Help your children select and setup their email account

One thing‘s for sure, there‘s far too much choice when it comes to email accounts.

Should you as parents, when you think about setting up an email account for your child, go with free options on the internet or should you pay to have your own email hosted privately or alternatively use a pre-hosted email service that you consume on a subscription basis? we‘ll explore this in a bit more detail in this article, along with the myriad other choices you will no doubt have to make as part of the process to setting up your child‘s email account.

You might be wondering why you might want an email address for your child in this day and age, especially when there are so many other options to choose from such as instant messaging, posting to a shared social media page or using simple cloud based storage to save and share files with others.

Email still offers an intuitive interface and is not too difficult to learn. The overall setup time is also minimal and you can have an account setup and ready to go in under 15 to 30 minutes in most cases. Email, unlike other messaging systems and social media systems, works across multiple providers. For example, you can communicate with others via email even though they may not be using the same email provider as you are.

All of this makes it easy to collaborate and send and receive documents and files with their classmates or project mates, for example whilst working on a school project.

Online Habits And Hygiene To Instill In Your Children

There are few important habits and bits of hygiene that you need to help instill in your children first when it comes to using emails, and we’ll cover this before delving into the choices for setting up an email account.

  • Never share your email address with people you don’t trust and don’t know
  • Don’t give out your email address on websites you visit as this will result in spam
  • Avoid logging into your email account whilst connected to free public WiFi
  • Never re-use a password from another account just because you can easily remember it
  • Don’t send out email to multiple recipients en masse (i.e. spam)
  • Never write anything on email that you don’t want stored (as emails can be stored forever)
  • Do not forward emails to other addresses without consent
  • Do not send sensitive or confidential information via email

Choices

Free email or paid-for service?

Free email providers on the internet are thriving. There are a couple of reasons for this. The cost of hosting and storage has gone down significantly in recent years (see report on digital storage cost trends) and scaling up email services is now a lot easier than it was only a few years ago, thanks to technologies such as virtualisation. In addition to pure technological reasons, there are also other justifiable business reasons that explain why businesses continue to offer free email services.

One of these business reasons is the ability to display advertisements and other promotions to users, either on the web based interface i.e. the browser or via messages that are delivered over protocols such as POP and IMAP. POP and IMAP cater to users who might want to access their emails via a dedicated email application on their phone or on their computer instead of using a web browser. POP stands for post office protocol and IMAP is internet message access protocol.

Essentially, these protocols allow the email application on your phone and the email server to talk to each other using well defined rules. Some free email providers also harvest email addresses to sell on to marketing firms, which generates additional income for the providers.

Let’s look at a few free email providers’ policy statements and see what we can learn from them.

GMX free email

Here’s what GMX, a free email provider, says in its policy.

Purpose of Processing and Legal Basis


In order to continue to provide our services to you free of charge, advertising is part of our offer. We strive to show you only ads that match your interests.


– Fetched on 04/08/2019

GMX makes it clear that one of the conditions of getting access to a free email service is for you to agree to receiving advertisements in your inbox. This is a tricky subject, especially when the email address is going to be used by young people as you cannot control what these advertisements might be about.

The range of services and products that get advertised on the open internet is vast and sometimes inappropriate for young people. There are ways of limiting the amount of advertisements displayed on your email and browser by using ad-blocking plugins and software but it is not the most elegant solution.

Google's free email (gmail)

Another example of a free email service is Gmail from Google and this is what Google has to say about how it uses advertisements to generate revenue.

Google’s main source of revenue is advertising – mostly from ads on our own sites and apps. By serving ads, we can keep Google services free for everyone.

 

– Fetched 04/08/2019

Again, we can see that Google is transparently and bluntly stating its conditions and reasons for serving you advertisements in exchange for a free email account. Although Google’s advertisements may seem less intrusive visually, they are slightly more intelligent, in that most advertisements are context sensitive and will be based on what you happen to be doing online at that moment in time.

For example, if you were reading an email about a science related school project to build a wheel, Google might start displaying advertisements for companies selling wheels for cars and bicycles in your geographic location based on your postcode. These advertisements may or may not be relevant to what you are trying to do but as you can see we pay a price to see these advertisements that are customised to our postcode and our precise activities.

Google, however, does offer some tools for parents to control and manage their children’s online activity. For example, Google’s app FamilyLink (fetched 04/08/2019) allows parents in the household to control what apps kids have access to, monitor their online activity, and manage their screen time. However, you need to be aware of what Google needs to collect from your children’s devices to make all this happen.

For example, Google says that it collects data about your child’s apps, browsers, and devices. Your child’s activity. Your child’s location. And your child’s voice and audio information. You might be OK with it all but do make sure you assess the risks of giving all this data away before signing up to its free email account.

Microsoft email

The third example we’re going to look at is Microsoft’s free email offering. Here’s what Microsoft has got to say about its outlook.com and hotmail.com email service.

Microsoft collects data from you, through our interactions with you and through our products. You provide some of this data directly, and we get some of it by collecting data about your interactions, use, and experiences with our products. The data we collect depends on the context of your interactions with Microsoft and the choices you make, including your privacy settings and the products and features you use. We also obtain data about you from third parties.

 

Microsoft uses the data we collect to provide you with rich, interactive experiences. In particular, we use data to:

Provide our products, which includes updating, securing, and troubleshooting, as well as providing support. It also includes sharing data, when it is required to provide the service or carry out the transactions you request.

Improve and develop our products.

 

Personalize our products and make recommendations.

Advertise and market to you, which includes sending promotional communications, targeting advertising, and presenting you with relevant offers.

 

– Fetched 04/08/2019

Similar to Google’s free email offering, Microsoft is transparently making its position clear about what data it collects and why, and one of the reasons cited is to be able to advertise and market to you. The thing to take away is the fact that there is an exchange taking place between the two parties – you and the company – and the company is offering to provide free email services in exchange for your data.

You might think that this is bad but there are also some free email providers who would not hesitate to sell your data to the highest bidder, which includes your preferences, your dislikes, details about your age, your gender and your location.

You don’t have to settle for ad supported platforms and free email providers.

There’s far too much data that relates to your life that passes through your email accounts and it’s never a good idea to take this lightly. Companies that monetise your data owe you a lot more than a free account for what they get in return.

Paid email services

Why might you want to pay for email services when it’s so easy and so straightforward to sign up to a free account with the likes of Google of Microsoft? There’s various factors that might justify this choice. Let’s have a look at a few of these factors.

You get to control what happens with your data and the email provider is obliged to act in your interests, to the extent possible under the provisions of contract law.

You certainly do get better privacy as a paying customer because email providers don’t need to monetise your personal data and don’t need to serve you advertisements, as they are getting paid for their services by you and you have a supplier-customer relationship in place.

Most, if not all paid-for email services are ad free. This also means that they won’t need to employ external tracking cookies to follow you around the web.

You should expect some consistency when it comes to reliability of the systems as you will be paying a company to maintain its email infrastructure and look after its physical and online security and guarantee a certain level of service quality. For example, up-time guarantees and providing immediate responses to any incidents and safe backups of your data that can be retrieved upon request.

You should expect to see a certain level of customisation if you are paying for your email. For example, most providers will let you add/remove storage as your needs change, add additional accounts and aliases, use the email services with your own domain name ([email protected]) amongst other things.

You can expect to see end-to-end encryption, two-factor authentication and additional advanced security features with most paid-for email service providers. This should help ensure that your account and your data is securely encrypted at all times.

Now, let’s look at a few paid-for email service providers’ policy statements and see what we can learn from them.

ProtonMail

This is what ProtonMail’s policy has got to say about data collection and data use.

Data Collection


Our company’s overriding policy is to collect as little user information as possible to ensure a completely private and anonymous user experience when using the Service. We also have no technical means to access your encrypted message contents.

Data Use


We do not have any advertising on our site. Any data that we do have will never be shared except under the circumstances described below in the Data Disclosure Section. We do NOT do any analysis on the limited data we do possess with two exceptions:


Emails sent unencrypted to ProtonMail accounts (e.g. Gmail to ProtonMail) are scanned automatically pursuing the legitimate interest of detecting spam so we can block IPs which are sending a lot of spam to ProtonMail users and place spam messages in a spam directory. Inbound messages are scanned for spam in memory, and then encrypted and written to disk. We do not possess the technical ability to scan messages after they have been encrypted.


Emails sent by ProtonMail users to outside (e.g. Gmail) users with encryption disabled are scanned automatically pursuing the legitimate interest of detecting spam in the same manner as incoming email. This is to ensure a ProtonMail account which is being used for spamming purposes can be detected and locked so email deliverability for legitimate users is not degraded.


– Fetched 18/8/2019

This is in contrast to some of the free email service providers we looked at earlier. ProtonMail’s policy wording makes it clear that your data will not be used for advertising purposes and that the company has no mechanism to scan encrypted email messages. It also emphasises its position on what data it collects (as little as possible) and that it ensures a private and anonymous user experience.

MailFence

This is what MailFence’s policy says

Surveillance and law enforcement


We do not participate nor co-operate with any kind of private or government surveillance or monitoring service. Note that Belgium does not have any equivalent to the US NSL (National Security Letter) and gag order, so we cannot be forced to do something without being allowed to disclose it.


Do we use cookies ?


Yes. Our cookies are “authentication cookies” and not “tracking cookies”: we do not track you after your session on our servers.


Do we disclose any information to outside parties ?


No. We do not sell, trade or otherwise transfer to outside parties your personally identifiable information except when forced by Belgian law (see paragraph about Surveillance and law enforcement).


Data mining and profiling


We do not use Google Analytics trackers. We do not sell or give information about our users to any third parties.

No tracking, no advertising


We do not use any third-party advertising or marketing trackers. We do not track your activity in the application. Mailfence is completely free from ads. We do not send spams or solicitations. We have never and will never commercialize our databases or share data with any third-party for targeted advertising or any other purpose.


– Fetched 18/8/2019

MailFence appears to take a privacy conscious approach to its email service and like ProtonMail offers built-in encryption and privacy controls by design. It also claims on its homepage that it offers a no-spam, no-ads, and no-tracker email service. Its policy states that MailFence does not use any third party advertising or marketing trackers and also makes a commitment that your data will never be monetised.

There are several other paid-for options and email providers that you can choose from. Please get in touch with us via ProParent support if you need any help selecting your (or your children’s) email account provider.

self-hosting your email service

If you don’t want to use externally hosted email providers, you can setup and run your own email infrastructure. You can host your own email server and manage the overall administration.

However, unless you have the time and are tech savvy to set it all up, and maintain it regularly on an ongoing basis, this might not be the best option for you.

Using email safely

  • Always use a trusted computer (or a mobile device) to login to your email
  • Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication to login to your email account
  • Use encryption for your emails-in-transit to prevent snooping (TLS)
  • Always logout of your email account once you are done using it
  • Only check emails at designated times during the day (i.e. not always on)
  • Always be careful with reply-all. This is like talking to a whole room at once
  • Be respectful and polite on emails
 

If you have any questions arising from this article, please do get in touch with us.

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