I'm switching back to Yandex for my email—here's why.

Cover #software #privacy #email

During the start of Russia's cruel and unjustified invasion of Ukraine, I decided to do my little part by switching my email provider from Yandex.Mail to Disroot. But due to Disroot's lackluster support and some dominant position exploit by a couple of big corps, I'm now switching back.

As soon as the war in Ukraine started, I knew that I had to use less Russian products and services. That's when I realized that meant that I had to switch to a different email provider.

I had been using the Russian Yandex.Mail for at least a year, because it was the best provider that I knew of that offers unlimited free email addresses with a custom domain. That's how I registered hello[@]massivebox.net, legal[@]massivebox.net, and more, for free. It's also a very stable and recognized email provider, so I knew for a fact that my email wouldn't be sent to the “spam” folder, not even in Gmail or Outlook.

I knew that using such a system was hypocritical on my end, since Yandex is kind of a Russian Google equivalent—it's a suite of online services, like maps, search and cloud, that pays no regard to the users' privacy. But I tried my best to mitigate the issue, by using open-source mail clients and avoiding their bloated and ad-filled web interface. I knew that this didn't prevent them from reading my email, but I consider the issue out of scope. I never use (and think no one should use) email for important and private communications. That's because email is not built with encryption in mind, it's built to exchange plaintext messages with relative simplicity. I use encrypted messaging applications like Matrix, XMPP, Session and even E2E Telegram chats for the rest. Not only that, but I basically use email to get registration confirmations, newsletters, and rarely to tell people who contact me that we should continue talking on a more secure platform.

So, as I decided to ditch Yandex, the question came naturally—where to go? There are many mail providers on the web, but not all deserve trust. I wanted to switch to an ethical host, that supported privacy-friendly initiatives. That's when I discovered that disroot.org provides a custom domain for email if the user does a one-time donation of any amount.

Disroot is a platform that provides several privacy-friendly services, like Jitsi, Mumble and XMPP servers, Gitea, Pastebin, cloud, and more, most importantly for my use case, email. They seem to value a lot the right of having free and secure communications, and they seem to side with the groups that have been censored and oppressed the most, like ethnical minorities. I can not but respect such ethics. I liked the project, so I decided to spend about €12 of Bitcoin I had lying around in a donation. So I donated, filled the form and waited.

I knew it was going to be a long wait—the site states it very clearly—but I would never have thought it would have taken…

Screenshot of my email software showing that I first requested my domain to be linked on 26th February, and it got linked on June 12th

Forty-four days. Or 1 month and 16 days. I even submitted an additional request one month after first submitting the form and pinged them in their forum. I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt here, and say that maybe the first request got lost because of some technical error, and it only took them 16 days to fulfill my request. Not a great first impression though.

But then came the worst part. I realized I had missed some aliases in my request form, so I wrote them an email to ask for more on April 12th, and to this day, I got absolutely no response.

On top of this, I realized my mail ended up in spam in Gmail. This happened consistently whenever I had to write emails, whether they had links, images, attachments or not. A complete nightmare. Probably someone had abused of Disroot's mail service to send spam mails to Gmail, and now they're blacklisted. That's something that does happen with smaller email providers that don't have the resources to create a proper anti-spam system, and don't have the relevance to request to be unblocked by the big corps either.

So here I am, back with Yandex. All the issues were just too much to bear. I'm not happy at all to be supporting a Russian business, but again, I'm taking all possible measures to limit the damage while not breaking their ToS.

I could have gone with a non-Russian email provider, but unfortunately none is as good as Yandex for my use case. They're all more limited, and only slightly more ethical. And even the ones that claim to protect user privacy, like Tutanota or ProtonMail, are offered on a subscription model that would almost cost me more per month that what I pay for the “massivebox.net” domain per year.

Sadly, email servers can't really be self-hosted in a way that is practical for me, either. That's because Google once decided that email should not be sent by residential IPs, so hosting an email server on my regular home server would be useless, since Gmail users wouldn't get my mail at all. I would need to rent a server from a cloud provider like Hetzner, OVH or Linode, with a chance of still ending up in a restricted IP range. That's because these servers get abused all the time, so it's likely for them to be blacklisted.

To be clear—I don't dislike Disroot. I'm happy to have supported them financially, since they really do provide useful services for the community and for the ones who don't have the skills or money to self-host. But I really can't advise them for email hosting with a custom domain. I'm aware that I'm not a paying customer, but a one-time donator, so I understand that I'm not entitled to the same support that I would get from a for-profit company. But at least I hoped to get some degree of support. Some of the issues I have encountered are not really their fault—like getting email delivered to spam—that's mostly on Google and the big corporations that exploit their dominant position to centralize a perfectly functional open standard.

And this should go without saying, but I don't support the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And using a single Russian service doesn't make any of that less true. I've reduced my independence on Russian products in other ways, and I encourage my readers to do the same.

In the hope that other decentralized communication systems won't have the same sad fate of email, being locked down by a couple of corporations that host an excessive number of users of the technology, I ask you readers for an opinion. If you know of any decently ethical provider with custom domain support for free, or if you want to comment anything, feel free to contact me. I'll update the article if necessary.

The first half of the cover image contains an image of the Ferguson protests provided by Loavesofbread—Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons. The second half of the cover image contains an image of the Russian Kremlin provided by Крылов Иван—Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.