the past six months, I have gone on a surprisingly tough,
time-intensive, and enlightening quest — to quit using,
entirely, the products of just one company — Google. What
should be a simple task was, in reality, many hours of
research and testing. But I did it. Today, I am Google free,
part of the western world’s ultimate digital minority, someone
who does not use products from the world’s two most valuable
technology companies (yes, I don’t use Facebook
guide is to show you how I quit the Googleverse, and the
alternatives I choose based on my own research and personal
needs. I’m not a technologist or a coder, but my work as a
journalist requires me to be aware of security and privacy
chose all of these alternatives based solely on their merit,
usability, cost, and whether or not they had the functionality
I desired. My choices are not universal as they reflect my own
needs and desires. Nor do they reflect any commercial
interests. None of the alternatives listed below paid me or
are giving me any commission whatsoever for citing their
the thing. I don’t hate Google. In fact, not too long ago, I
was a huge fan of Google. I remember the moment when I first
discovered one amazing search engine back in the late 1990’s,
when I was still in high school. Google was light years ahead
of alternatives such as Yahoo, Altavista, or Ask Jeeves. It
really did help users find what they were seeking on a web
that was, at that time, a mess of broken websites and terrible
soon moved from just search to providing other services, many
of which I embraced. I was an early adopter of Gmail back in
2005, when you could only join via
invites. It introduced threaded conversations,
archiving, labels, and was without question the best email
service I had ever used. When Google introduced its Calendar
tool in 2006, it was revolutionary in how easy it was to color
code different calendars, search for events, and send
shareable invites. And Google Docs, launched in 2007, was
similarly amazing. During my first full time job, I pushed my
team to do everything as a Google spreadsheet, document, or
presentation that could be edited by many of us
many, I was a victim of Google creep. Search led to email, to
documents, to analytics, photos, and dozens of other services
all built on top of and connected to each other. Google turned
from a company releasing useful products to one that has
ensnared us, and the internet as a whole, into its
money-making, data gathering apparatus. Google is pervasive in
our digital lives in a way no other corporation is or ever has
been. It’s relatively easy to quit using the products of other
tech giants. With Apple, you’re either in the iWorld, or out.
Same with Amazon, and even Facebook owns only a few platforms
and quitting is more of a psychological
challenge than actually difficult.
however, is embedded everywhere. No matter what laptop,
smartphone, or tablet you have, chances are you have at least
one Google app on there. Google is synonymous for search,
maps, email, our browser, the operating system on most of our
smartphones. It even provides the “services”
and analytics that other apps and websites rely on, such as
Uber’s use of Google Maps to operate its ride-hailing service.
is now a word in many languages, and its global dominance
means there are not many well-known, or well-used alternatives
to its behemoth suite of tools — especially if you are privacy
minded. We all started using Google because it, in many ways,
provided better alternatives to existing products. But now, we
can’t quit because either Google has become a default, or
because its dominance means that alternatives can’t get enough
truth is, alternatives do exist, many of which have launched
in the years since Edward Snowden revealed Google’s
participation in Prism.
I embarked on this project late last year. After six months of
research, testing, and a lot of trial and error, I was able to
find privacy minded alternatives to all the Google products I
was using. Some, to my surprise, were even better.
of the biggest challenges to quitting is the fact that most
alternatives, particularly those in the open source of
privacy space, are really not user friendly. I’m
not a techie. I have a website, understand how to manage
Wordpress, and can do some basic troubleshooting, but I can’t
use Command Line or do anything that requires coding.
alternatives are ones you can easily use with most, if not
all, the functionality of their Google alternatives. For some,
though, you’ll need your own web host or access to a server.
Takeout is your friend. Being able to
download my entire email history and upload it on my computer
to access via Thunderbird meant I have easy access to over a
decade of emails. The same can be said about Calendar or Docs,
the latter of which I converted to ODT format and now keep on
my cloud alternative, further detailed below.
DuckDuckGo and Startpage are
both privacy-centric search engines that do not collect any of
your search data. Together, they take care of everything I was
previously using Google search for.
Alternatives: Really not many when
Google has 74% global market share, with the remainder mostly
due to it’s being blocked in China. Ask.com is still around.
And there’s Bing…
Firefox — it recently got a
big upgrade, which is a huge improvement from earlier
versions. It’s created by a non-profit foundation that
actively works to protect privacy. There’s really no reason at
all to use Chrome.
Alternatives: Avoid Opera and
Vivaldi, as they use Chrome as their base. Brave is
my secondary browser.
and Google Chat
Meet — an open source, free alternative to Google
Hangouts. You can use it directly from a browser or download
the app. It’s fast, secure, and works on nearly every
Alternatives: Zoom has become popular among those in
the professional space, but requires you to pay for most
an open source, secure messaging app, also has a call function
but only on mobile. Avoid Skype, as it’s both a data hog and
has a terrible interface.
WeGo — it loads faster and can find nearly everything
that Google Maps can. For some reason, they’re missing some
countries, like Japan.
— here Maps was my initial choice here too, but became less
useful once they modified the app to focus on driver
navigation. Maps.me is pretty good, and has far better offline
functionality than Google, something very useful to a frequent
traveler like me.
alternatives: OpenStreetMap is
a project I wholeheartedly support, but it’s functionality was
severely lacking. It couldn’t even find my home address in
but Not Free
of this was self-inflicted. For example, when looking for an
alternative to Gmail, I did not just want to switch to an
alternative from another tech giant. That meant no Yahoo Mail,
or Microsoft Outlook as that would not address my privacy
the fact that so many of Google’s services are free (not to
mention those of its competitors including Facebook) is
because they are actively monetizing our data. For
alternatives to survive without this level of data
monetization, they have to charge us. I am willing to pay to
protect my privacy, but do understand that not everyone is
able to make this choice.
of it this way: Remember when you used to send letters and had
to pay for stamps? Or when you bought weekly planners from the
store? Essentially, this is the cost to use a privacy-focused
email or calendar app. It’s not that bad.
— it was founded by former CERN scientists and is based in
Switzerland, a country with strong privacy protections. But
what really appealed to me about ProtonMail was that it,
unlike most other privacy minded email programs, was user
friendly. The interface is similar to Gmail, with labels,
filters, and folders, and you don’t need to know anything
about security or privacy to use it.
free version only gives you 500MB of storage space. I opted
for a paid 5GB account along with their VPN service.
alternatives: Fastmail is
not as privacy oriented but also has a great interface.
There’s also Hushmail and Tutanota,
both with similar features to ProtonMail.
— this was surprisingly tough, and brings up another issue.
Google products have become so ubiquitous in so many spaces
that start-ups don’t even bother to create alternatives
anymore. After trying a few other mediocre options, I ended
getting a recommendation and choose Fastmail as a dual
second-email and calendar option.
require some technical knowledge or access to your web host
service. I do include simpler alternatives that I researched
but did not end up choosing.
Docs, Drive, Photos, and Contacts
— a fully featured, secure, open source cloud suite
with an intuitive, user-friendly interface. The catch is that
you’ll need your own host to use Nextcloud. I already had one
for my own website and was able to quickly install NextCloud
using Softaculous on my host’s C-Panel. You’ll need a HTTPS
certificate, which I got for free from Let’s
Encrypt. Not as easy as opening a Google Drive account
but not too challenging either.
also use Nextcloud as an alternative for Google’s photo
storage and contacts, which I sync with my phone using CalDev.
alternatives: There are other open source options such
as OwnCloud or Openstack.
Some for-profit options are good too, as top choices Dropbox
and Box are independent entities that don’t profit off of your
— formally called Piwic, this is a self-hosted
analytics platform. While not as feature rich as Google
Analytics, it is plenty fine for understanding basic website
traffic, with the added bonus that you aren’t gifting that
traffic data to Google.
alternatives: Not much really. OpenWebAnalytics is
another open source option, and there are some for-profit
alternatives too, such as GoStats and Clicky.
LineageOS + F-Droid
App Store. Sadly, the smartphone world has become a
literal duopoly, with Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS
controlling the entire market. The few usable alternatives
that existed a few years ago, such as Blackberry OS or
Mozilla’s Firefox OS, are no longer being maintained.
the next best option is Lineage OS: a privacy minded, open
source version of Android that can be installed without Google
services or Apps. It requires some technical knowledge as the
installation process is not completely straightforward, but it
works really well, and lacks the bloatware that comes with
most Android installations.
alternatives: Ummm…Windows 10 Mobile? PureOS looks
promising, as does UbuntuTouch.
this took much longer than I planned due to the lack of good
resources about usable alternatives, and the challenge in
moving data from Google to other platforms.
the toughest thing was email, and it has nothing to do with
ProtonMail or Google.
I joined Gmail in 2004, I probably switched emails once a
year. My first account was with Hotmail, and I then used
Mail.com, Yahoo Mail, and long-forgotten services like
Bigfoot. I never recall having an issue when I changed email
providers. I would just tell all my friends to update their
address books and change the email address on other web
accounts. It used to be necessary to change email addresses
regularly — remember how spam would take over older inboxes?
fact, one of Gmail’s best innovations was its ability to
filter out spam. That meant no longer needing to change
is key to using the internet. You need it to open a Facebook
account, to use online banking, to post on message boards, and
many more. So when you switch accounts, you need to update
your email address on all these different services.
my surprise, changing from Gmail today is a major hassle
because of all the places that require email addresses to set
up an account. Several sites no longer let you do it from the
backend on your own. One service actually required me to close
my account and open a new one as they were unable to change my
email, and then they transferred over my account data
manually. Others forced me to call customer service and
request an email account change, meaning time wasted on hold.
more amazingly, others accepted my change, and then continued
to send messages to my old Gmail account, requiring another
phone call. Others were even more annoying, sending some
messages to my new email, but still using my old account for
other emails. This became such a cumbersome process that I
ended up leaving my Gmail account open for several months
alongside my new ProtonMail account just to make sure
important emails did not get lost. This was the main reason
this took me six months.
so rarely change their emails these days that most companies’
platforms are not designed to deal with the possibility. It’s
a telling sign of the sad state of the web today that it was
easier to change your email back in 2002 than it is in 2018.
Technology does not always move forward.
Are These Google Alternatives Any Good?
are actually better! Jitsi Meet runs smoother, requires less
bandwidth, and is more platform friendly than Hangouts.
Firefox is more stable and less of a memory suck than Chrome.
Fastmail’s Calendar has far better time zone integration.
are adequate equivalents. ProtonMail has most of the features
of Gmail but lacks some useful integrations, such as the
Boomerang email scheduler I was using before. It also has a
lacking Contacts interface, but I’m using Nextcloud for that.
Speaking of Nextcloud, it’s great for hosting files, contacts,
and has a nifty notes tool (and lots of other plug-ins). But
it does not have the rich multi-editing features of Google
Docs. I’ve not yet found a workable alternative in my budget.
There is Collabora Office, but it requires me to upgrade my
server, something that is not feasible for me.
depend on location. Maps.me is actually better than Google
Maps in some countries (such as Indonesia) and far worse in
others (including America).
require me to sacrifice some features or functionality. Piwic
is a poor man’s Google Analytics, and lacks many of the
detailed reports or search functions of the former. DuckDuckGo
is fine for general searches but has issues with specific
searches, and both it and StartPage sometimes fail when I’m
searching for non-English language content.
the End, I Don’t Miss Google at All
fact, I feel liberated. To be so dependent on a single company
for so many products is a form of servitude, especially when
your data is what you’re often paying with. Moreover, many of
these alternatives are, in fact, better. And there is real
comfort in knowing you are in control of your data.
we have no choice but to use Google products, then we lose
what little power we have as consumers.
want Google, Facebook, Apple, and other tech giants to stop
taking users for granted, to stop trying to force us inside
their all-encompassing ecosystems. I also want new players to
be able to emerge and compete, just as, once upon a time,
Google’s new search tool could compete with the then-industry
giants Altavista and Yahoo, or Facebook’s social network was
able to compete with MySpace and Friendster. The internet was
a better place because Google gave us the opportunity to have
a better search. Choice is good. As is portability.
few of us even try other products because we’re just so used
to Googling. We don’t change emails cause it’s hard. We don’t
even try to use a Facebook alternative because all of our
friends are on Facebook. I understand.
don’t have to quit Google entirely. But give other
alternatives a chance. You might be surprised, and remember
why you loved the web way back when.