You snooze the alarm on your Pixel phone, several times maybe. You check your Gmail inbox first thing in the morning. You play songs on Youtube to set the mood. You open the Chrome browser and Google a cool new place to have lunch. You make a reservation and add it to your Google Calendar. You ask your Google Assistant for directions on how to get there and Google Maps lead your way. Yep, it’s a just another ordinary day in the Googleverse.
Have you ever tried to count how many services owned by Google you use? With more than 100 products – web-based services, mobile and desktop applications, operating systems, development tools, smartphones, and home assistants – Google offers pretty much everything you need to live a modern life.
Google makes things so much easier – and that comforting feeling is just too hard to refuse. But there’s a catch – your privacy is the price.
Google knows much more about you than you would want a technology giant to. Even when you’re not logged in to your Google account, it still has ways to track you: through stealthy trackers known as banner ads and through any Google-owned platform or product.
They want to track your every move online to power their business. Building user profiles as rich as possible keeps their advertising machine rolling.
Oh, and I almost forgot – Google works closely with the government by participating in the PRISM surveillance program, which means that the collected data may be handed to government authorities.
If you want to see exactly what Google knows about you, you can download it all here: google.com/takeout. So, how many gigabytes of your personal life are there?
If you’re serious about taking back control over your data and protecting your privacy, read on:
Going Google-free takes time, as you need to find tools to replace the ones you are currently using. Let me help you with that – here’s a compiled list of alternatives to Google services that are worth giving a try.
Google Photos offer unlimited space for clearing up your device storage for free. Sounds too good to be true? There sure is a catch.
The service is powered by photo recognition AI that is capable of identifying faces and objects in your uploaded images and generating searchable tag words. This way, Google can get detailed insights into your life – who your family and friends are, what activities you’re interested in, in what places you spend time, and where you have traveled.
If you don’t see it as a fair tradeoff and would rather keep your photos private from Google, step away from Google Photos. Follow this guide to make the process of deleting your Google Photos account painless and take a look at these alternatives:
Shoebox offers unlimited backup storage for your photos for free. It does, however, limit photo resolution to 10.6 megapixels (3264 on the longest side) but this quality is still high enough for printing. The service also offers a PRO plan that keeps your photos in their original resolution. As for videos, you can only store 15 minutes of video backup for free, which extends to 10 hours if you pay.
Shoebox offers apps for iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS, making it easy to back up photos to cloud automatically from any of your devices.
Like Shoebox, Ever offers unlimited space for photo backup in high resolution for free. If you want to backup your videos as well, you will have to subscribe to their paid plan. The good thing is, they say you get unlimited space for both photos and videos in full resolution (at the time that I am writing this article).
Some fun features include photo sharing and photo rediscovery through throwbacks. The Ever apps are available for mobile (iOS and Android) and desktop (macOS and Windows).
Actually, it’s not surprising why it’s the email service of choice for many internet users. After launching Gmail in 2004, Google released a number of connected services that work seamlessly with a Gmail account: Calendar, Docs, Drive, Photos… you name it. Having all the tools a click away and perfectly integrated has made living a digital life so much easier.
Leaving the usability benefits aside, Gmail is no good when it comes to privacy. If you browse the web when logged into your account, Google can easily track you – every website you visit, content you engage in, ads you click on. Sweet.
And not only Google. Recently, it has been revealed that Google allowed third-parties to access Gmail users’ emails, including the very private ones. How did that happen? When choosing to “Sign up with Google” to another service, users are asked for permission to access their data. In some cases, those permissions seemed to be too broad, letting human developers read emails or use email information to train machine-learning systems.
The good thing is that there are email service providers that take privacy seriously. Say goodbye to Gmail – here are a few great alternatives:
An open-source and end-to-end encrypted email service based in Germany. Tutanota works as freemium, relying solely on paid subscriptions and donations, meaning no money from advertising.
ProtonMail is hosted in Switzerland, developed by CERN and MIT scientists, and protected by tough Swiss privacy laws. If this doesn’t sound secure enough, add end-to-end encryption and its infrastructure residing in a data center underneath 1000 meters of solid rock. Also freemium.
Based in Belgium, Mailfence operates outside the US jurisdiction, meaning it isn’t subject to US gag orders and subpoenas. Mailfence secures email communications with end-to-end OpenPGP encryption and offers integrated tools for private handling of documents, calendars, and contacts.
Google’s search engine is so popular that it has even become a general expression – ‘oh, just Google it.’ In fact, 9 out of 10 consumers use Google as a search engine, according to StatCounter.com data.
However, running a search on Google for something you want no one would ever know is like spilling your darkest secrets to a well-known office gossip and hoping they won’t tell everyone.
Whenever you search for something, Google silently collects metadata in the background – search terms (let’s be honest – they do say a lot about you), your IP address, and even unique identifiers to be used for cookies.
What's more, Google syncs and stores your search history across all your devices. So even if you decide to do some background cleaning and delete your search history on one of your devices, Google still has it all.
Oh yes, don’t forget voice searches – every time you speak to Google, it listens. Sometimes, without you even knowing. If you run through your voice search recordings, you will be surprised by finding many mistaken activations there. It happens that your device confuses some random words with ‘OK, Google’ and then records the next 10 seconds of sound. So your private conversations may end up being saved, this way revealing information about your interests and personal details about your life. Read how to delete your Google Voice search history here.
The good thing is, there are alternative search engines that treat users’ privacy with respect. Here are a couple of Google Search alternatives, well-deserved to take up your browser’s start page position:
If you want to get objective results for your searches and remain private, DuckDuckGo is probably the best option out there. It says it doesn’t do user profiling, meaning that whether it’s me or you searching for a specific term, we both will be shown the same results.
And it seems that Google considers DuckDuckGo a serious rival. Google owns the domain name duck.com and has been silently redirecting traffic straight to google.com for six years at least. It all changed in July 2018, when Google received a round of complaints about anti-competitive search behavior. If you typed duck.com into your web browser, you would have seen a landing page containing links to ducks.com (in case you wanted to shop for outdoor activity gear), duckduckgo.com, and the Wiki page for Ducks. Finally, DuckDuckGo acquired the ducks.com domain from Google in December, 2018, which now redirects you to the privacy-focuses search engine. Confusion no more!
StartPage.com is another privacy-friendly search engine alternative. It is based on the Google Search engine, just without all the tracking. It means that if some results are omitted from Google, it won’t be displayed on StartPage as well.
Qwant is a privacy-focused search engine based in France. It says it doesn’t track users and doesn’t do any user profiling, so searching on Qwant should keep you out of a filter bubble, which results from personalized searches. The search engine also has a child-friendly version called 'Qwant Junior,' which filters results to be safe for youngsters.
If you enable location tracking on your device, Google will collect data about your whereabouts under its Location History section. It is being done across devices where you’re signed in with your Google account. If you’ve been keeping your location tracking on, you can see your own location history map here.
Needless to say that by using Google Maps for planning routes and searching for places you’re feeding Google with valuable information about your whereabouts. Luckily, there are safer alternatives that will keep your wanders out of Google’s eyes.
Another solution for navigating – Here WeGo. Their web version seems as good as Google Maps, and it also offers free mobile apps for Android and iOS. In fact, Here WeGo maps were originally developed by Nokia (remember Symbian OS?).
Chrome might be the most convenient web browser out there, but it gives you no privacy: there’s hardly anything you can do with Chrome without Google putting it in its records.
If you want to escape Google tracking, Mozilla Firefox is a solution to consider. It’s free, open-source, and privacy-focused. Mozilla Firefox is backed by a non-profit organization, so it sure gets trust points here. What is great about Firefox is that with tweaking its privacy settings and a few add-ons, you can fine-tune it for a tracking-free web browsing experience. None of this is really possible in Chrome.
Vivaldi browser comes as a surprising discovery. It is insanely customizable – from a visual interface to tools and commands for efficient internet browsing, and, of course, extensive privacy settings. It even lets you set different default search engines for private and regular browsing modes and customize their security settings.
Along with many built-in functionalities, the Vivaldi browser supports extensions from the Chrome Web Store as well. This way, you can keep the cool stuff you were using in Chrome.
Now about encryption: Vivaldi syncs browser data between your devices using end-to-end encryption. However, Vivaldi isn’t available on mobile yet.
Now, Youtube is the tricky part. The joy of using Youtube comes from its content. You can’t watch Youtube videos off the platform. What you can do is make it more private by unlinking your Google account. However, this will cost you a few key features – subscribing to channels, liking and commenting on videos.
What is the best alternative to Youtube? Unfortunately, there’s nothing out there quite like Youtube. However, these are the closest alternatives worth checking out:
Dailymotion is a popular video sharing site that provides similar categories to Youtube, so you will surely find something interesting to watch.
It does, however, apply strict limitations (compared to Youtube) for content creators who want to upload longer videos in HD.
Vimeo is more of a classy Youtube alternative rather than its direct competitor. The visually pleasing, minimal interface lets you focus on the video itself instead of being disturbed by distracting elements in the background.
Again, if you want to upload your videos for sharing, Vimeo applies limitations for weekly upload size depending on your plan.
Anyway, you should add Vimeo to your bookmarks bar as a go-to destination for high-quality, creative, and cinematic videos.
When it comes to text editing tools, there’s plenty of services to choose from. Microsoft has its suite, Dropbox has its version of Docs, and so on. However, let’s skip them and focus on tools that are better at keeping your scribbles and masterpieces more private.
LibreOffice is a free and open-source office suite maintained by an active community of developers and contributors that releases a new version every six months. For word processing, LibreOffice offers an application called 'Writer'. It is compatible with the .doc and .docx document formats.
Plus, the LibreOffice suite includes other applications, such as 'Calc' for spreadsheets (bye Google Sheets), 'Impress' for presentations (bye Google Slides), 'Draw' for making vector graphics and flowcharts, 'Base' for databases, and 'Math' for formula editing.
However, if collaboration and real-time co-editing are the features you need, Writer doesn’t have these capabilities. You can install the application on your Windows, MacOS or Linux computer.
Now, here’s a solid alternative to Google Docs. CryptPad takes your privacy seriously by securing your documents with encryption. It also makes it easy for several people to work on the same content at the same time. To share a document, you simply need to share its link. Also, your document will be read-only.
When you sign up, you get access to an encrypted drive where you can organize your pads and 50MB of space for free.
So you see, Google isn’t the only player in town. There are plenty of alternatives that let you do the things online you’re used to doing, but without inadvertently telling all about it to Google.
Take your time exploring and testing these alternatives and gear up with the right privacy tools, like NordVPN. It'll secure your online traffic with encryption and protect your IP address. Your privacy is worth it!
Do you know other solid alternatives to Google services? Let me know about them by commenting below!