Google · Email

Is it wise to use Gmail given Google’s email snooping?

Richard Pridham Investor, President & CEO at Retina Labs

March 27th, 2016

I hope I can post this here as I know there are a lot of smart technical people on FD.

I recently changed cable/internet providers. I've always used the telco provider's email service for "personal" emails. I've had to switch providers a couple of times in the last 3-4 years and it's a real pain to have to notify all your friends and family about your new email address not to mention updating all your online accounts.

One solution is to use an email service like Gmail. I have a Gmail account for many years but never used it. I've always been leery of using Gmail as I know they scan your emails so they can deliver ads. I'm not not comfortable with this. I know Google tracks tracks just about everything you do but scanning my inbox, however banal its content, crosses the line for me. It's downright creepy. However, they do provide utmost reliability and security. I really like Google's 2-factor authentication, something that telco's don't provide. And it's free.

I do not use Gmail's web interface to app. I use Mac Mail and iPhone mail so I don't see any Gmail ads, but I'm sure my mailbox content will drive ads displayed elsewhere like web and YouTube. Are my concerns overblown? I see that a lot of people use Gmail these days. Has everyone just accepted that Google is scanning their messages?

Another solution might be to register a personal domain and host my mail somewhere. I like this idea. I get a permanent email address and don't have to worry about anyone looking at my messages (at least I hope so). But what email platform do you go with that provides reliability and security comparable to Gmail?

Looking forward to comments and suggestions.

Parag Mehta Enterpreneur, Management professional, IT & Technical Support

March 27th, 2016

i prefer Office 365 to gmail as there are so many bugs in gmail calendar service that are known for years with no fix and that has impacted business and customer meetings.. i have switched 2 startups from gmail to O365 because of these issues. O365 has full legal compliance, e-journaling etc. available and is pretty much exchange in cloud

Robert Stoeber Co-founder at Workglue

April 5th, 2016


Your comment includes several items that are inaccurate, or misleading.

  1. Creating your own domain does nothing to help avoid spam. If your email address ends up on spammer's lists (and it will) you will get spammed. Google does a particularly good job of filtering spam/viruses, so if that's your biggest concern you can't beat Google for hosting your domain's email.
  2. Adding/deleting accounts isn't necessarily "easier" just because you own a domain. The process all depends on where you host your accounts.
  3. Starting to receive spam won't tell you anything about who "gave away" your address. You might get some clues by using a different address for each recipient, but that's impractical no matter how you host your email.
  4. Changing your email address is no easier just because you own a domain - you still need to inform all of your contacts that you have a new email address. It's just like a phone number - you can change it because of annoying telemarketing calls, but you still need to give all your contacts the new number, and a week later the telemarketers might find you again.
  5. There are browser plugins to support PGP encryption for Gmail and other webmail systems. The problem with PGP is that it isn't practical for most business situations where you have to set up key exchange with each recipient in advance. In fact, most large companies wouldn't let their employees install something like PGP on their company-owned computers and mobile devices.
I'm always looking for new and better solutions to these problems for my consulting clients so please clarify your comments to explain where I'm wrong.

Michael Barnathan Adaptable, efficient, and motivated

March 27th, 2016

If you're technically minded enough, you can set up your own SMTP and IMAP servers (say Postfix + Dovecot), but getting all of the various services that power email to play nicely is one of the most challenging administrative tasks in setting up a new server. Or sign up for a privacy oriented mail service.

Richard Pridham Investor, President & CEO at Retina Labs

March 27th, 2016

Michael: Unfortunately I do not have the technical skills to setup and maintain my own email service.

Israel Roth Co-Founder & CTO at Labgoo

March 27th, 2016

most startups I know use gmail. I assume that your concern about getting pushed ads is justified - I see it myself, but I also see it when I use google to search things - so I just accept it as part of life now... I might be naive though, but I rather be worried about my business and not setting up email...

Gabor Nagy Founder / Chief architect at Skyline Robotics

March 27th, 2016

No, it's not wise to use gmail for anything you would not want other people to see.
I like easy questions.

Stephen Williams CTO & cofounder at Change My Path

March 27th, 2016

As of about 18 months ago, I completely hated O365.  Calendar was buggy, email was substandard, very annoying.  I have run my own server since 1992, and that is still my main, permanent email service on many domains.  I also use gmail for my primary work, alternate personal account, etc.  I occasionally use the web interface, but mostly use Thunderbird on desktop or mobile clients.  The new Gmail client supports any imap4 service, so I now use that for my permanent email also.

I don't get why people are so worried about automatically served ads or automatic recognition of, for instance, flight messages so that they can be put on your calendar.  These are algorithms blindly matching patterns to actions.  Do you really think that Google, one of the richest companies, is going to leak your email to advertisers?  Do you think that any security leak is going to exist for any length of time when it could ruin the trust of their users, thereby ruining their business?

I wrote Buddylist for AOL in 1995-96, kicking off the IM revolution by some accounts.  After that, I created a person-to-person video service in 1997.  We had strict rules about not keeping logs of messages between people and other security measures, let alone sharing it with anyone.  To address the problem of video abuse, I invented a digital notary system powered complaint system that was then used for IM and chat.  Google certainly is carefully controlling use of very private information like email.  They are going to be subject to subpoenas, but otherwise it is likely to be more secure that even running your own server.

Hasan Diwan contract Data Scientist to several startups

March 28th, 2016

I host my email with Google. And, while I am well-aware of the cooperation with the NSA, FBI, etc. it doesn't bother me. For sensitive things, I encrypt the email using GPG and store it on my own machine, deleting gmail's copy and emptying the bin of it. It's decrypted in RAM to be displayed and is not persisted in decrypted form. I feel that's safe enough for one 30-something, working as a quantitative analyst.

Richard Pridham Investor, President & CEO at Retina Labs

March 28th, 2016

My personal emails are not sensitive in any way. Just basic correspondence between friends and family and all the other crap that flows into your inbox from various sources. It's the snooping part that really bothers me. If I get a message about the stock market and then start seeing ads about investing, that creeps me out. I don't think I'd have that issue with my telco provider or even iCloud for that matter. I understand that if I search using Google I can be on the receiving end of ads relevant to my search and browsing behavior. I'm OK with that I suppose. In some cases, it enhances the user experience.

One weird thing I noticed is that I receive a ton of SPAM in my Gmail account despite having never used my Gmail email address anywhere. How on earth is this possible? Gmail does do a good job sequestering these message in the SPAM folder but non the less I find it strange.

Joanan Hernandez CEO & Founder at Mollejuo

March 29th, 2016

Hello Richard,

Are my concerns overblown?


Has everyone just accepted that Google is scanning their messages? 


Another solution might be to register a personal domain and host my mail somewhere.

There you go!

But what email platform do you go with that provides reliability and security comparable to Gmail? 


There's a tradeoff in everything in life. That said, most e-mail hosting services today are estable and they're fairly easy to setup, I'm talking about hosting and e-mailing, not setting up your own server. Anyway, even if you do this, Google will have your address profiled anyway (in some sort of way), as your family members and friends will add you to their address book in Google. You can't scape that.

I would recommend that if Google really creeps you out, pay a hosted e-mail and live worry free. Of course, you won't have the stability of Google, but you said you don't need it.