This is a multiple-part series – go here for the full list]
One of my main privacy goals for 2022 is to minimize my Google footprint. I don’t think I can get to zero Google usage, mostly because so many people I know are still using it. But I’m going to get as close as I can. I know many of you would love to do the same, so I’ve decided to create a series of articles on this topic to share what I’ve learned and outline my personal plans to de-Google my life so that maybe you can follow along.
I will note for the record that I love most of Google’s services – they’re extremely well-designed and supremely helpful. I just hate all the tracking and surveillance. I would pay good money for these services, if they’d just stop all the data collection and support client-side encryption. Maybe someday. But until then, there are thankfully many excellent, privacy-respecting alternatives out there, and I’m going to tell you about my favorites.
De-Google, Step 1: Google Search
Google got its start as a search engine company and to this day it’s probably the thing people think of first. It’s become a verb in our every day vernacular: to google something. Like Kleenex and even Coke, the brand names have become synonymous with the products. (In some parts of the US, you can have a conversation like “I’d like a Coke” – “okay, what kind?” – “Pepsi”.) And that was all well and good until Google started putting ads in the search results and maintaining a complete history of all your search terms. (You can actually see your history right now. Try it. I dare you.) We tell our search engines more than we tell our best friends and significant others. It can be extremely personal.
Thankfully, there are several fantastic alternatives that are every bit as good, but respect your privacy. For example, Startpage actually provides results from Google – just without the ads and tracking. (They pay Google for this.) DuckDuckGo is another great option. If you install their browser extensions, they will also change your default search engine, as well (that is, what service is used when you type in search terms in the address bar area). This is an easy win. Do this now. You can make the switch on your mobile phones, too (iOS, Android).
De-Google, Step 2: Chrome Browser
For many years, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was the #1 web browser – mostly because Windows was the #1 operating system and every Windows machine came with Internet Explorer as the default web browser. It was not easy to change and Microsoft was sued over this practice. But somewhere along the line, Google released its own web browser, Chrome, which is now used by over 60% of all internet users. While Chrome is pretty good at security, it’s horrible for privacy.
Again, thankfully, there are several better choices you can make. I personally prefer Firefox, but Safari is quite good for Mac-only people and Brave is an interesting option, as well. You should set your privacy mode to “strict” (which will block most tracking) and install some privacy extensions like uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger. Conversely, you should uninstall most other browser add-ons – they often track you, as well. You can get these browsers for your smartphone, too (iOS, Android).
When you move to Firefox, you’ll probably want to transfer some data from Chrome, such as your bookmarks (favorites) and maybe passwords. This article will help you do this. However, I wouldn’t transfer your passwords to Firefox – I would instead import them into a password manager like LastPass, 1Password or Bitwarden. Click those links for instructions.
De-Google, Step 3: Android
Okay, this is a tough one. The answer is simple: ditch Android and go with something else. But people are really tied to their cell phones. If you weren’t aware, Google owns Android, and that gives Google a seriously privileged position to gather information on you. If you can’t switch away from Android, you can at least try to improve the privacy settings.
But if you can do it, you should switch to a different mobile operating system altogether. The easiest solution for most people is to buy an iPhone from Apple. While the flagship models are pricey, you can get an iPhone SE for pretty cheap. (Note: if that’s your goal, wait a few months – Apple is rumored to be releasing a new SE model very soon.) Apple isn’t perfect, but it’s way better than Android.
However, there are Android alternatives that you may be able to install on your existing phone. The most popular privacy-focused option is Lineage OS. But be warned, this is not for the faint of heart and could brick your phone. If you have a Google smartphone, you can also look at Graphene OS.
My next article covers Google’s email (Gmail) and calendar (Gcal). You can read it here. There will be at least another couple articles in this series.
I’ve created a nice summary page for all of these articles, including links to more resources.