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Kira McLean
Kira McLean

Posted on • Originally published at kiramclean.com on

What I Use Now Instead Of Google

I made a goal for myself in January 2020 to stop using Google products by the end of the year. That might sound like way too generous a timeline, but Google owned pretty much all of my data at that point, so it was a fairly large project. Plus I'm a slow and steady kind of person. I know if I give myself a generous enough timeline I can accomplish even things that seem too hard for me at first.

First, Why

Since I got into programming about 5 years ago, I kept hearing all these bad things about Google and how horrible of a company it is from other tech people. It always seemed a bit exaggerated to me, but the evidence has been piling up over the years. Learning about their involvement with the US military's Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team (Project Maven) was the last straw for me 1, but even before I learned about that I was pretty uncomfortable with a lot of what I heard. In Google's defence they eventually did pull out of the project after massive backlash by thousands of employees.

Still, I'm pretty convinced now that their continued existence is a catastrophe not only for public safety, but also for the environment, gender equity, the economy, fair labour practices, privacy, journalism, democracy, race relations, and the project of civilization itself. But anyway, the point of this post isn't to motivate you to also quit Google. I'll tell you how I really feel some other time.

The rest of this post is about the tools and services I replaced all the Google things with. I did mostly accomplish my goal, with a few caveats which I describe in the relevant sections.

Replacements

Here's the short version:

And here's the long version:

GMail → ProtonMail

ProtonMail has free accounts, but I pay for the lowest level that allows use of a custom domain with it (€48/year) so I don't have to change my email address ever again if I want to switch providers. It was quite a pain to change my email address all over the place, but I started in May and just did it slowly over time. I highly recommend decoupling your email address from your email provider if you're considering switching. First of all an email from a custom domain seems more, not less, serious than a gmail address to most people. But the main reason is just so you don't have to change your email address ever again if (when) you want to switch to some newer, better email provider.

I set up forwarding from my old GMail account to my new email address then filtered my mail for anything sent to the old address. If it was someone or some place I wanted to continue hearing from, I updated my email address with them. If not I unsubscribed. This turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to purge my newsletter and other email subscriptions. Also I'm happy to report most companies are now (finally) respecting unsubscribe requests. Two (looking at you Geektastic and Rakuten) continued to spam me after I requested they stop, so now I filter out all their mail as spam.

Chrome → Firefox developer edition

I primarily use Firefox developer edition now for my browser, including for work. The developer tools are just as good as Chrome's for the kind of work I do.

There are some web apps that literally or effectively only work in Chrome, which ironically perfectly illustrates the impetus for this whole undertaking. For those I use this ungoogled Chromium browser, installed via homebrew.

I still have Chrome installed on my computer because I need it for some work things. We use chromedriver for some integration tests and it wasn't trivially easy to trick it into using my Chromium installation instead of looking for Chrome. Replacing chromedriver is a headache, and also not my call to make at work. But it's also not really the point for me. If Google was reduced to a browser that developers can easily launch and control programmatically, I'd be satisfied. I don't use it for anything other than running automated tests at work now.

Google search → DuckDuckGo

I mostly love DuckDuckGo, but there are certain categories of searches where Google returns better results. DuckDuckGo doesn't seem to return many results from forums (like stack overflow or other stack exchange sites), which is where there the answers to a lot of my questions are, unfortunately. So I still use Google Search sometimes, but I do it in a Firefox container without being logged in to a Google account, which at least helps to avoid some of Google's incessant stalking.

DuckDuckGo does seem to return better results when the answer is an image, video, or regular web page, which is cool, and I suspect means it would be a perfectly fine replacement for most people. For example this blog is easier to find via DuckDuckGo than Google, which is impressive because I share a name with a small-time TV celebrity who typically dominates search results. We even look sort of similar, it's wild.

Google Drive → Sync and Backblaze

I use Sync to make my most used files available anywhere, and I've started moving a huge backlog of documents and notes I don't need to access often but don't want to throw away to Backblaze for longer term storage, just because it's cheaper. So far I just use their web UI to upload things in bulk and browse my files, but I'm looking into ways to do that more efficiently. I really need to de-clutter my digital life. I'm a major hoarder when it comes to digital files. I have scarcely deleted a document in the last 10 years, it's getting a bit ridiculous. But that's a goal for another year 🙂. For now I'm just putting all those files I don't really need to access but don't want to throw away in Backblaze to deal with later.

Between Sync and Backblaze I got 15GB of free storage, which is plenty for now, though as I move more and more or my scattered files over I'll have to start paying. Backblaze offers some of the cheapest object storage there is, at least.

DNS → Cloudflare DNS

I used to use Google's DNS servers (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4), now I use Cloudflare's (1.1.1.1 and 1.0.0.1).

Maps, YouTube

These ones are harder to replace. I use Apple maps now most of the time, but I still use Waze (which was acquired by Google) for directions sometimes if I'm driving somewhere. For media I mostly watch Netflix, but I also watch a lot of TED talks. I used to also watch conference videos on YouTube. Now I check conference websites for those, and a lot of them have the recordings, although they're often hosted on YouTube anyway. And I also do still use YouTube sometimes, mostly for home workout videos, but also anonymously in an isolated container.

Analytics → Fathom

It's been a while since I used Google Analytics, but I wanted to set up a basic hit counter for this blog and found Fathom. They provide simple privacy-focused analytics that work well enough for me. One really useful feature they have that I consider necessary now is being able to log analytics with a custom domain. Without this, visitors using ad-blockers don't get counted, which most estimates figure is now something like 40% of people, and probably more among tech-type people, like the ones most likely to find this blog.

I tried Cloudflare's new server-side analytics for a month, but the data didn't make as much sense (it showed the overwhelming number of visits to my homepage, even though the other analytics I had set up showed them going to one post that did well on Hacker News, which makes way more sense). Anyway, the numbers didn't seem to add up. I guess to be fair I don't quite understand how Fathom's numbers add up yet either, but their support has been helpful checking it out with me to try to help me reach some interpretation that makes sense. Fathom's dashboard is really simple, at least, which I like because it's easy to understand.

Calendar, reminders, photos, docs, video chat, news feeds → Nextcloud

For everything else I use Nextcloud now. I run my own instance of it, but there are lots of providers where you can just sign up for a simple account like anything else if you're not an insufferable nerd who enjoys maintaining servers, like me.

This is where I have another caveat to mention. I haven't migrated all of my photos off of Google Photos yet because I have about 50,000 of them and it's just a really slow process. I estimated it would take me something like 70 hours to move them all manually, so I'm looking into better ways to do it. I'm confident I can find or maybe build something easier than manually downloading and uploading 50k files in less than 70 hours.

Nextcloud does the job of automatically syncing photos from my phone, though, which is all I needed to be able to delete Google Photos from my devices. I'm not sure I'll actually stick with Nextcloud for photos in the long run. The gallery is a bit lacking. It looks like Piwigo might be a good alternative. Either way, I'm actually storing my photos in Backblaze, so I'll continue looking around for a different client for a bucket full of photos next year as I work on slowly culling my photos collection and migrating it to a new home.

Total Cost

I feel like I've won a lot by doing all this. I own my data now, so Google can't arbitrarily take it away from me, which gives me peace of mind. I'm no longer part of their ad ecosystem, being tracked all around the internet and having my attention sold to the highest bidder. And I also feel good about "voting with my feet", so to speak. The fewer people use Google's free products, the lower their ability to sustain their unethical business model based on selling mass surveillance data.

But I also lost some. Specifically a few hundred dollars.

Getting paid and paying for things in multiple currencies is the bane of my financial existence, but overall the final total comes out to something like CAD$400/year (roughly $300), broken down like this:

  • ProtonMail - €48/year (CAD$75)
  • Custom domains (for email and my cloud) - $19.74/year (CAD$25)
  • Linode server (for my Nextcloud instance) - $84/year (CAD$105)
  • Carbon offsets - CAD$21/year
  • Fathom analytics - $140/year (CAD$180)

As you can see, $140 of the total is for Fathom analytics, which an average person probably doesn't need. Without that it comes closer to about $160, which I think is a fair price to pay for privacy, freedom, and ownership. I'm also not paying anything for storage yet, though, so I expect this to cost more next year once I finally get all my photos and archives migrated to Backblaze or whatever I end up using.

I should also emphasize it's entirely possible to switch off of Google to free alternatives. All the services I use have free tiers which are quite generous and most likely plenty for an average user. I do think people who can afford to should support independent software companies so they can run sustainable businesses off the money their customers give them and not off ad revenue, but when money is tight there are still lots of options.

Conclusion

Once I got over the initial mental hurdle of expecting everything to be free or as cheap as possible, it seemed totally reasonable to me to pay that much for all I'm getting. What made it click for me is that all those things aren't actually free. Google sells our information and our attention to the highest bidder to generate profit for themselves, then they don't share any of it with us, despite the fact that their entire business model couldn't even exist if we all just refused to fuel it.

I know I'm just dreaming waiting for the day Google realizes the error of its ways and starts running an ethical business, but that doesn't mean it's not worth taking a stand in the meantime. Individually refusing to fuel the databases and algorithms Google profits from is one tiny thing it's totally possible to do.

Footnotes

1. That previous link goes to a memo saying that the primary purpose of the project is "to field technology to augment or automate Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (PED) for tactical Unmanned Aerial System (UAS)", which means making AI for drones so they can better target humans and other "targets". That really bothers me.

Top comments (81)

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ejwaibel profile image
Erik Waibel

I am a slave to my Google overlords and have no plans to leave them anytime soon. Until something else can come along that makes things just as convenient as the Google ecosystem, I'm stuck. I've already signed my life and privacy over to them and I've accepted it. I have yet to find an ecosystem that makes my life, and my family's lives, as easy and convenient as Google does.

Maybe for die-hard geeks it makes sense to convert everything to whatever kind of mismash of technologies, but I'd rather not spend every week trying to figure out why my mail isn't syncing or what password I used for the 100s of sites my wife and I log into everyday.

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kr428 profile image
Kristian R. • Edited on

Former colleague of mine at some point got his Google account locked for reasons unknown to him. No explanation given, except for a short notice (on second request) that this is a permanent decision and there is no way to change that. He lost everything connected to that. Everything: Access to his mail log. Access to his calendar. All photos stored in Google Photos. All documents stored in his Google Drive, including some professional planning and draft stuff. All apps he ever purchased on Google Play. And so on.

This happens rarely but it does, there are some reports out on the 'net on that too by other users who experienced the same. Kiras article mostly was caused by ethical and privacy reasons, some of them which I share and pretty much agree with (but that might be a filter-bubble issue or too much reading - take the time and browse through some pages of, say, Shoshana Zuboffs writings on "surveillance capitalism" - theguardian.com/books/2019/oct/04/... - and you might at least understand thinking down that road). But this is a rather personal opinion and a good starting point for enthusiastic disputes. ;)

From a mere tech perspective, and also from a buyer perspective, I still do use some Google services because, actually, they're pretty good at what they do, but it seems extremely dangerous to keep all of my "digital things" in the hand of one single entity, of completely being at the mercy of this single entity for better or for worse. Over-reliance on one single vendor almost never is a good idea, and in some cases, choosing alternatives is rather easy. At the very least, it would be a good idea to have backups of everything kept at that one particular vendor - backups that are up-to-date, checked reasonably often, updated reasonably often as well. And, maybe, an answer to that question, just for oneself: What happens if that one vendor decides to terminate my access virtually overnight, at that point at which "easy" turns into "nightmare" all of a sudden?

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zylch11 profile image
Waqas Ahmed

This is spot on, I have been using protonmail & DuckDuckGo for over 2 years now because they work just as good as Google'e products without the privacy caveat. I am an addict to Youtube unfortunately but there is no alternative to that.
I don't think its possible for me to completely ditch Google because in the end their products "just work" and there are no alternatives.

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codewander profile image
codewander

Invidious

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nickmaris profile image
nickmaris

Initially I thought I had no other options and now my problem is that I have so many options. There is no main privacy-friendly competitor because then they wouldn't be privacy-friendly :)

My version is:

GMail → Zoho mail with spark email client
Chrome → Ghostery which is firefox based and Vivaldi for sites that need chrome
Google search → ecosia
Google Drive → Zoho
Google DNS → DNS and VPN are things I will touch once I fix my other habits first...
Maps → HERE
YouTube → not procrastinating in YouTube. Vimeo or Youtube in Ghostery browser to avoid ads
Google Analytics → Custom
Everything else (calendar, reminders, photos, docs, video chat, news feeds) → Zoho so far

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shehata profile image
Solly

Kira, I wanted to take the same step for so long! you encouraged me to do the same, I just created a protonmail account (bought for 3 years) and now connecting my domain to it. Will migrate all my important accounts to use the new email (custom domain). The only challenge is my youtube channel.

The only thing I am worried about is maintaining my own cloud storage/photos. Would apple cloud would be an alternative, or is it still, same as google?

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kiraemclean profile image
Kira McLean

That's so cool! I'm so excited you switched 😄 Honestly I think Apple's a reasonable replacement for Google Photos, but it's up to everyone to decide for themselves. With an iPhone and a mac it's a super pleasant experience. There are a lot of people who say Apple is no better than Google, and they're not wrong, but I'm also a "better done than perfect" kind of person. It's really hard to be an ethical consumer these days, so a lot of the time we're making trade offs and it comes down to which service is the "least evil". Anyway.. I think de-googling is a long and slow process regardless, and there are no perfect solutions!

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paramo profile image
Paramo

Isnt Apple just the same as Google but with another name and logo? Honest question, I really don't know 🤔

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magnuslassi profile image
Magnus Lassi

Apple doesn't depend on ads to fund their business unlike Google and Facebook. I'm no big fan of big tech but at least Apple is taking steps to improve privacy on their platform.

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paramo profile image
Paramo

Thank you very much!

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kiraemclean profile image
Kira McLean • Edited on

yeah a lot of people have pointed out that Apple isn't that much better than Google, and they're not wrong. I do think one notable difference is that Apple primarily earns money by selling actual technology -- they no doubt have many dubious business practices as well, but at the end of the day they do manufacture and sell actual technology. Google primarily makes money off of selling advertisements, which is only so profitable for them because they can target very specific users, which they can only do because they (unethically, imo) collect loads of information on people without their consent.

So I'm definitely not saying Apple is some sort of great alternative to Google, but I do see a fundamental difference between the two companies in their underlying business model and how they make money. If everybody stopped buying ads on the internet tomorrow, Apple would still thrive. Google would be finished.

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paramo profile image
Paramo

Thank you for your response and I do share your point of view, since a couple of week ive been more freaky about my privacy but google is now so deep into people day to day that it take a big step to start emancipating from this environment! Congrats on the post and good luck with your google free journey! :)

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thebrandolorian profile image
TheBrandolorian

Are they really doing this without people's consent? Doesn't seem like it to me... interested to hear if there's more than what is widely known and made clear in their terms.

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ashleyo profile image
Ashley Oliver

Seems odd to start with Google. I trust Google more than my government (or any other state). I mean that. I am not just saying it for a catchy tag line.

I know why Google want my data, the (types of) things they are going to use it for, and that they will keep it safe (only proprietary data has value to them). None of those are true of my (or any other state).

The unethical things that Google have been involved with have generally been at the behest of or in collaboration with nation states - as your example.

I just think you're aiming at the wrong - if easier - target.

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preciouschicken profile image
Precious Chicken

I think that is a fair enough view - there isn't a right answer on this. Personally I don't like the thought of having all my eggs in one basket - regardless of the pros and cons of any individual company.

If you like podcasts a really good deep dive into this is Shoshana Zuboff on Surveillance Capitalism.

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onpikono profile image
Ondrej Pinka

I am not sure how your comment relates to the article. It's not like Kira is moving from private to government services. She is basically moving from private to private.

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bam92 profile image
Abel Lifaefi Mbula

A long time ago, I stopped using Google or Alphabet services also now I'm still using them. For the search, you can go for startpage.com/ that uses Google search but anonymously, for Map you can use OpenStreet Map. You can find more alternatives here.

Truth be told, Google is doing great for UI and UX. They have great products but don't take care of users as human beings.

Congratulations and good luck.

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jawache profile image
Asim Hussain

It's a fair point to switch and be concerned about a number of these issues and there is no easy answer which optimises for all those variables. Unfortunately, some of the choices you have made are to platforms which are worse for the environment than Google. Google (and Microsoft) are carbon neutral and both have aggressive sustainability targets, purchase of renewables etc... Other platforms don't have as strong a sustainability stance. A good website that tries to help you figure out if a service is green or not is this: thegreenwebfoundation.org/ and searching for public sustainability commitments or pages on the various platforms can give you more info also.

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anasrivastava profile image
AnaSrivastava

Hey Kira,I also feel the same about Google as you do.
I don't think it has been mentioned in the comments but try Brave as a replacement for Google Chrome. It's privacy, speed, interface are off the charts. Plus it was created by the creator of JavaScript and Ex-Mozilla CEO

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joshix1 profile image
Joshix-1

Brave is based of Chromium, which is by Google. So Brave helps Google. The more users use chromium the more extensions will need to support chromium. And the more stuff supports chromium the better it gets. So if you want to go away from Google. Firefox (and maybe Safari) is the only option.

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amer profile image
Amer Mallah

If you goal is to have control over your own privacy, Brave works. Avoiding Chromium at all costs is more of a stick-a-fork-in-their-eye move. It depends on the reason you're moving away from Google.

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realtoughcandy profile image
RealToughCandy.io

Congrats! I too have been trying to diversify my web activities (i.e. less Google). It's tough because I have a YouTube channel, but in 2020 I dumped Chrome for Brave, started using DuckDuckGo & also using Apple Maps. No regrets there at all.

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hugobarauna_32 profile image
Hugo Baraúna

Maybe plausible.io/ can be a good alternative to GA for you. :)

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osdevisnot profile image
osdevisnot

I'm not affiliated, but I can suggest Brave Browser for privacy focused browsing.

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kr428 profile image
Kristian R.

Using the same here on Linux, also because ungoogled-chromium is not available for my distribution in a current version.

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joshix1 profile image
Joshix-1

Just use Firefox. It is great. And then you don't support Google. Even ungoogled-chromium supports Google. The more users use chromium the more useful chrome gets.

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kr428 profile image
Kristian R.

I've always been using Firefox for ages but am recently getting a bit away from that as it seems Mozilla Corporation also heavily relies upon Google funding through various ad deals (see uk.pcmag.com/suites/128195/mozilla...). Talking about browsers, there seems no way not to support or depend upon Google at the moment (not sure about Apple / Safari), and this is utterly ... disturbing.

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siddhartpai profile image
Siddharth Pai

Hi Kira

This tool can help you get all of your google photos without manual intervention

pypi.org/project/gphotos-sync/

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facundocorradini profile image
Facundo Corradini

DuckDuckGo is an awesome search engine, specially for images. Far superior to google image search. As for "less results from SO", I see that as a big plus. SO is the most toxic place on Earth, and they only survive because of Google's obsession with showing them first in the search results.

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rusty_sys_dev profile image
Scott

I have had an account on SO for years... and it steadily earns points ( due to previous activity ), but due to the toxicity you mentioned I have moved away from SO in the past 2-3 years and just open issues on the relevant github/gitlab.

Its hard to post on SO when you are afraid of people down voting your questions without giving a reason or refusing to reversing the down vote when you have fixed their issue. That and closing your questions, or moving them to a different SE site. Some of which I can understand..

In any-case I agree!

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facundocorradini profile image
Facundo Corradini

Totally. You know what, I'll just go ahead and write an article about it.

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timvisee profile image
Tim Visée

You're probably aware of it, but you can forward searches from DDG to Google by pre-/appending !g

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bkis profile image
bkis

Just be aware that that's the same as using google directly. You lose all the privacy provided by DDG. It's a simple redirect of the search request. Anyway, I like the "bangs" (that's how they call them) a lot. Especially for using them in my browser's search bar. !wiki something (Wikipedia), !gt something (Google Translate), ... endless possibilities!

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joshix1 profile image
Joshix-1

But that's like searching with google lol
If you want results from Google you should use Startpage. It shows you result from Google, but it is private.

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timvisee profile image
Tim Visée

It obviously is. But it is a quick way to access Google when DDG is your default search engine.

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preciouschicken profile image
Precious Chicken

Great post, really useful. I too have tried and failed with Cloudflare Analytics - it seems a lot of people have the same problem where everything is appearing as root. Strange this hasn't been fixed - after all seeing what pages are being visited is kind of central to analytics.

I'd also put a mention in for sneakemail - I have been a paid subscriber for years. Very useful that you are able to give individual addresses to firms which you can then just turn off if they start misbehaving. Also makes switching your 'true' email address a lot easier as you can do a mass redirection in a oner.

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jamesfacts profile image
James White

Bravo! This is a very good decision. I'm disappointed so many commenters seem to think it's ok to do business with an unethical company as long as that company doesn't personally inconvenience them. Thanks for sharing your process, I sincerely hope it helps other devs cut ties with Google's tendrils.

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