Having always been concious of privacy I was surprised to realise how deep down the Google hole I had fallen. Ease of use is probably why it happened. It dawned on me that almost every app I was using on a daily basis had Google before it, all logged in from one account, and all syncing my data so that everything was seamless. I didn’t like it. Having everything synced did make my life easier switching from laptop, to PC, to my phone, and back again; however, there was this little voice in the back of my head complaining about how much information one company knew about me.
At the time I had 35GB of Google Drive storage, due to an offer when purchasing a SIM card. This offer was due to run out and drop me back down to the default amount of 15GB. As a fairly heavy user I needed the extra space, so I figured it was a good time to start looking around at new cloud backup providers. While I was looking for alternative storage I decided to see how easy it would be to replace all the Google applications currently used.
So, in July 2016, the experiment began.
Over a couple of days (which turned into weeks) I started investigating some alternatives to my most used Google applications. I’m not going to list all the alternatives I found and tested, I may do some posts regarding my testing if anybody is interested.
In no particular order here is the list of Google applications I used on a regular basis:
The following are the replacements I have settled on (in the same order as the list above):
This search engine had replaced Google for me a long time before attempting the switch. I can’t remember when I first heard of DuckDuckGo, but after I had got use to their !bangs I have not looked back. If I do ever want to use Google Search I will go through StartPage.
Two-factor authentication is very important (security is NOT a dirty word!) and so I replaced the Google Authenticator app with Authy. I didn’t have an issue moving all the accounts across, and you can enable multi-devices if you require the same authentication across more than one device. I haven’t used this feature yet but it is handy to have.
My replacement to Gmail split in two. I have my own email server (upcoming log!) and use my own domain, pyratebeard.net. I had a second Gmail account for more professional places such as LinkedIn so I opted for Protonmail as the replacement. This was primarily because it is free, and encrypted. The free tier offers 500MB of storage and 150 messages a day. This suited my needs as I wouldn’t be using it often.
One of the most useful features with Gmail is having all your contacts stored. When I moved to a new phone I only had to sign in to Google and instantly all my contacts are available. I never saved to the phone or the SIM, and that meant I could access them online if my phone was ever out of reach.
I am yet to find an alternative to this. Currently I am performing my own sync between my phone and Mega, but it is not the same.
You may have heard of Mega already, developed by the (in)famous Kim Dotcom after his original venture, MegaUpload, was shutdown. Mega however strives to do things by the book while focusing on security. Their web based app is clean and easy to use. There is a desktop sync client, as well as mobile device apps. There is also a Firefox Extension to “reduce loading times, improve download performance and strengthen security”.
Apart from their security one of the other big selling points was the storage capacity. A standard free tier account receives 50GB of storage! That is well over what I needed to replace Drive.
Switching to Firefox wasn’t such a big deal for me. I had been an avid Firefox user prior to Chrome. At the time I wasn’t keen on the fact that when you opened Firefox it loaded all tabs straight away, in Chrome it only loaded the focused tab. For me this was almost a deal breaker as I tend to leave a lot of tabs open. This feature seems to have been added at time of writing… so happy me! There is also the ability to create an account so you can sync your tabs and settings across multiple devices. This is useful as I use Firefox on a number of devices.
This is one application I haven’t decided on a replacement for yet. Google Calendar was very useful for my girlfriend and I as we would share our calendars and be able to see what both of us were up to. If anybody has recommendations then let me know!
Google Maps wasn’t used too much as my truck had built in SatNav. It was handy on the odd occasion when the built in maps weren’t up to date. As a replacement I switched to Waze. The interface is a bit more ‘childish’ but it links to other Wazers nearby for up to date information. Their website also has a Live Map.
One thing Waze doesn’t do is pedestrian directions. Prior to moving to Ireland I was living in London so Citymapper was a life saver. An incredible app with up to date transport information and even a list of routes to take. Very handy when one of the tube lines was busy. Unfortunately Dublin isn’t on Citymapper yet, but I’m making do.
Keep and Evernote aren’t directly comparable. I was already using Evernote so it made sense to keep my notes on there as well. A pretty decent app which can be used in your browser or through a mobile app.
This is another one I haven’t found a replacement for. My Chromecast was used quite a lot for streaming Youtube and from my media server. I haven’t tried any alternatives but couldn’t decide on anything based on reviews. In the end I gave my Chromecast to my girlfriend… so I still get to use it. Win.
A replacement wasn’t needed for this as it was only used as the backdrop on the Chromecast.
The translator wasn’t used too often, occasionally in Belgium when ordering beer. World Lingo is suitable enough for my uses, but it’s only available through a browser. I can’t say I spent too much time looking for a replacement app, I will probably start looking next time I’m in Belgium and need it urgently.
One of the features I liked with Translator was the ability to point the camera at written text and see it translated. If there is another app which can do this then I would love to check it out.
Whatsapp isn’t a replacement as such, it was already being used to keeping in touch with all my friends. Hangouts was only used between myself and a colleague, but they have moved to Whatsapp now so I don’t need to worry about it.
Another messaging application I use quite a bit is Telegram. Unfortunately a messaging app is only as useful as the number of people on it. As most people use Whatsapp I have to list that as my primary.
Website - archive link as website is now defunct.
When I started this experiment I was using and Android mobile. During the first phase I continued to use Android and the Google Play Store, which meant I was logged in with my Gmail account. The plan was to move away from stock Android on to CyanogenMod and use alternatives to Play Store.
There will be more on this in Part Two so stay tuned!
Everybody knows Youtube, it’s the site with the piano playing cat! This hasn’t been left to last on purpose, but it was the most annoying. There isn’t really any alternative to Youtube, and the only reason I included it was because since Google took it over you can not create a non-Google account! I was going to create an account with my new email address, but logging into Youtube is logging into Google. I really didn’t like that.
As it stands I still use Youtube although I don’t log in, which means I find it harder to track my favourite channels. Not the end of the world but it is a bit of a pain in the ass. Vimeo has been getting better in terms of content but it’s not on par yet.
As you can see an alternative was found for most of the Google equivalents. Switching away from Google didn’t cause any majors in my day to day life, the hardest part was changing my email address over on all my logins, and getting people to update their contact details.
Certain things that I miss from Google are being able to save email attachments straight into Drive. There is also the Contacts which was mentioned, and not being able to log in to Youtube. Aside from them I enjoyed phase one of my No Google life. As I write this I am now a month into phase two, which I will write up and post soon.
The most interesting part for me was finding all the alternatives. There are so many great developers and companies doing incredible work which is being overshadowed by the Google giant. Every day more and more people are being interested in their online security, and so these alternative applications are slowly being more widely used.
If anybody would like to discuss my No Google life experiment, or anything about online privacy and security then get in touch on twitter or email me: root [at] pyratebeard [dot] net. Be sure to encrypt and sign your email for bonus geek points :)
Until next time…