Own Your MX Record
Think about how important your email address is. It is your primary form of identity online. It is how you do password resets. It is how you get official communications from every business you’ve opted to go paperless with. Being forced to get a new email address is arguably more traumatic and difficult than getting a new phone number. You should own it, control it, and have it separate from your email provider. In the US we’ve had the legal right to do this with our cell phone numbers for 20 years. There is no comparable legislation for email providers, and hosting your own email server is more work than most of us are willing it put up with.
Every few months a major media outlet picks up a story of somebody getting their Google account locked and deleted due to some nebulous violation of Google’s terms of service1. Their only course of action is to cause a PR problem for Google and get a human being involved that can help them get their digital life back.
Practically this means you should own your MX record or be at risk to having your email address taken away due to whims of an impenetrable bureaucracy. This also means that you will need to pay for email and domain registration. I do not believe $7/month2 is an exhorbitant cost, even though it is another monthly charge on your credit card bill (pick your least favorite streaming service and cancel it to balance things out). I think paying for an email provider is worth the cost. It is one of the things I do not trust myself to do well, nor do I want the stress of navigating the block lists of large email providers and maintaining a well regarded static IP address.
My personal recommendation is to sign up for a Fastmail account, and configure a custom domain. Fastmail made it effortless to transfer all my existing emails from Gmail, and guided me through the DNS changes with a domain I already owned. While Fastmail will offer to register and setup a domain for you, I would recommend doing it yourself. The whole point of owning your own domain is that your email address is not owned by your email provider. Keeping these two things separate is what gives you the ability to switch email providers.
There is technical knowledge required to do all this, and I accept most people do not want to deal with it. There may even be a business idea lurking here to automate this whole process and help people easily manage and secure their online presence. Until then I suspect I’ll continue to keep reading about people trusting their entire online identity to big tech, and having their lives turned upside down when an algorithm locks their account.
You don’t have to search very hard to see that this is not an isolated incident:
The monthly cost of a paid email provider account, and domain registration with a registrar. ↩