be looking at a paid tier.

I have used a paid email service as my "personal business" email for over two decades. I pay them for POP email access, and keep a copy of all of my emails locally on my Mac which is backed-up a few different ways. This service has proven to be reliable, has a good spam filter (probably too aggressive, in some cases), and is reasonably priced for the benefit of having had a consistent email address for over 20 years for close friends, family, and things like banks, and other communications critical to doing the 'business of the family' in the 21st century.

Althought I'm not concerned about the service provider going out of business, I do have concerns about them eventually being bought. Also, they don't have great calendar and contacts functionality.

So finally, I have recently decided to try self-hosting my own mail server in the "Cloud" as a way to eventually move away from my current paid service provider. It's a bit risky to strike off on my own in tis way. I'm trading the ease and reliability of paying professionals to secure and maintain the mail service, and trusting the maintainer of Mail In a Box to keep that collection of services and configurations working and secure. I also, of course, have the new responsibility of maintaining my own little server in the sky by keeping the server patched, secured, and monitored.

In summary, I'm in a more rapid repositioning away from the Oligarch's mail services, and a more gradual retreat from my current paid email host.

In future posts, I'll cover Mail in a Box in more depth as well as some discussion of Virtual Private Server hosting providers.

Hopefully this post highlighted some of the pros and cons of the three main ways of obtaining email services in 2020.