Part #2: I am degoogling myself:

I wrote about how I am degoogling myself last year and I am almost done. Today I want to share how I went about it and how got (almost) rid of Google. If you are reading this I am sure I do not need to explain why but just in case why not head over to the Data Detox Kit to learn a bit more. They also have information on fighting smartphone addiction, something I want to tackle in another post too.

light smartphone macbook mockup degoogling
Photo by Caio on Pexels.com

What is possible and what not?

The obvious reason for degoogling myself is more control over my own data and more privacy. Full privacy though is impossible unless you severly limit your internet usage or move into the woods. Nevertheless it is possible to drastically reduce the amount of information companies collect about you and to make it difficult for them to collate them into valuable individual profiles.

Degoogling is definitely less convenient than staying with Google but it is not has difficult as you might think. It will cost you money though. The thing is I would stay with Google if they would offer a paid plan for their services that offers real privacy. But they make much more money by collecting and analyzing your data not only for advertisement but also for product development to make services even more irresistible.

In itself this is not a problem. The problem is the utter lack of transparency. Google (and other companies like it) know so much about you but you really know nothing about them or what they do with your data. And I am not sure if you really want to trust Google’s privacy initiative. It is like those ads from big brewers to “drink responsibly” while they happily supply alcoholics with their drug of choice.

Degoogling each service one by one

Before we start…just do not use Google for any searches on the web. Try DuckDuckgo and install something like UBlock or Privacy Badger. Because Google (and others) will track you even if you have no account with them.

Gmail, Calendar, Notes, Tasks

This was actually the most complex one. There are so many alternative mail providers like Tutanota, Mailfence, Mailbox, Protonmail, Zoho Mail, Posteo and others. They all offer privacy in differing degrees with Protonmail being the most secure. Some even offer cloud storage, calendars or tasks and can synchronize between different devices. I went with mailbox, they are reasonably secure and offer an address book, tasks, calendars with synchronization to my phone and some cloud storage with simple documents and spreadsheets. I am paying 1€ (yes ONE) a month.

Sure Gmail is faster, sleeker and has more functions. But then Mailbox does not even try to play around with “intelligent” inboxes or all the other fancy data driven automatisms from Google. Remember Google can only offer intelligent inboxes because they practically read your mail. Mailbox is just email. You can control if and how mails are sorted into folders or marked as read. One of the reasons I wanted to degoogle was Google’s growing insistence on presenting me MY data the way they think I would or rather should want it.

And yes. Changing emails on all the websites was a pain. But mailbox also offers email aliases which I used to create another email for this blog without having to open a different email account. Nice.

I did not find a good replacement for Google Notes but I use either the task list or cloud office from mailbox. It is not ideal but it works. I did not want to sign up for something like Evernote as I am not using notes that much. But if you do there are privacy oriented note taking services out there for a small fee.

Google Photos

I used Google Photos for three things. Having a backup online, viewing and showing my photos on the go or on different devices and sharing albums with family or friends. Considering the amount of family pictures I now take I felt more and more uneasy of having the “first bath” pictures of my baby daughter on Google’s servers. Also Google Photos tries to arrange your images the way they think you should want it with automatic album generation, face detection and constant “buy a photobook” offers. With pCloud I can simply replicate the folders on my computer. Simple and perfect for me.

There are so many cloud providers with very differing degrees of privacy and security. I went with pCloud and I am paying about 5€ a month. You can pay extra for complete encryption if you desire. They also offer a well working Linux client and an app for Android. The app allows me to view all my photos albeit slower and less slick than Google Photos. pCloud allows sharing but I went and gave my wife a free account to she can access all images on her phone with the app.

Google Drive

I used Google Drive as my primary backup and sync so I could access documents from my phone or other devices when not at home. I stored my images there as well and transferred them to Google Photos for viewing. I also used it together with Google Sheets to share certain documents with my family.

For backup and sync pCloud works fine and is with it’s Linux client even better than Google Drive. I was not able to find a good enough Google Sheets replacement because I needed some very specific functions. Of course I could use Microsoft Office365 but that is just changing one devil for the other right? For all other documents I use the cloud service from mailbox.

Google Maps and Location Sharing

There are other map apps like OsmAnd but they are simply not as good as Google maps. They lack information about businesses, opening hours, links to restaurant menus and good navigation via public transport. My wife and I used location sharing to see where the other was but we decided to simply not use this feature anymore. You can use Google maps without an account though so that might be an alternative. If you really just need a map and some simple navigation other apps work totally fine.

The freaking Android phone

This is the most difficult device to degoogle. There is no alternative except Apple which really is not any better. I uninstalled or deactivated most Google apps (even the phone dialer and address book app) or for some like Maps I use them without logging in. You will loose some functionality depending on how much you deactivate and your phone will be less sleek. But I could find replacements for almost anything and I grew accustomed to it. I found most apps on F-Droid and here is a list of some of my replacements:

I also installed Blokada to make sure my phone does not access too many Google Servers. I am also waiting for LineageOS to hopefully support my phone. Essentially I only have Google Maps and the Google Play Store active on my phone.

Almost free but here is a solution if you really need some Google services

I still “need” three Google services. I like to watch Youtube, follow and interact with some channels, I still use my smartphone and I have some shared documents on Google Drive.

So here is what I did. I created a kind of “sandboxed” Google account. I did not even use Gmail I simply created an email alias with my new provider with a nondescript name to sign up for Google. I use this account for accessing Youtube, the few files on Google Drive and the Google Play store on my phone. I deactivated as much data collection as possible on this account.

Lastly I installed Multi-Account Containers for Firefox. This nifty extension allows you to run certain websites in their own browser container without access to cookies, history or other tabs. It is like running a website on a separate browser. I use containers for Instagram, Youtube and Drive so they can’t track my other browsing habits.

What’s next?

In the future I might have a look at the microG project because having a Google account on such a personal device like a phone still makes me uneasy. I will also try to shift some files from Google Drive to someplace else but as I share those files with others I need their approval as well.

The whole process took me two weeks and even though it looks like a lot it was not that difficult. Sure you have to read a few manuals and do some of your own work but remember the price for Google’s convenience. You just have to be a little bit less lazy and there is a lot of privacy to gain 🙂

While I was at it I also took steps to get my smartphone usage under control. But more about that next time.

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