Interview with StartMail CEO and Co-founder Robert E.G. Beens
In a recent interview with SafetyDetectives, StartMail CEO and co-founder Robert E.G. Beens talked about his journey into the world of privacy and shed light on why email privacy should be a concern for everyone.
Hi Robert, thank you for your time. Can you talk about your journey and what motivated you to start StartMail?
Privacy and individual freedom have always been very important to me. I believe that every individual deserves the right to privacy, to be themselves and think freely, as long as it doesn’t infringe upon the rights of others, of course.
My professional journey into the privacy field was somewhat coincidental. I was conducting a legal audit of my search engine Ixquick, and was horrified to learn how much personal user data was being stored. Realizing what could be done with so much personal data was our epiphany moment. With my co-founder David Bodnick, we were determined to challenge the status quo and launch the most secure and private search engine to date – which later became Startpage in 2006.
Little did I know that this was just the beginning of our privacy journey. Back then, online privacy wasn’t really a topic that people cared about much, because they hadn’t yet seen the risks that can arise from a loss of privacy on the internet. As our understanding of online privacy deepened, it was clear that our mission had to expand to a private email solution as well. Standard emails are just like postcards when it comes to security – not exactly what anyone would call private. We realized there was a dire need for an email service that could stand up to government snooping, commercial exploitation, phishing attacks, and annoying spam, and that’s how StartMail was born. It’s not just about protecting your information; it’s about empowering you to be in control of your data.
Why should the average person be concerned about their email privacy?
Every single one of us relies heavily on email to communicate and remain connected, but when it comes to online privacy, the spotlight often falls on tracking cookies or browsing histories. But protecting your email privacy is just as important, if not more so, because emails contain a lot of personal and sensitive details, such as financial or health information, or login credentials that you don’t want falling into the wrong hands.
We often expect security and privacy when it comes to sending emails, but the truth is that sending a standard email is comparable to sending a postcard: there’s no envelope or other protective barrier that shields the content of your message as it passes through the internet. Emails can therefore easily be seen, read, or even copied by anyone delivering your message.
On top of that many of the “free” email providers such as Gmail, Yahoo or other popular email services have been found to scan and analyze the content of your emails to generate targeted ads. They also keep copies of your emails, sometimes for months after you deleted them. This means that any email can be retrieved from your account if needed and shared with third parties, such as government agencies, upon request.
Another threat to your email privacy are phishing emails – an increasingly common method of cyber-attack, that can have devastating consequences if successful. According to a 2020 report, 91% of cyber-attacks start with a phishing email containing a link, attachment, or piece of code that can give the hacker access to the victim’s computer or network.
The safest way to protect your email from these threats and protect your privacy at the same time is to use a secure email provider like StartMail that offers security features such as encryption.
With so much emphasis on digital privacy, why do you believe many users still opt for convenience and free services over security when choosing email services?
It’s interesting that despite the growing privacy awareness, many people still choose free services over security when selecting digital services.
In my view, this choice often stems from the complex nature of terms like encryption or data protection, as well as lengthy privacy policies. For many individuals, these concepts can be overwhelming, creating a sense of uncertainty about where to even begin. This can sometimes result in a feeling that achieving true privacy might be unattainable, or too complex to tackle, prompting users to lean towards the familiar, even if it’s less secure.
For example, the prospect of moving years’ worth of emails from a provider like Gmail to a secure email service like StartMail might seem like a daunting task. The actual process, however, is a lot easier than it seems. StartMail offers a migration tool that helps move emails and contacts from platforms like Gmail or Yahoo with just a few simple clicks – no technical expertise required. As providers focused on privacy, we have an opportunity to better communicate the user-friendly benefits of our services. We can figuratively brighten the path to increased security, reassuring users that transitioning to privacy-focused solutions can be both achievable and incredibly rewarding.
At the same time, it’s important to recognize that embracing privacy doesn’t necessitate an immediate overhaul of all your services and habits. It’s a step-by-step process, where each step towards enhanced privacy contributes to your overall online security.
This is an excerpt from an interview that was originally published on SafetyDetectives.com. To read the full conversation, click here