The Misguided Don’t Host Your Own Email Argument

Richard J. Anderson takes a contrary stance about my post the other day, saying:

I’m really not happy about the idea of my government poking through my email either, but I’m not going to blame Google for that. We can address these issues, and educate people about what they’re giving up when they sign up for free email services, without the intolerable air of technological privilege. I suggest people like Ben Brooks try that, before being smug about how secure his ivory tower is.

Anderson is upset with the fact that I have “an intolerable air of arrogance around their idea of self-hosted email”. That’s fun.

For reference, the entirety of my arrogance was:

So, unless you are totally fine with your email being accessible to the government, and the company hosting it, I suggest you go host it yourself.

In fact I would argue the most arrogant part of my post was:

I personally don’t even like emailing people who use Gmail.

That’s an arrogant statement for sure. But I don’t see how I am arrogant because I pointed out the flaws with not self-hosting your email. Even Anderson concedes:

We can address these issues, and educate people about what they’re giving up when they sign up for free email services, without the intolerable air of technological privilege.

Pretty sure all I did was point out the issue. Now, on to his real beef: that it is somehow hard to setup email hosting for yourself. If you can edit HTML, you can setup your own email, and keeping the server patched is dead simple.

Actually the worst part of hosting your own email is the cost of it all.

Don’t take me to task over the idea of technical difficulties, because hosting a Mac mini at macminicolo.net and setting up email is almost trivial work (with millions of easy to follow guides and ready help) — no — take me to task over suggesting everyone buy a Mac mini to host their email on.

I haven’t set up Fastmail1 , but I am guessing setting up your own email server and setting up Fastmail is just about the same level of technical skills. That is: DNS changes and clicking things while following instructions.

Using OS X Server to host your emails was the easiest part of setting up the Mac mini server — truly. I don’t know how to do it on linux/unix, but I am sure there are a few guides out there.

Two more things before I let this go:

  1. I don’t expect everyone to do this, as I said, I only expect those that care about their privacy to do this. If you don’t have the money, encrypt your email — again that’s not nearly as hard as people think it is.2
  2. Anderson says that if you don’t keep your server in your possession it isn’t secure. Actually, if it was in your home it’s not that secure, as your home is likely easier to break into than the secure data center my server is in. And yes, that means the Government could get to it, but I keep the email database encrypted for just that reason. It’s not perfect, but it is just about as good as it gets.

There is no fool proof email hosting setup, as you are always at the mercy of the person receiving your emails and how they store their end of the chain. There is a real, true, and active risk with hosting with Hotmail and Gmail right now — both companies can turn over your data without telling you, and actively mine your data for their own gain — that’s dangerous if you ask me. The only way around that, the only solution I like, is to host email yourself.


  1. I’ve asked a buddy to write something about it for me. 

  2. GPG for Mac Mail is dead simple to use. In Linux the setup is only a touch harder. The real hard part is just learning the terminology for the setup. Again, guides

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Article Details

Published
by Ben Brooks
3 minutes to read.


tl;dr

Richard J. Anderson takes a contrary stance about my post the other day, saying: I’m really not happy about the idea of my government poking through my email either, but I’m not going to blame Google for that. We can address these issues, and educate people about what they’re giving up when they sign up […]