I’ll start with a brief disclaimer. I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with using Google. It offers a robust set of useful tools that simplify life in many ways. However, my issue with Google is how deeply centralized it is. When you’re relying on one company for almost all of your digital life, some red flags should be raised. Where is the data stored? How is it used? How is it that most of it is free? Shouldn’t there be alternatives?
The truth is that Google and other giant technology companies like Facebook and Microsoft need user data to improve their product and customize the services they offer to fit users’ preferences. For the most part, this leads to great user experience. Data is synchronized across devices, Google Assistant is simply genius, and YouTube seems to nail every suggestion. The flip side however is that the data collected doesn’t just benefit the user, it earns Google a lot of profit. The amount of data collected can be terrifying. Google forexample tracks location, clicks, and user activity on the web. On Android, a lot of activity, like how many times an app is opened, is also logged. You can delete this activity history if you like but some data is stored permanently. For a high-level run down on how Google handles user data, read Danny Dover’s article on the subject.
To “google” something is considered a path to absolute truth and to the untrained “googler”, this truth can often be biased or completely false. Because users are inclined to follow the top search results, they can often be misled into thinking that the results are true. Google is fundamentally flawed because of how it serves the results. Remember all that data we talked about? The recorded data about a user is used to build a profile which Google algorithms use to serve personalized search results. This in turn creates a sort of search bubble in which you see the results you’re most likely to relate to. It gets worse. Your ‘data profile’ is also used to feed you personalized ads so the bubble grows larger. Google allows you to control what data they’re able to collect but these settings are deeply hidden in Google’s maze of menus.
With all this in mind, I wanted to see if I could find alternatives. Let’s begin with the largest:
Google Search => Duckduckgo:
For search, there are a number of privacy conscious options but Duckduckgo is definitely my favorite one. Duckduckgo markets itself as the search engine that doesn’t track you. I use this as my default search engine because I think it’s the best at communicating the need for online privacy. The user interface is also really sleek and intuitive.
Gmail => Protonmail, Tutanota:
I’ve wanted to quit Gmail for a number of years but was reluctant to do so due to the ecosystem of services linked to it. When I finally quit, it was in favor of Protonmail, a swiss-based encrypted mail service. They are a no-frills email client with privacy at the core of their business model. They have a paid option but the free plan is more than satisfactory for everyday use.
Tutanota is also another great alternative to Gmail. It offers similar security features to Protonmail’s but has more storage capacity for free email plans. It is based in Germany.
Playstore => F-Droid:
F-Droid is an opensource alternative to Google’s PlayStore. All packages on F-Droid are thoroughly reviewed to point out any vulnerabilities.
Android => iOS:
The android OS depends heavily on Google services and it can be a huge sacrifice to only use packages found on F-Droid. So if investing in an Apple device is not an issue, then switching to iOS is a much better option to ensure data privacy.
Youtube => Vimeo(with a grain of salt):
There’s no service, at the time of writing, that could completely replace Youtube. The amount of content on Youtube is simply unmatched by any other video hosting service. But it’s possible to use it without giving too much private data away. One way to do so is to browse in
private mode in your browser. The other is simply not to sign in. For video content of a higher artistic quality, Vimeo is the best place to hang out.
Google Chrome => Safari, Firefox, Vivaldi:
There’s many browsers that prove capable alternatives to Google Chrome but Safari, Firefox, and Vivaldi are my top picks. The one that works best for me is Firefox largely because of Devtools but the other two are worthy competitors.
Google Fonts => Font Squirrel:
Font Squirrel is a resourceful hub for all your font needs. It houses high-quality free fonts that can be used commercially. It is without a doubt a worthy competitor to Google fonts.
Chrome OS => Elementary OS, Linux Mint:
Google is quite literally everywhere, even in the Desktop OS space. So if you’re a chrome os user, there are robust and more affordable options. My favorite alternative is Elementary. It is a simple, beautifully-crafted Linux OS built on top of Ubuntu. It borrows most of its design language and decisions from Mac OS and it just simply works! If you would rather use something similar to Windows but more secure and flexible then you could also consider Linux Mint.
Google Drive => iCloud, Dropbox:
Drive is by far one of the most popular cloud storage services. It offers large storage space(compared to the competition) to Google users free of charge. But just like other google services, Drive can be replaced. I recommed trying Dropbox or iCloud.
Google Hangouts => Zoom, Appear.in:
Google Maps => OpenStreetMaps:
OpenStreetMaps is such a great maps application because of the offline features as well as the UI. It might be personal preference but I find the simple design language of OSM superior to Google Maps.
Blogger => SSGs, Wordpress, Ghost:
If writing a bit of code is not a problem, I recommend checking out static site generators like Hugo, Middleman, and Jekyll. You can rest easy knowing you own all your content and have direct access to it. Wordpress and Ghost are also great alternatives to Blogger. Ghost is a paid option but it’s definitely worth it in my opinion. It doesn’t use trackers and it’s made by a non-profit organization.
Living without Google is not something I recommend for everyone. What is more important is being conscious of your online activity. That means studying how the services you use function and reclaiming control over your data. It also means being open to trying new services in the spirit of supporting a transparent and secure internet. Sometimes it means paying for the services you love because there really is no such thing as free lunch. And if you’re willing, it means using services that are private by design, which Google’s are not, and won’t be for a long time.