Avoid email vendor lock-in at all costs

Avoid Vendor Lock-In

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What happens when you would like to change the supplier that has your private email data on its servers? Is it possible to get your data back? In the following article, Mailfence will breakdown what is vendor lock-in and why you should be vigilant about data reversibility.

What is email vendor lock-in?

To begin with, vendor lock-in is a term that describes the dependency of customers on a vendor for a certain product or service.  The user is unable to use another vendor without substantial switching costs. Switching costs include time, effort and of course money.

Email vendor lock-in refers to email providers using vendor lock-in techniques to make sure you can’t switch to another service. For instance, such techniques can be the inability to get your data back. Your data includes calendar events, your mailbox or the domain name used for your email.

So how do you avoid it?

Firstly, you have to make sure that the vendor you are using provides a back-up option for you to save and export your data. The exported data should be in standard formats such as :

  • For email: Mbox (Email Mailbox File) or EML (E-mail message)
  • For calendar events: ICS (Calendar File)
  • For contacts: VCF (vCard File) or CSV (Comma Separated Values File)

A good practice is to make sure by emailing them and specifically ask if there is an option for you to get your data back. In case the vendor clearly states that you can have all your data back if you leave them then save this email. So when the time comes for you to leave they cannot deny that you can get your personal data back.

Secondly: Try to be independent of the domain name of your provider. This can be done by using your personal custom domain. This decreases friction when you want to change provider because you do not need to inform all your contacts that you have a new email address.

Finally, if you use a secure encrypted email provider like Mailfence, make sure you can export your encryption keys. Here again, a good practice is to check the knowledge base of your provider and send an email to their support in case of doubt.

What is Data Reversibility?

Reversibility is a technical term describing the fact a user can get his/her data back from the service provider he/she is using. As we described above, this can be done by exporting your emails, contacts or calendar event in standard formats. But data reversibility amounts to much more. For example, Google collects data about its users and stores it on its servers. Such data includes personal details, shopping habits, blogs you frequently visit and so much more.

By storing this data, Google creates personalized ads and settings for you. Furthermore, all of this data is given to Google by you. To get all your data back from Google involves a cumbersome process that deserves an article on its own. That is why we would advise you to only use providers that do not base their business model on advertising, surveillance and profiling.

In case you are coming from Gmail, you can read our dedicated blogpost and migrate all of your data to Mailfence.

Why is it important?

Without Data reversibility you cannot switch to another provider. This might lead to you paying more and getting less value and fewer features than another provider offers for the same price. The more friction to switch provider, the less incentive your provider has to give you a competitive offering. Your data should belong to you and you ought to have ownership of your data at all times. That’s where Data reversibility comes into play.

At Mailfence, we believe that privacy is a right and not a feature. If you would like to leave a service and get all your data back you have the right to do so without cumbersome procedures.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares our view about privacy and the way it should be treated. It is therefore up to you, the user to take the necessary steps and make sure you choose the right service providers. Start by choosing a secure and private email provider like Mailfence to make sure you can always export all your data, including emails, contacts and even calendar events.

If you want to learn how to export your data from your mailfence account, check our KB article.

Final thoughts on Data Reversibility and how to avoid email vendor lock-in

Up until now, only tech-savvy individuals know about data reversibility and how to avoid email vendor lock-in. We would like to change that, this article serves as our first step in achieving this goal. In the near future, you can expect more vendor lock-in articles from us.

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– Mailfence team

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Patrick De Schutter

Patrick De Schutter

Patrick is the co-founder of Mailfence. He's a serial entrepreneur and startup investor since 1994 and launched several pioneering internet companies such as Allmansland, IP Netvertising or Express.be. He is a strong believer and advocate of encryption and privacy. You can follow @pdeschutter on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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