Over the years I’ve been using all kinds of online services without thinking too much about it. I’ve been all over social media, forums, online stores. Opening accounts left and right. And for what… For a long time I enjoyed the internet, to be included. Only to get entangled in this magical thing called the internet. It all comes at the low cost of my privacy, only to realize how invasive and unnecessary most of it is.
Many people around me don’t seem to mind at all, and for a while I pondered if I wasn’t making it all up in my head. But if you look closer and understand the tech behind it a little you come to realise what an absurd internet we’ve created over the last 18 years.
Google just does whatever they want. Seemingly uncaring about you as a user. You, the user, are their product. The mission – Know everything there is to know about you so they can sell that data to show you relevant adverts.
They continually introduce new and seemingly cool products and services to make your life easier. But have you ever wondered why all user facing interfaces are so poorly designed? And why they ‘announce’ policy change instead of ask what you think about it? Or why despite all the options you have in your Google account nothing really gives you control over how, where or how long they store the data they gather. Let alone who they share it with.
The only time Google ever seems to consider you as a person is when the European Union comes up with a new ineffective privacy law. Then all of the sudden they care a lot. Suddenly you’re in control – To either limit your access to their services or agree to their policy changes, new settings and checkboxes that lull you in a false sense of control. The only goal here is to get what they want – Your consent to use and collect more data.
I’m reconsidering my usage of Google services
So, after sort of realizing that, I’ve been making up my mind about if I want to be part of that system or make a point for myself. I considered my options for a few weeks and I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m going to be a product to Google, I’ll be a tiny insignificant one.
First I had to remember which Google Services I was actually using. And almost forgot a few, some are part of other services that you may not even realize you’re using them. Others are buried deep in configurations and you don’t even remember you’re using them. Once I had a clear picture about which services from Google I was using I could start my search for viable alternatives. Services that do not push me out of my comfort zone too far. And once I had that figured out I could make significant changes to my online life.
I figured that for the most part I was using Google Search, Google Password Sync and YouTube. I also used Google DNS and a bit of Gmail and Google Analytics on the side.
For work I looked at Google Webmaster Tools, more Google Analytics and stored files in Google Drive.
Software-wise; Android, Google Chrome and some of their Mobile apps like Maps and Gmail.
Simple enough. Let’s try to get rid of them.
That sounds like a bold idea and seems impossible to do. Maybe it is. But I’d like to try.
Can it be done? Well, yes and no. Here is what I did to try and remove Google from my life for the most part.
Replacing Gmail with iCloud Mail
As soon as you open your Google account you get Gmail included. Handy, but not a requirement to use it. I never really used Gmail to begin with. But if someone demanded an email address for whatever I gave them my Gmail address. Likewise, some less essential services I don’t care too much about… I’d use my Gmail address for that too. Also if for some reason my websites would crash and burn, my hosting company needs to be able to reach me, so again Gmail was used.
Since I trust Apples iCloud a little better I went over all of the accounts I cared enough about and changed my email address to my iCloud address. Most of my email comes in at my “actual” email addresses linked to this website and my personal page www.arnan.me. This made the switch very easy for me.
iCloud Mail is now my new ‘backup’ email address.
Replacing Google DNS with something else
If you happen to use Google DNS – A domain name resolving service – you can simply delete that from your system settings and let your internet provider provide you with a default DNS server they run. Most people do. If you want something more secure or robust, consider something like openDNS which is free and offers some security features that can be useful. Alternatively you can set up your own on a server somewhere if you’re so technically inclined.
When I still lived in the Netherlands I used to run my own private DNS server from home. This had several technical benefits for work. For most people that’s not really feasible. But for nerds like me it is fun to explore and tinker 🙂
I now use the default ISP DNS services as that was the easiest overall. Again a very simple switch.
Replacing YouTube with an alternative
I decided there is no alternative to YouTube. There are sites like Dailymotion, Vimeo or similar services. And some are fun at times and certainly serve a purpose. But they don’t nearly offer the same kind of content as YouTube does. Nothing really compares. So, YouTube is a necessary evil and I’ll allow it in my life.
In my opinion, if you like to watch ‘tv’ without actually watching tv there is no alternative for YouTube.
I don’t subscribe to things like Netflix or Hulu. So YouTube is and stays my ‘tv’.
Replacing Google Search with DuckDuckGo
There are a number of noteworthy search engines and I’ve made a simple decision for this. For now this works for me. Even if I don’t really like it.
On my laptop I keep using Google Search. On my mobile devices I’ll use DuckDuckGo.
I’ve tried DuckDuckGo for a few weeks on my laptop as well. But it kinda sucks for work use for some reason. Microsoft Bing is kinda ‘dumb’ too.
I don’t think there are any noteworthy and decent alternatives to Google Search other than DuckDuckGo and Bing.
This means, Google Search on my laptop. DuckDuckGo everywhere else. A fairly easy switch, but DuckDuckGo takes some getting used to.
Replacing Google Chrome with Safari and Firefox
Chrome is the elephant in the room and is the most important to get rid of. Google seems to believe it’s the only browser on the internet and so they record everything you do in it. Every website, services you use. They track your every move, everywhere. Not just on Google services, but every website you visit.
Luckily Firefox, Safari and even Internet Explorer/Edge are not greedy like that. Well, maybe Edge is… But I didn’t pay too much attention to Microsofts browsers – I use macOS. And if things are tracked it’s not likely for the benefit of advertisers.
I have uninstalled Google Chrome and installed Firefox for some testing. And use Safari as my primary browser. I’ve set both browsers to ignore tracking cookies where possible. Safari already does this on its own for the most part.
I now use Safari from Apple as my main browser. Switching to it took some effort. Setting up, uninstalling Chrome. But I think it’s worth the several hours I spent on it.
Next to my laptop also regularly use an Android tablet, those come standard with Chrome. I’ve disabled the app and installed Firefox Mobile on it.
Replacing Google Password Sync with iCloud Keychain
In Google Chrome you have the option to store and synchronize all your website passwords. Handy, convenient and stupid.
Why should Google know all my passwords, security questions and pincodes. For a while I was tricked with its convenience as well… It works really really well.
Anyway, I use macOS, which has Safari. Safari has a great password manager built-in as well. MacOS has a tool built-in for it as well. It’s all very well integrated into the whole Mac eco-system and it synchronizes to my iPhone via iCloud.
Popular alternatives are services like Dashlane, LastPass and such. But why pay for the privilege of giving some other company access to your password… Not an option for me.
For daily password stuff I use iCloud Keychain. I also keep an offline file with all non-essential, once-in-a-while passwords. Deleting my password database in my Google account took a bit of searching and entering all passwords into Safari took a tedious hour or so. But it was easy to do and set up.
For Windows users, most browsers have a password manager built-in for basic functionality and there are apps that run on your computer that can store passwords, logins and things like that. Some even sync with your phone – Just be careful that the sync doesn’t go via some cloud service.
Replacing Google Analytics with Matomo
Many people seem to think that without Google Analytics you can’t run a website. I did some research and despite popular belief… My site is doing perfectly fine without Google Analytics. I looked at a few alternatives and settled for Matomo.
Which is apparently the number 1 alternative for Google Analytics.
Another popular option is Sitestat. But meh, why give another business insights into my websites wellbeing.
There are a bunch more alternatives, all with restrictions, dumb fine-print or fairly high cost.
If I was going to pay money for my analytics I’d rather invest in a server I control. So I did, and on that server I installed Matomo and track my sites on there now.
If you don’t have your own server, you can get Matomo running on their servers.
Replacing Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools is another of those services that ties in into your Google account and is used to tell Google how to deal with your website. Any ordinary user probably doesn’t need it, but I thought I’ll mention it anyway.
This “service” is where Google tells me about what they think is wrong with my site. It’s where I tell them how to index my site, or what to index. Which they then ignore and complain about the stuff I don’t want them to index. But also decides what they refuse to show in search even though I want those pages to be seen in a search result.
Yea, it’s kind of a sh*tty deal for the most part. But if you run a website it’s a must have and can’t be replaced.
Bing has a similar dashboard, it sucks as well…
This also means you can’t delete your Google account if you wanted to.
Replacing Google Drive with Nextcloud
You know, that great deal with 15GB storage freely available for everone, more if you pay for it. Again it ties in into any Google account. It’s pretty good. But… From the 4 cloud storage services I’ve used in the last 8 years they’re the only ones to corrupt a bunch of files. Sh*t happens I guess…
They also scan every file you upload “for viruses” they say. “Great!” you think. But also read the fine-print… They also scan your documents (including encoded and compressed ones) and images for text and faces. Google uses that for advertising elsewhere on the web. “What the hell!” you may think… I know I did. And I decided Google doesn’t need to know about my tax papers. Google doesn’t need to know about who my customers are, where they live or how much I charge them. They don’t need to know who is in my images and where I took those photos. They also don’t need to know which companies I’m affiliated with. Nor do they need to know who I share files with and in what capacity. You get the idea.
For a while I switched to use Dropbox exclusively. And they’re mostly fine. As far as I can tell they just want your money for their premium service. This should motivate them to provide good service so you’ll actually pay for said premium products. Unfortunately some recent changes to their business practices changed how their services work. Adding some restrictions, more annoying marketing and a not-so-userfriendly desktop client nobody asked for. But if you can stand their marketing and business decisions they’re cool though.
A popular alternative is Microsoft OneDrive, but they also track your files and its contents. Because reasons…
There are a ton of other alternatives like Box or even Amazon Web Services but I kinda liked none of them.
As a result I opted to install NextCloud on a server I rent and now have my own cloud. No frustrating data limits, no storage restrictions and my files are mine. Emptying out my Google Drive, Dropbox folder and iCloud Storage took some thinking. Uploading all files took a few hours. But no more snooping around as far as I can tell. The switch, for me, was easy and worth the effort.
Replacing Android for a different OS
This seems impossible, right? Right! There are some Android versions floating around that removed all Google tracking and such. But nothing that works on my tablet. So meh.
I’ve decided that since it’s an occasional use device anyway Google can stay on there. With a few different apps.
Since Huawei never provides updates for this thing I’ve removed/disabled all the Huawei apps and revoked most of their privileges next to disabling the system update check.
I’m on and off looking at installing LineageOS. But no good build is available and that’s still Android… So whatever.
Replacing Google Maps
This is also a tricky one. Maps is kinda good because it’s very complete, accurate and has lots of data. But at the same time, it’s just a search engine on a map. Which means they track every location I focus on or search. Recently Google started showing highlighted locations I “should eat at” or “book a room at” just because…
I’ve tried to use Apple Maps, but it sucks. The map is OK, but location data is pretty much non-existent everywhere I try to use it.
I’ve used Maps.me in the past. The map is fine. Even in developing countries. But location information is often inaccurate or missing.
Looking for something better I also used a few other apps. But they kinda suck.
See the problem here?
So, for now, Google Maps can stay. I’ll use it from time to time on my laptop (in the browser) and on my iPhone through the Google Maps app.
When I’ll start making more trips again and travel more on the road I’ll probably give Maps.me another go or try out Osmand+ or something.
Why removing Google from your live is a good thing? Why care?
Everything, literally every service Google provides to you is designed to gather data – All the data. Every data. Insane amounts of data. This includes specific information about you, the product. As a result, or byproduct, they also produce pretty good search results and give you free email and cloud storage and all kinds of services. But only because otherwise they don’t get what they want – Data, data and more data.
All that data you send to them is stored, interpreted and processed with the sole purpose to profile you and ‘know’ you as it were. With the sole purpose to make profit from it. And they do that through adverts.
If you store files in Google Drive, Google scans them. When you send emails via Gmail? Google knows what you’re talking about. Using Chrome? Every web address you enter is stored. But also which pages you visit, how long you stay, what computer you use to do so. And much much more information.
Maybe the underlying mission from Google is honest and upright. But the lack of control I have over it is depressing.
And the lack of transparency and their business practice in general suggests otherwise.
And for what? Someone else their benefit? Adverts? I don’t like ads that know more about me than I do. Nor do I like to be profiled like that.