tech/How to ditch Gmail

Published 2020-04-16

I switched away from Gmail a few years ago after almost a decade on Gmail. In a lot of ways, your email is your digital identity. You communicate with friends, family, and business contacts through your email. If you need to reset your password to another account, you do so through your email. Email is one of the few remaining decentralized services that you can still control yourself, so why hand over control of your digital identity to a giant like Google?

I’ve heard too many horror stories about people losing access to their Google/Gmail accounts, sometimes without explanation nor recourse. Take a second to imagine right now what it would mean to you if that happened to you. What about the email history you’d lose? What about your contacts? What about other services that are connected to your Google account?

How?

The switch isn’t as bad as you would think. Here are the steps I took:

  1. Compile a list of all your online accounts. If you use a password manager, you can get your list from there.

  2. Create a new account with an email provider that you trust[1]. You should expect to pay for this, probably a couple of bucks a month. When you pay for something, you’re a customer rather than a product, and you can expect some level of customer support should you need help. For bonus points, I also strongly recommend using your own domain name, if possible[2].

  3. Set up a vacation responder on your Gmail account explaining your switch and including your new email address.

  4. Change your email address on all your online accounts to your new address.

  5. Download an archive of all your email from your Google account via Google Takeout. Alternatively, the mail provider you’ve switched to might have a tool for automatically importing your emails from your Gmail account. I had the option to do this with the provider I switched to, but I decided to take advantage of the switch to get a fresh start on my email.

  6. After you’ve switched all of your online accounts and you feel confident that everyone is using your new address, remove Gmail from your Google account. This does not mean you have to get rid of your Google Account altogether. You’ll be able to use your new email address as your Google ID, so you can continue to use any Google services as you wish. People will even be able to share Google Docs with you using your new email address. It’s pretty great, and I commend Google for that.

    Log in to your Google Account, go to Data & personalization, click Delete a service or your account, and then Delete a service. Click the trash can next to Gmail. You’ll be prompted to add your new email address here.

Note: Even after removing Gmail from your Google account, your Gmail address remains yours—Google won’t reassign it. You can reactivate it at any time (for example, if you discover an account you forgot to switch to your new address, and you need to use your old Gmail address to reset your password or confirm your account). I’ve reactivated and re-deactivated mine several times.

This will not, however, restore your old emails, which is why you need to download them or transfer them as in step 5.

Enjoy the peace-of-mind of knowing that you now control of your online identity!

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Footnotes

  1. I switched to Fastmail and I heartily recommend them. The service and interface is on par with Gmail, they value your privacy and security, customer service is great, and they are actively striving to make email better for everyone. That said, there are other great providers out there—do your own research.

    This is an affiliate link. If you use it to sign up for Fastmail, you’ll receive a 10% discount for your first year, and I’ll get a credit towards my plan. ↩︎

  2. Bonus Points: Using your own domain name. Using your own domain name (e.g. you@yourname.com instead of you@gmail.com, you@fastmail.com, or whatever mail service you’re using) means that you control your email address, and if you ever decide to switch to a different email provider, you’ll be able to take your existing email address with you.

    Purchasing and setting up your own domain requires a little bit of technical know-how, but you can do it! Depending on the mail provider you use, they should be able to help you with this. Here is Fastmail’s page on using a custom domain.

    And if you decide not to purchase and use your own domain, that’s okay too—just switching away from Gmail is a hugely beneficial step by itself. ↩︎