My Great de-Googleing

Slowly but surely, a few massive tech companies are controlling more and more of our digital lives. Sadly, we’re at a point where the entire Internet is being run entirely by a small handful of large multinational corporations. From Amazon’s AWS practically running the entire web, to Google having a monopoly on what gets index and shown in searches, to running the majority of web browsers in the world. Then you have Facebook being almost the sole social media provider of the world and now owning WhatsApp, one of the most used communication apps in the world. It’s become too much.

I have a strong aversion to being shown ads. I HATE advertising, and I know I’m being manipulated into buying things I don’t need or want. I go out of my way to not see advertising as much as possible. I use an adblocker extension for all my browsing. I even have a paid subscription to Google Play, to avoid seeing any ads on YouTube (more on that later). I would watch Netllix mostly to avoid seeing ads. I never listen to the radio or watch “live” or “regular” TV. I don’t hear ads while streaming music. The only ads I might be subjected to are “dumb” ads on the street and even those my mind pretty much automatically blocks out. I use a news app that blocks out ads, so I rarely see them on websites I visit on my phone, where ad blocking isn’t as easy. If I have to do a lot of browsing on my phone, and I start seeing ads, I connect to a VPN that blocks ads automatically. Problem solved.

The problem is when the ads somehow sneak by my strong filers, such as on the occasional viewing of Instagram, Facebook, crafty website that got ads through, or more importantly – Google or Gmail, they are hyper-targeted because of all the tracking Google and Facebook does. It’s beyond annoying to me when I see an ad, and they know exactly what is going in my life and what ads to show me.

This isn’t just about ads; it’s about the right to basic privacy. Would you want some faceless company to have a camera pointed at you in your bathroom and bedroom, seeing your most intimate and unsexy moments? No, I highly doubt it. Oddly, that’s pretty much what we’re doing by allowing companies (Google) to know every intimate detail about us. Not only that, but we’re letting them know EVERYTHING about us, even things we don’t even know about ourselves.

Take Google, for example, if you were like me look at the info they see and know:

Honestly, what is left for them to not know about me? They know what I listen to, where I go physically, what I type on my phone, whom I message and email, what apps I use, and what I watch on YouTube. I can’t think of anything they don’t know or can’t figure out about me via all these avenues.

This is insanity! Google is a large multinational corporation, and its interests are profit and to the shareholders. Not to me and my privacy.

Therefore, I decided to not put “all my eggs in one basket,” and give this one company, so much info about me. While one might argue it’s too late and they already know too much, I find that a weak excuse or argument. It’s time to take back some privacy and not give it away so freely to some massive tech conglomerate.

Here is how I’m fighting back and slowly de-googling my life.

What I’ve deGoogled so far:

Chrome –> Firefox

I originally used Mozilla before Firefox was a thing, a long time ago. I’m happy with Firefox as the new versions are fast and modern. It easily competes with Google’s Chrome now, and it has a strong focus on privacy and better standards for the web. With loads of built-in privacy-focused features and controls, it’s a no brainer to use this browser. There are a few other good non-Google alternatives, but I like to support Mozilla and its mission of helping people take back their privacy.

Android –> iPhone and iOS

Moving from Android to iOS was a huge move for me. I was a long-time Android fanboy. I had the very first Android phone, the G1. I was rooting for the underdog from the beginning. Oh, how things have changed. Honestly, it’s been great with the new versions of iOS, and I’ve grown to love my iPhone. Apple is focusing more on privacy and security as they make so much money from hardware; you’re not the product by being a consumer.

Mobile Chrome –> Mobile Safari / Firefox

I have no problem at all using Safari on my iPhone, and iOS is integrated pretty well with it. Sometimes I use Firefox on my phone, but it feels better and more seamless to use Safari.

Google Drive / Google Photos –> Dropbox

Dropbox works for me, as I need all of my data stored in the cloud. I take a lot of photos, and I love that I can automatically upload my pictures from my phone to Dropbox. While their photos section on the web app isn’t perfect, it’s an ok enough alternative to Google Photos.

Gmail / Google Calendar –> Fastmail

I first signed up for Gmail back when you needed an invite to even create an account, way back in the year 2004. I have a LOT of email going back two decades. Moving away from Gmail was going to be a tough move as I use a few unique Gmail features pretty heavily. The biggest one is to see flight info right inside the app. As I travel and fly so often, this is an invaluable feature for me. Also, the way flights and events from emails are automatically added to my calendar is so incredibly useful for me.

Sadly, my move from Gmail had to be put on hold a bit longer. I was prepped and ready to move away from Gmail. I signed up for an account on Fastmail. I bought a custom domain and set it up, so I have an email address with my custom domain. I moved all of my two decades of email to Fastmail. I was ready to start forwarding emails and paying Fastmail. Then, literally days before I was going to start the big move, I got an email reminding me of how my Google One subscription (paying for extra Gmail storage) had been renewed for another year. -_-

I figured it didn’t make sense to pay for two email accounts. I couldn’t cancel Google One and get my money back. Therefore I put the move on hold for another year.

I also always back up all my emails just in case, using this fantastic free and opensource tool:

gmvault

I simply have a cronjob that regularly runs a backup.

Google Voice –> Dialpad

Google voice has long gone downhill as the voice quality really blows. Easy move here. I use a paid service called DialPad, as I need very high-quality voice-over-ip as I live abroad and need high quality calling for calls back home in the US.

A lot of the original people who created GrandCentral which Google bought and became Google Voice founded Dialpad. These guys know what they’re doing, and they weren’t happy how Google let their service degrade, so they started another company.

I use their iOS app to make and receive calls. Here the beautiful thing, I can also receive text messages and respond via the web or native app from my computer. I have a US number that friends and family can message. DialPad completely replaces Google Voice, and the service is far better.

Google –> duckduckgo

I now use the search engine duckduckgo as the default on my browser. They’re a competitor to Google and have a strong focus on privacy. It’s easy to search for things on Google instead of duckduckgo using what they call, a “bang.” The results can be mixed, so I sadly still use Google sometimes for some searches.

Here is how I use google on my web browser:

”!g search some thing” This directs me to Google instead of duckduckgo.

Google Fi –> Local SIM / Service

Google Fi is pretty sweet for nomad types like me, who travel a lot internationally. I land in a new city, turn on my phone, and I have service in pretty much any country in the world. It’s a bit magical, honestly.

Still, I want to fully deGoogle. After I land, I often find a local SIM card and pause my service after settling into a new city. Google Fi is almost always more expensive than buying a local SIM and using the local service. For now, I’m going to continue to use Google Fi lightly and as little as possible.

Google DNS –> Cloud Flare DNS

I honestly don’t even trust Google enough for me to use their DNS anymore. I often will point my computer or router to use Google’s DNS as the local ISP in whatever country/city I’m in, typically sucks (sometimes they even block websites via the DNS!). I also have a little widget on my computer taskbar that pings 8.8.8.8 every 5 seconds to tell me what my latency is or if I’m still connected to the Internet. I now use Cloudflare and point to 1.1.1.1 instead.

Google Docs –> LibreOffice and Grammarly

One of my favorite parts of Google Apps is sheets. I also use Google docs a lot, and I love their spelling checking over LibreOffice or other free word docs. I now use Grammarly a lot to help write better and spell-check. All the saved docs on my computer get uploaded and saved automatically to Dropbox.

Google Hangouts –> WhatsApp and other messaging apps

I only chatted with just one or two people on Google Hangouts. So this was easy to convince the last few hold outs to chat with me on something else. I no longer use Google Hangouts at all, besides they are closing down the app.

Google Keyboard –> Apple Keyboard

I honestly love swyping over peeking at a tiny phone keyboard. Google has the best swyping keyboard.

Luckily, in the soon to be released version of iOS, the Apple keyboard will finally do swiping. I’m going to switch to it as soon as the new version lands.

What I’m struggling to switch from or still experimenting with:

Google Maps –> ???

Ok, I’m having a hard time letting this go! I am always in new places where I don’t know where I’m going. My life almost literally depends on Google Maps.

Apple maps still sucks in a lot of places internationally. In many cities around the world, Waze is far superior to Google Maps, but, Google owns Waze. I’m not sure what to do here.

For now, I’ll have to stick to Google Maps.

Google Analytics –> ???

I still use Google Analytics on serval of my websites. I’m switching to an opensource alternative in the coming months. Not sure which app I’ll use.

Google Chromecast / Google Home –> ???

I use my Chromecast a lot, surprisingly. It works great, and I hate watching movies on my tiny laptop screen. I’m not sure what to use. Maybe I’ll buy a Roku stick one day. I’m open to suggestions.

Google Play Music –> ???

I feel like I’m one of the only few people in the world that use Google Play Music. I like it because you can upload actual MP3s and you get a subscription to YouTube, which means no ads on YouTube. Still, in my quest to de-google, I’m going to migrate away.

One obvious choice would be to join Spotify. I still want to make Apple Music work, as it integrates so nicely with an iPhone. I’ve tried it and don’t like it. I’ll be trying out Spotify soon.

YouTube –> ???

There isn’t much hope here. Google has a monopoly on online videos with YouTube. There are tools to view videos anonymously, and duckduckgo does support watching videos privately and anonymously. I don’t use these much though. I think we’re all stuck with YouTube for now.

There you have it, I’ve pretty much de-Googled a large part of my life and taken back control of my data and privacy. I still have a ways to go and need to find some last alternatives. I think the most significant and final hold out will be Google Maps.

I still need to move away from Gmail after my Google One subscription is over. I think Fastmail will be good enough and if I get desperate, I could try Apple Mail. Fastmail also has a calendar, so this would include moving away from Google Calendar. The few vital features I use would be handled via a third-party app such as Tripit. Therefore, I’m not too worried about moving away from Gmail.

Hope this helps anyone out there trying to de-google their lives.