Over the previous six months, I’ve gone on a surprisingly robust, time-intensive, and enlightening quest — to stop utilizing, totally, the merchandise of only one firm — Google. What ought to be a easy process was, in actuality, many hours of analysis and testing. However I did it. In the present day, I’m Google-free, a part of the western world’s final digital minority, somebody who doesn’t use merchandise from the world’s two most dear know-how corporations (sure, I don’t use Facebook either).
I made this information to point out you ways I stop the Googleverse, and the alternate options I select based mostly alone analysis and private wants. I’m not a technologist or a coder, however my work as a journalist requires me to concentrate on safety and privateness points.
I selected all of those alternate options based mostly solely on their benefit, usability, price, and whether or not or not that they had the performance I desired. My selections usually are not common as they mirror my very own wants and needs. Nor do they mirror any industrial pursuits. Not one of the alternate options listed beneath paid me or are giving me any fee in any respect for citing their companies.
However first: Why?
Right here’s the factor. I don’t hate Google. The truth is, not too way back, I used to be an enormous fan of Google. I keep in mind the second once I first found one wonderful search engine again within the late 1990’s, once I was nonetheless in highschool. Google was gentle years forward of alternate options similar to Yahoo, Altavista, or Ask Jeeves. It actually did assist customers discover what they have been looking for on an online that was, at the moment, a large number of damaged web sites and horrible indexes.
Google quickly moved from simply search to offering different companies, lots of which I embraced. I used to be an early adopter of Gmail again in 2005, when you can solely be a part of via invites. It launched threaded conversations, archiving, labels, and was with out query one of the best electronic mail service I had ever used. When Google launched its Calendar software in 2006, it was revolutionary in how straightforward it was to paint code completely different calendars, seek for occasions, and ship shareable invitations. And Google Docs, launched in 2007, was equally wonderful. Throughout my first full time job, I pushed my crew to do every little thing as a Google spreadsheet, doc, or presentation that could possibly be edited by many people concurrently.
Like many, I used to be a sufferer of Google creep. Search led to electronic mail, to paperwork, to analytics, photographs, and dozens of different companies all constructed on high of and related to one another. Google turned from an organization releasing helpful merchandise to at least one that has ensnared us, and the web as a complete, into its money-making, information gathering equipment. Google is pervasive in our digital lives in a approach no different company is or ever has been. It’s comparatively straightforward to stop utilizing the merchandise of different tech giants. With Apple, you’re both within the iWorld, or out. Identical with Amazon, and even Fb owns just a few platforms and quitting is extra of a psychological challenge than truly tough.
Google, nonetheless, is embedded all over the place. It doesn’t matter what laptop computer, smartphone, or pill you will have, chances are high you will have a minimum of one Google app on there. Google is synonymous for search, maps, electronic mail, our browser, the working system on most of our smartphones. It even gives the “services” and analytics that different apps and web sites depend on, similar to Uber’s use of Google Maps to function its ride-hailing service.
Google is now a phrase in lots of languages, and its international dominance means there usually are not many well-known, or well-used alternate options to its behemoth suite of instruments — particularly in case you are privacy-minded. All of us began utilizing Google as a result of it, in some ways, offered higher alternate options to current merchandise. However now, we are able to’t stop as a result of both Google has grow to be a default, or as a result of its dominance signifies that alternate options can’t get sufficient traction.
The reality is, alternate options do exist, lots of which have launched within the years since Edward Snowden revealed Google’s participation in Prism. I launched into this venture late final 12 months. After six months of analysis, testing, and a whole lot of trial and error, I used to be capable of finding privateness minded alternate options to all of the Google merchandise I used to be utilizing. Some, to my shock, have been even higher.
A number of caveats
One of many largest challenges to quitting is the truth that most alternate options, notably these within the open supply of privateness house, are actually not user-friendly. I’m not a techie. I’ve an internet site, perceive learn how to handle WordPress, and may do some fundamental troubleshooting, however I can’t use Command Line or do something that requires coding.
These alternate options are ones you’ll be able to simply use with most, if not all, the performance of their Google alternate options. For some, although, you’ll want your individual internet host or entry to a server.
Additionally, Google Takeout is your pal. With the ability to obtain my total electronic mail historical past and add it on my pc to entry by way of Thunderbird meant I’ve quick access to over a decade of emails. The identical may be stated about Calendar or Docs, the latter of which I transformed to ODT format and now carry on my cloud different, additional detailed beneath.
The straightforward ones
DuckDuckGo and Startpage are each privacy-centric serps that don’t accumulate any of your search information. Collectively, they handle every little thing I used to be beforehand utilizing Google seek for.
Different Options: Actually not many when Google has 74% international market share, with the rest principally as a consequence of it’s being blocked in China. Ask.com continues to be round. And there’s Bing…
Mozilla Firefox — it just lately bought a big upgrade, which is a large enchancment from earlier variations. It’s created by a non-profit basis that actively works to guard privateness. There’s actually no purpose in any respect to make use of Chrome.
Different Options: Keep away from Opera and Vivaldi, as they use Chrome as their base. Brave is my secondary browser.
Hangouts and Google Chat
Jitsi Meet — an open supply, free different to Google Hangouts. You need to use it immediately from a browser or obtain the app. It’s quick, safe, and works on practically each platform.
Different Options: Zoom has grow to be common amongst these within the skilled house, however requires you to pay for many options. Signal, an open supply, safe messaging app, additionally has a name perform however solely on cellular. Keep away from Skype, because it’s each an information hog and has a horrible interface.
On desktop: Here WeGo — it hundreds quicker and may discover practically every little thing that Google Maps can. For some purpose, they’re lacking some nations, like Japan.
On cellular: Maps.me — right here Maps was my preliminary alternative right here too, however turned much less helpful as soon as they modified the app to give attention to driver navigation. Maps.me is fairly good, and has much better offline performance than Google, one thing very helpful to a frequent traveler like me.
Different alternate options: OpenStreetMap is a venture I wholeheartedly assist, but it surely’s performance was severely missing. It couldn’t even discover my house handle in Oakland.
Straightforward however not free
A few of this was self-inflicted. For instance, when on the lookout for a substitute for Gmail, I didn’t simply wish to swap to an alternate from one other tech large. That meant no Yahoo Mail or Microsoft Outlook as that will not handle my privateness issues.
Keep in mind, the truth that so lots of Google’s companies are free (to not point out these of its opponents together with Fb) is as a result of they’re actively monetizing our information. For alternate options to outlive with out this stage of knowledge monetization, they should cost us. I’m keen to pay to guard my privateness, however do perceive that not everybody is ready to make this alternative.
Consider it this fashion: keep in mind while you used to ship letters and needed to pay for stamps? Or while you purchased weekly planners from the shop? Primarily, that is the price to make use of a privacy-focused electronic mail or calendar app. It’s not that unhealthy.
ProtonMail — it was based by former CERN scientists and is predicated in Switzerland, a rustic with robust privateness protections. However what actually appealed to me about ProtonMail was that it, in contrast to most different privateness minded electronic mail applications, was consumer pleasant. The interface is much like Gmail, with labels, filters, and folders, and also you don’t have to know something about safety or privateness to make use of it.
The free model solely offers you 500MB of cupboard space. I opted for a paid 5GB account together with their VPN service.
Different alternate options: Fastmail shouldn’t be as privateness oriented but additionally has an incredible interface. There’s additionally Hushmail and Tutanota, each with related options to ProtonMail.
Fastmail Calendar — this was surprisingly robust, and brings up one other concern. Google merchandise have grow to be so ubiquitous in so many areas that start-ups don’t even trouble to create alternate options anymore. After attempting a couple of different mediocre choices, I ended getting a advice and select Fastmail as a twin second-email and calendar choice.
These require some technical information or entry to your internet host service. I do embody easier alternate options that I researched however didn’t find yourself selecting.
Google Docs, Drive, Photographs, and Contacts
NextCloud — a totally featured, safe, open supply cloud suite with an intuitive, user-friendly interface. The catch is that you just’ll want your individual host to make use of Nextcloud. I already had one for my very own web site and was in a position to rapidly set up NextCloud utilizing Softaculous on my host’s C-Panel. You’ll want a HTTPS certificates, which I bought totally free from Let’s Encrypt. Not as straightforward as opening a Google Drive account however not too difficult both.
I additionally use Nextcloud instead for Google’s picture storage and contacts, which I sync with my cellphone utilizing CalDev.
Different differents: There are different open supply choices similar to OwnCloud or Openstack. Some for-profit choices are good too, as high selections Dropbox and Field are unbiased entities that don’t revenue off of your information.
Matomo — formally known as Piwic, this can be a self-hosted analytics platform. Whereas not as function wealthy as Google Analytics, it’s loads tremendous for understanding fundamental web site site visitors, with the added bonus that you just aren’t gifting that site visitors information to Google.
Different alternate options: Not a lot actually. OpenWebAnalytics is one other open supply choice, and there are some for-profit alternate options too, similar to GoStats and Clicky.
LineageOS + F-Droid App Store. Sadly, the smartphone world has grow to be a literal duopoly, with Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS controlling all the market. The few usable alternate options that existed a couple of years in the past, similar to Blackberry OS or Mozilla’s Firefox OS, are not being maintained.
So the following most suitable choice is Lineage OS: a privateness minded, open supply model of Android that may be put in with out Google companies or Apps. It requires some technical information because the set up course of shouldn’t be fully easy, but it surely works very well, and lacks the bloatware that comes with most Android installations.
Firstly, this took for much longer than I deliberate as a result of lack of excellent sources about usable alternate options, and the problem in transferring information from Google to different platforms.
However the hardest factor was electronic mail, and it has nothing to do with ProtonMail or Google.
Earlier than I joined Gmail in 2004, I most likely switched emails yearly. My first account was with Hotmail, and I then used Mail.com, Yahoo Mail, and long-forgotten companies like Bigfoot. I by no means recall having a difficulty once I modified electronic mail suppliers. I’d simply inform all my mates to replace their handle books and alter the e-mail handle on different internet accounts. It was essential to vary electronic mail addresses often — keep in mind how spam would take over older inboxes?
The truth is, one among Gmail’s greatest improvements was its means to filter out spam. That meant not needing to vary emails.
E mail is essential to utilizing the web. You want it to open a Fb account, to make use of on-line banking, to publish on message boards, and lots of extra. So while you swap accounts, you might want to replace your electronic mail handle on all these completely different companies.
To my shock, altering from Gmail in the present day is a significant problem due to all of the locations that require electronic mail addresses to arrange an account. A number of websites not allow you to do it from the backend by yourself. One service truly required me to shut my account and open a brand new one as they have been unable to vary my electronic mail, after which they transferred over my account information manually. Others compelled me to name customer support and request an electronic mail account change, which means time wasted on maintain.
Much more amazingly, others accepted my change, after which continued to ship messages to my previous Gmail account, requiring one other cellphone name. Others have been much more annoying, sending some messages to my new electronic mail, however nonetheless utilizing my previous account for different emails. This turned such a cumbersome course of that I ended up leaving my Gmail account open for a number of months alongside my new ProtonMail account simply to ensure necessary emails didn’t get misplaced. This was the principle purpose this took me six months.
Individuals so not often change their emails nowadays that the majority corporations’ platforms usually are not designed to cope with the chance. It’s a telling signal of the unhappy state of the net in the present day that it was simpler to vary your electronic mail again in 2002 than it’s in 2018. Expertise doesn’t at all times transfer ahead.
So, are these Google Options any good?
Some are literally higher! Jitsi Meet runs smoother, requires much less bandwidth, and is extra platform pleasant than Hangouts. Firefox is extra secure and fewer of a reminiscence suck than Chrome. Fastmail’s Calendar has much better time zone integration.
Others are ample equivalents. ProtonMail has a lot of the options of Gmail however lacks some helpful integrations, such because the Boomerang electronic mail scheduler I used to be utilizing earlier than. It additionally has a missing Contacts interface, however I’m utilizing Nextcloud for that. Talking of Nextcloud, it’s nice for internet hosting recordsdata, contacts, and has a nifty notes software (and plenty of different plug-ins). But it surely doesn’t have the wealthy multi-editing options of Google Docs. I’ve not but discovered a workable different in my funds. There may be Collabora Workplace, but it surely requires me to improve my server, one thing that isn’t possible for me.
Some depend upon location. Maps.me is definitely higher than Google Maps in some nations (similar to Indonesia) and much worse in others (together with America).
Others require me to sacrifice some options or performance. Piwic is a poor man’s Google Analytics, and lacks most of the detailed studies or search features of the previous. DuckDuckGo is okay for basic searches however has points with particular searches, and each it and StartPage typically fail once I’m looking for non-English language content material.
In the long run, I don’t miss Google in any respect
The truth is, I really feel liberated. To be so depending on a single firm for therefore many merchandise is a type of servitude, particularly when your information is what you’re typically paying with. Furthermore, many of those alternate options are, in reality, higher. And there’s actual consolation in realizing you’re answerable for your information.
If now we have no alternative however to make use of Google merchandise, then we lose what little energy now we have as shoppers.
I would like Google, Fb, Apple, and different tech giants to cease taking customers with no consideration, to cease attempting to pressure us inside their all-encompassing ecosystems. I additionally need new gamers to have the ability to emerge and compete, simply as, as soon as upon a time, Google’s new search software might compete with the then-industry giants Altavista and Yahoo, or Fb’s social community was in a position to compete with MySpace and Friendster. The web was a greater place as a result of Google gave us the chance to have a greater search. Alternative is sweet. As is portability.
In the present day, few of us even attempt different merchandise as a result of we’re simply so used to Googling. We don’t change emails trigger it’s onerous. We don’t even attempt to use a Fb different as a result of all of our mates are on Fb. I perceive.
You don’t should stop Google totally. However give different alternate options an opportunity. You may be stunned, and keep in mind why you liked the net approach again when.
This text was initially printed on Medium by Nithin Coca, a contract journalist who covers the social implications of know-how, focusing in rising economies, and growing nations. Coca’s tech function items have appeared in international media shops together with Al Jazeera, Quartz, Engadget, Overseas Coverage, The Diplomat, Motherboard, and Coda Story, and different regional publications in Asia and america.