Short version (for those who already feel how important this is):
Get ProtonMail by supporting their IndieGoGo campaign:
(choose the "Priority Access" perk to get beta access still in July 2014).
That's the easiest solution I'm currently aware of - and it still provides a rather decent level of privacy / security. ProtonMail will replace your Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, GMX and whatever other highly insecure email accounts that throw all your communications right into the greedy mouths of evil corporations and dark spy agencies.
And as a "special bonus", as an early adopter you can almost be sure that your name is probably still available (which does kill some of the anonymity / makes it easier to figure out your meta-data ... but also makes it much easier to contact you via email).
Here's a nice article on ProtonMail including an interview:
Why you really need to encrypt your communications (for those who think it's not worth the effort):
As you are probably all aware, "The Internet" has turned from a democratic tool that connects people from all walks of life in an egalitarian manner to a weapon of mass surveillance against the people of the whole planet. This does sound pretty severe - and trust me: It's actually much much much worse than it sounds.
We're currently in a time where capitalism in its worst sense returns (wealth concentrating among a select few). This in itself isn't really new: The level of inequality today is quite comparable to the level of inequality in Europe around 1900. That was a time where you either inherited a fortune and had an incredibly convenient life - or you did not, and had a terrible life of poverty.
Then came two world wars, the great depression and significant political reform (to my surprise, taxation played a rather benevolent role in this) - and for a little moment in time we enjoyed the establishing of a rather broad "middle class" (about 40% of the people owning about 40% of wealth) and a blink of something that more or less could qualify as "democracy".
Now again, this time globally, wealth is primarily inherited and concentrates faster and faster to fewer and fewer. And the most wealthy 0.1% of the world (that's about 4.5 million adults) own about 20% of global wealth - each of those own an average of 10 million EUR, compared to 60,000 EUR of global average wealth per person; which is 200 times as much. The wealthiest 1% of people (45 million) own about 50% of the world (and that's very rough estimates - the real numbers most likely looking much darker).
And for pure economic reasons and simple mathematics, this will only get worse. Political reform could balance this - but politicians are owned by capital, so don't expect them to work for the 99% which own only the remaining 50% (and these 50% will be shrinking fast, simply due to the economic / mathematic dynamics).
I strongly recommend reading Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" to get a deeper understanding of these economic dynamics on a historic scale.
Naturally, societies will not accept the resulting level of inequality. Unless there's a brutal police/military/surveillance state which will destroy any dissent before it turns into reform or revolution. And here you have a country which owns the best funded military on this planet, more than the next eight countries combined ... and is owned by a corporate elite.
That's one part of the "big picture" why the global surveillance state is not just an inconvenience that annoys a bunch of nerds but quite factually the dystopic reality that Orwell and quite a few others warned us against.
So if you only do one thing for securing your own communications - support and use ProtonMail:
ProtonMail seems to be both very convenient and pretty secure, so I think it's definitely a project worth supporting ... and it would be nice to get as many people on that "channel" as possible. Here's the link to the IndieGoGo campaign:
... and if you want to do a little more - check out this little list:
A few more things you can do:
Install and learn to use GnuPG (which may seem much less convenient than ProtonMail but is free open source software - which is preferable for anything related to security).
If you use Windows, start with http://www.gpg4win.org and if you use Thunderbird, add Enigmail.
If you use Mac OS X and Apple Mail, simply install the GPG Suite.
If you use Linux - good on you ... you probably already have all you need (including know-how), if not, if you're using Ubuntu, start here: GnuPrivacyGuardHowto ... if you're using Debian, this might get you started: http://www.bitflop.com/document/129 ... if you're using another Linux distribution: find out how to do it and share in the comments ;-)
You'll find my public key below. With my public key, you can send me encrypted messages that only I can read (because I'm the only one who has my private key ;-) ). Eventually, I'll ignore unencrypted messages sent to me. Seriously.
Finally, if you want to even protect your meta-data (who you communicate with, and how frequently), start using BitMessage.
Instead of texting or using WhatsApp, use Threema.
Instead of using Skype, use Jitsi. With the account you're using for Jitsi (an XMPP account), you can also use ChatSecure (which also works on iOS and Android). Or you check out CryptoCat (which works without needing an account on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux in various browsers and on iOS).
Instead of using Facebook or Google+, use Syme.
Some more tips for making your online life more private:
Oh, and if you're a US citizen: consider buying back the US government via the MayDayPac (this is urgent - the deadline is July 4th, only 6 days left):
The unstoppable walk to political reform
... then join in here in the SuperPac to end all SuperPacs:
If you need more background understanding of why this is important and why it may actually work - read this article:
What’s So Bad About a SuperPAC?
While protecting ourselves with technology as long as governments are as corrupt as they currently are is an important short-term approach to this issue, eventually we will need to make sure that politicians return to working for the people instead of working for corporations / a wealthy minority elite.
And, of course, we need to make sure that consciousness on this planet raises (starting with ourselves) which in the end is the only way to permanently heal this planet. So that's always the highest priority.
And don't forget: you're free to share this message with anyone you think may need this information.