Free Software Webmail Systems
Whether the server itself runs nonfree software is a different issue. Nonfree software running on the server infringes the freedom of the server operator, but not yours; therefore, it is a secondary issue. We note here that some server operators say they run exclusively free software; you might choose one of them to reward their support for the community.
We don't know of any surefire way to evaluate a mail service for privacy, since any such service could be handing mail data massively to some government, and there is no way to detect this from outside.
We do know that specific companies providing webmail services were named as part of the PRISM NSA spying revelations: Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, and AOL.
We also know that some smaller companies, like Lavabit, were pressured to turn over information.
With these caveats, here are some recommendations:
- Pick a mail service located in a country that won't cooperate with governments that you're particularly concerned about privacy from.
- Avoid using LinkedIn, which fishes for people's email contact lists.
- If your mail service and your search engine are run by companies that don't cooperate, neither of them can correlate your searches with your mail contents. (A spy agency could still do so, if the two companies are in the same country or in countries that cooperate in massive surveillance.) Thus, don't use both Gmail and other Google services such as web search.
Some of these services are gratis, but that's a separate issue. Recall that "free software" refers to freedom, not price.
- Fastmail: Sign up, sign in, and webmail all work smoothly. This is a paid service with a 60-day free trial.
- Mail.ru: Sign up, sign in, and webmail all work smoothly.
- Mailoo: Explicitly states it runs on free software.
- OpenMailBox: Runs explicitly on free software. Service started in June 2013.