I haven’t been appreciative of Google’s stronghold on our lives for a while. It’s not just that Google has a disproportionally large presence in our lives, more and more, Google has been shown to have hidden, unpleasant, agendas. But, what’s much worse, their usage of the private and unregulated space, virtual and physical, for their own financial gain, using our experiences and the manipulation of such, as well as continuous breaches of privacy, if not perhaps legally, but morally, as the raw materials to cement their monopolistic position, under the guise of serving the user, is dangerous and sickening. And needs to be stopped.
A good, if long, overview of how Google has been manipulating us for their own financial gain, is Shoshana Zuboff’s book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (Amazon link, ironically).
Google is not alone in this, with particularly Facebook and Amazon trying to outshine Google in this respect. Microsoft and Yahoo! somewhat missed the boat, though Microsoft is happily playing catchup. Apple might have wanted to jump on this bandwagon at some point, but for a while has been touting it’s strong privacy-focussed stance. And, I find Apple credible enough to believe them on this.
My last two phones have been from Xiaomi (Mi). I’ve been very happy with their value for money, but to what extent Xiaomi, too, can be trusted, is a completely open question. My most recent Mi phone ran Android One, which should mean the phone’s manufacturer’s influence on, and access to, your mobile activities is limited, though Google’s isn’t.
I had an earlier Mi phone shipped from Asia. That turned out to have a feature where malware, or some type of tracking software, was embedded within the operating system, impossible to remove, without also re-installing, not resetting, the operating system.
Which indeed means that one way to avoid The Google, is to purchase an Android phone, wipe it completely, to then install your preferred operating system or trusted version of Android. (LineageOS is the obvious but not only choice, which might be dictated by the hardware you have.)
But, this still leaves the possibility that the hardware itself, the phone, might be compromised through some embedded backdoor, and, if you want access to rich services, apps, you have to often either accept lower quality alternatives, or still go with some of the software Google offers.
Already about two years ago, I moved away from Gmail. First to Tutanota, but, not finding their email client sufficiently usable, then back to my self-hosted mail server.
Earlier this year, I stopped using Google Analytics for all my sites, switching to Matomo.
Now, requiring a replacement for my phone, I decided to switch back to iPhone. I find Apple’s flagship offerings ridiculously expensive (as I do Android flagships from Samsung and others), even if the hardware to some extent justifies it. I got myself a iPhone 7 instead, for about 225 euros, a price similar to what I paid for my most recent Android phone.
Next, I had to extract myself as much as possible from the Googleverse.
I have been using a Gmail account for longer than Gmail has been publicly available. I don’t think it wise to get rid of that email address completely, so I have it forwarded to my personal email address, which I then use to respond.
Google Maps is replaced by Apple Maps; I was already using Firefox on my phone, avoiding Chrome; Snapseed was replaced by Adobe Lightroom, though I’m unhappy with how Adobe has abused its Lightroom users, going back on earlier promise that a standalone version of Lightroom would always remain available. iOS 13 is getting a native rich photo editor, meaning I might ditch Lightroom when iOS 13 comes around; Google Photos was replaced by Apple Photos. Though, the last time I was actively using that, I wasn’t too impressed by the portability of images between devices. I might opt for an alternative at some point.
I already stopped using Google Search, using DDG instead. Here’s a good list of more secure search engines.
I avoid Google Drive when I can, using a self-hosted NextCloud.
I got rid of Google Arts & Culture, Google Keep and Google Trips.
I really appreciate the swiped typing of Gboard, even though it regularly fibs when I switch languages. Google is not the only one offering this functionality, but keyboard apps are notoriously untrustworthy (here’s a primer). Apple is set to launch a swipe-enabled keyboard with iOS 13. I’ll wait.
If I do cave in, it will probably be for SwiftKey, now owned by Microsoft.
If you need more, a comprehensive list of alternative options for many of Google’s services is here.
Android’s latest offering has come a long way in providing a good user experience. Functionally, in some ways, Android is ahead of iOS. But, as far as the user experience is concerned, iOS is still more pleasant to work with. Notwithstanding third party apps and their usability, which even for the same app between Android and iOS can be quite different (such that, for example, I ditched RadioPublic and went with Apple Podcasts, even though the latter also has shortcomings), Apple’s native apps and general usability is more streamlined and more intuitive.
Not related to my phone, but, I’ve also moved away from recaptcha, shifting to Securimage.
A falling hammer?
Surely coincidental, but, three weeks after writing this post, Google sent me a message, saying that: “… we recently detected that your Google Cloud/API Project [for this website] could be scraping data from our Google Maps APIs in violation [of our terms]”. Access to the Google APIs for this website was shut down, even though this website now hardly uses the Google Maps API. I appealed, two days later, my access was reinstated.