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Google-Free Living (it's better here)

Crossed out Google logo
Yes, you can live without this techno giant

People often ask me what I use instead of Google. My answer is: a lot of different systems. That's not because Google is difficult to replace whole cloth. It's because I'm not about to give all my data to one company, whether that's Google or Yahoo!, Apple or Microsoft. I don't care how "good" their product is: I'm not about to jump into bed with the next platform giant that comes along.

Also, before you get started, be sure to read my post about the Tech Breakup. You can't just edge your way out of the relationship with Google. Its tendrils are long. You have to be prepared, or leaving cold turkey is gonna leave you in the lurch, instead of Google. (Hint: they won't miss you. Better yet, you won't miss them.)

Key functionalities to replace on a daily basis? Search, email, browser, and maps, videos, calendars and file sharing. If you're a Chrome or Android person, then you're looking for a new operating system too: more on that in other posts. Each of these devices and services I've replaced with a different one--sometimes more than one service, if I want to keep my data safely segmented. I've spent a lot of time trying out many, many different systems. And I don't tend to keep my eggs in one basket.

On this site I'll do a more in-depth review of the services I know and love, things I've tried and tested. For now, though, here are the top contenders that I keep reaching for, time and again. 

Before we get started, if you haven't yet deleted your GoogleID, then at least sign out of all Google services and clear your browser's cache.  Otherwise Google will follow you as you try out these alternatives. Which is missing the point.

Search

I've used lots of search engines, but I keep coming back to www.DuckDuckGo.com. Make it your homepage. They don't monetize based on aggregate search data, which is a fancy way of saying that they don't mine you for information, don't use your extracted data to profit on selling ads to your eyeballs, and don't put you in a filter bubble either. Plus DuckDuckGo has these cool search terms called "bangs," which is tech-speak for the exclamation mark. Search something with a "!m" and it'll search a map, with !v and it searches videos, !a pings Amazon. If you end up with a Google map or video on YouTube, it's through a proxy so Google can't track you.

I've heard some people say they have trouble finding what they want on DuckDuckGo, but I've never had that problem. Maybe they're just so wrapped up in their filter bubble it looks like they can't find what they want to see, which is a different problem altogether and something I'm keen to avoid. Still, if I'm super curious about what people might be seeing on a Google search, I might run a search at www.startpage.com which pings Google though a protective layer.

Email

I go with services that don't track or mine inbox data, like Protonmail.ch, Zoho.com, fastmail.fm. Or you can run email through a webhosting service. The cool thing about running your own email server is you can make unlimited addresses at will, so every company that wants your email address can have their own unique version.  That limits their ability to aggregate your personal data.

New browser plugins from DuckDuckGo and Mozilla make spoof email addresses to away for discounts at the till, without risk of data loss. I recommend you install them or sign up for their services: Firefox Relay and DuckDuckGo email protection.  For one-time-use email addresses, I reach for 10-minute-mail. 

Browser

Chrome is a nightmare. It's a Google backdoor. GET OFF CHROME, ALREADY. Your data is out of your control, even in private browser mode. Google just collects everything you do. Have I made myself clear? Get. Off. Chrome.

If you are really stuck on Chrome (because you are committed to open source software perhaps?), then build your own version using the Chromium kernel instead. If that sentence reads like gibberish to you then download Firefox already.

When it comes to privacy and blockers, Mozilla currently has your back. All your plugins on Chrome are available on Firefox too. You can easily import your bookmarks, passwords, and other tools from Chrome or Safari.  You can firewall your Facebook, Instagram, and Google tabs from others so those companies can't follow you around the web. It all takes about five minutes to do and is 100% worth it for the privacy you'll get going forward. Take five minutes when you'd otherwise be scrolling through TikTok and make the change.

DuckDuckGo just came out with its own browser, which allows you to browse privately and clears your cache with a "burn" button. You can watch your links and history go up in flames on your screen, a reminder that your data is not going anywhere. Here it is on Apple and Android. Grab it from an APK mirror to run it on Sailfish or another Linux operating system.

I don't get kickbacks from these companies. I've just followed their products for years and appreciate that they keep privacy central to their design. If they deviate from that strategy, I'll be out of there, fast--and you'll be the first to know.

Maps

Years ago, when Apple Maps first came out and all the buildings in 3D view were rendering to look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, I wrote a love letter to Apple Maps that got a lot of ridicule. I was just happy to see an alternative out there!

I typically spread my traces around, across a combination of Bing maps, Pure Maps, Here.com, Open Street Maps, and Organic Maps.

Hot tip: if you type in an address into DuckDuckGo with an !m tag, it will search Google Maps privately for you. You can tailor its search to different map services too.

Videos

I remember when YouTube was this weird video dating site that people didn't think would amount to much. Then it was acquired by Google. Now it's simply the biggest video sharing site in the world, and it's hard to avoid. When possible I get videos from places like Vimeo, but much of the time I just have to figure out how to get what I want from YouTube without them logging that I'm watching it.

Searching for videos through DuckDuckGo using the !v tag lets you play YouTube videos through their proxy, and you can always load up a VPN to browse from a fresh IP, load things in a private browsing window, and clear your cache often. Not being logged into Google or having any stable Google account goes a long way toward keeping them in the dark.

If you're comfortable with the command line you can try youtube-dl, which will scrape and save a local copy of a YouTube video on your own computer. This has dubious legal status but I believe it's important to know your options.

Also, take a minute to consider that it used to just be normal to watch things without being tracked by anyone.  Even four or five years ago. When you rented a video cassette from Blockbuster, they weren't using that information to tag you for anything.

So for your next assignment, spend a little time wondering how we ended up in a world where trying not to be tracked doing basic things, to stop companies from making money off our continual attention, somehow became illegal. 

Calendars and other office stuff

Most of the email services you will soon be signing up for to avoid Gmail will also come with a calendar. Apple has calendars too. Or you can try running your own, like using sandstorm.io -- they let you experiment with running your own mini-server, keeping your data separated even from other tools you spin up yourself.

I'll cover alternatives to Google Meet, gChat, and others in separate posts. And I will devote a lot of time to alternative phones, operating systems, and other home automation machines in future posts too, I promise.

Remember, this doesn't have to be an extreme form of digital veganism. You're just extracting your life from a platform giant, trying to spread your traces about, and share the love with systems that treat you and your data better.