Why my Friend Quit Tutanota
The irony of locking myself out of my Standard Notes account while posting arguments against the user-friendliness of privacy tools wasn't lost on me this week. I have over 1200 notes in that account.
The odd thing is, I am a tech-interested person, and I keep very diligent notes in Standard Notes and in KeePass (a self-managed password application). I started writing this blog to encourage people to try privacy tools. And yet my own error with Standard Notes meant I had to cope with a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach at the thought of losing all my notes, going back years, as a result of end-to-end encryption and zero knowledge administration.
I attempted to change my Standard Notes login details while Standard Notes wasn't able to sync. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to export a decrypted backup of all my notes before deleting the account, which saved the day.1 Kudos to help desk angel from Standard Notes, who was patient and provided guidance to retrieve and reconnect my subscription account over a number days and emails.
Response on Techlore forum
The post Privacy Tools Are not Worth the Hassle was kindly reposted by Henry on his Techlore forum where I was able to read other members' views on the argument.
While aspects of my attempts to 'steelman' a counter arguments were lost in translation, the discussion did confirm my convictions that for many users, changing browser settings to change a search engine, is about as appealing as it would be for me to dismantle an oven.
Why my friend quit Tutanota
For the skeptical claim "Recommending a privacy tool can backfire", I used the example of a friend who followed my advice, tried Tutanota email, and then gave up half a year later.
I am a fan of Tutanota, and have supported them since nearly the beginning. I can see past the small annoyances, because I approve of what they are doing. I see it as a work-in-progress (though, Tutanota, in some areas, progress could be sped up a little...).
I reached out to my friend to ask him why he had quit. He wrote up a detailed response, which, with his permission, I now present here.
Why did you quit your Tutanota account?
I though I'd better put this down via email since I find it easier to write via a keyboard than on the phone.
These are the main reasons for dropping Tutanota:
- The on-screen layout - I found that it was a bit frustrating to use especially when you wanted to print out emails and replies. The system of seeing previous and post emails was confusing and difficult to manage.
- It always took a while (a few seconds) to load and to switch boxes (In - Sent etc.). It was slow to delete and save messages.
- Too many updates - they used to arrive regularly and you are bothered by the pop-ups reminding you whenever you need to log on.
- A recent technical issue which could not be resolved by Tutanota unless you understood their technical 'computer speak' to follow the complicated instruction they gave to resolve the issue. An annoying pop-up occurs every time you log on saying 'An error occurred. Please try again later' you have to close this down and then you can access your emails.
- Although end-to end encryption sounded attractive when I first signed up, I never use it. I cant' really see the point and didn't want to ask others to set a pass code. So, I have to switch it off whenever I was to send an email to a new person - which is a bit of a pain.
- Their help service and FAQ's are full of technical jargon which makes my eyes automatically glaze as soon as I start reading!!! I think the service is more for those who are into computer communication and are therefore more savvy than ordinary people like me.
- For a while I used both Tutanota & Outlook and I find the latter much easier to use; it's intuitive and clear and gives me everything I need apart from the adverts, which are not too obtrusive but can irritate.
Hope this helps for your blog!
I find honest and detailed feedback like this insightful. We can easily make many arguments to counter these complaints. Reading through it, a 'yeah but...' voice keeps piping up in my mind. For example, with issue #5, I am sure you can set non-encrypted emails as a default in Tutanota, so you only encrypt messages to non-Tutanota recipients by deliberate choice. But that is not the point of this article.
The important take-away here is just how wide the gap can be between people have an interest in tinkering with IT and the settings, versus all the users out there who just want to send an email. For my friend, privacy was somewhat important, but not at the cost of convenience. It helps me to be reminded of that gap.
...their technical 'computer speak' to follow the complicated instruction
Their help service and FAQ's are full of technical jargon which makes my eyes automatically glaze as soon as I start reading!!!
the service is more for those who are into computer communication and are therefore more savvy than ordinary people like me
are very telling and paint a clear image of that gap.
This same friend does use Signal regularly, and happily. He prefers it to WhatsApp, because he can see the issues with companies like Meta. He just wants to keep frustration to a minimum. Signal does this wonderfully well, while preserving privacy. My only instructions were: just go to your app store and download Signal.
Ultimately, if blogs like mine, and platforms like Techlore and The New Oil only serve those who find their way to privacy (like I did), we will be left with a rather small community of individuals using privacy tools. If the goal is to normalise privacy for everyone in society, because the alternative is too dystopian and erosive to freedom, then privacy preserving tools need to be more attractive than the competition, so the majority of users can enjoy privacy, even if they are unaware.
Documentation & Related Posts
Sister post to this article
Techlore discussion forum
From WhatsApp to Signal
Moving from Gmail to Tutanota Email
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Standard notes does have an offline decryption tool but I think I would have needed my password for that, which is what I'd lost during the update.↩