It could be argued that in some ways Google has gotten a bad rap from journalists who habitually harp on data-centric business models and enjoy stock photos of giant magnifying glasses hovering over screens filled with code from The Matrix.
But bad stock photography and oversimplified headlines aside, there are some real concerns being raised about Google’s patterns of behavior. Since their beginnings in the 90s, the conglomerate has consistently broadened its influence to the point that it serves as the de facto gatekeeper of the internet. Even if you didn’t use Google search to navigate to this url, chances that your traffic was still directed via Google’s DNS which retains permanent logs including location data.
Google would argue that they do not “sell your data” to third parties. It is fair to object to this somewhat misleading phrase favored by journalists. While Google may not sell your interests and location history to advertisers directly, their entire platform is predicated on cataloging this info with the aim of constructing an individual profile that can be packaged as digital real estate and auctioned.
The lack of control the user has over how their information is used and stored has uncertain ramifications, especially in countries or environments where ideas can be a convictable offense.
For this reason, among others, some are choosing to reduce dependence on Google services. Easier said than done.
Google Public DNS > 18.104.22.168
A Domain Name System (DNS) is an essential component of internet browsing that most people don’t know much about. And for good reason – it’s a more or less invisible service that associates the domain names of the sites we browse with the numerical IP addresses that our devices utilize. However, what most probably wouldn’t be aware of is that the largest DNS service in the world is run by Google. This means that chances are you were routed to this website via Google’s DNS. Google has stated that ISP and location information are stored permanently on their servers.
In order to prevent any more of your data from being permanently logged by Google, you can switch to 22.214.171.124 DNS which is Cloudflare’s security-focused answer to Google DNS. While it’s impossible for DNS to function without any logging whatsoever, Cloudflare promises to delete your logs promptly and also makes it possible to encrypt your DNS queries in order to prevent your ISP (eg Comcast or AT&T) from having carte blanch on all of your internet activity. Another bonus: Cloudflare’s DNS is actually faster than Google’s meaning you should experience a slight increase in internet speed.
Drive > Mega
Mega is a Dropbox-style cloud drive that features end-to-end encryption. And with ransomware attacks systematically targeting small business, incorporating more encrypted backups into your day-to-day could be a worthwhile pursuit.
You control the keys to your Mega account – not even Mega can access your data. That means that if you lose your password it’s gone for good. No getting them to make a new one for you.
Pro tip: Write that password down. And not on an old envelope that lives in a drawer in your desk under some pencils you still have left over from the sixth grade. Speaking from a friend’s experience.
One benefit of getting set up with Mega is that you can now run your own encrypted cloud-based office platform by creating a directory on your device that is automatically synced to Mega’s cloud. Open source word processors and spreadsheets are easy enough to come by – you can start by checking out LibreOffice or OpenOffice which should suit most of your needs.
Now you have almost complete control over your documents without having to sacrifice much in the way of convenience. What next?
Gmail App > K-9 Mail Client
If you already have been using a Gmail account as your primary email (and let’s face it, it was pretty well ahead of the competition a few years back), then you probably can’t just delete it outright. Your primary email is the nucleus of your online life. It’s a password-reset lifeline. It contains old receipts and documents going back years.
So if you still want to keep your Gmail around but don’t want rely on the Gmail app on your phone, you can have the best of both worlds: set it up with an alternative email client like K-9 Mail.
A client like K-9 Mail lets you combine several emails from different services into one well-organized interface. This lets you gain additional independence not only from Google but from also from the rest of your email services as well. It’s also a great way to organize personal and business accounts.
While this gives you greater control over what apps live along with you on your phone, are email clients secure?
K-9 works with openkeychain email encryption which is a great feature for a client to have. Remember: every time your phone’s email client syncs mail it is slinging those emails through the air like a toddler slinging spaghetti sauce. You have to have some form of containment. Apps like Gmail should already have an encrypted HTTPS connection but you’ll want to make sure your client has its own layer on encryption.
Google Maps > WeGo or OsmAnd
This is a tough one. I have to admit I thought this would be a tough one for me. For anyone who spends a lot of time on the road and out of town, Google Maps has likely become nothing short of a necessity. While plenty of alternatives exist, can they really match the reliability and depth of information a supergiant like Google can provide?
Turns out it’s possible. One such example is called Here WeGo. If the name doesn’t sound familiar enough to inspire confidence, bear in mind that it must be good enough for the top German Luxury car brands as BMW, Mercedes and Audi together spent $3 billion acquiring the app.
And Indeed, the app offers excellent route condition monitoring (construction sites, speed cameras and more) as well as comprehensive offline maps support. WeGo uses TripAdvisor to replace Google Reviews so when you search for something like “CoffeeHouses” in an unfamiliar area you’ll be able scope out prospects before heading that way.
OsmAnd is an open-source alternative that emphasizes its offline capabilities. As a result, the app features snappy operation and offers cool extra data like your route’s slope and elevation for cyclists. It is incredibly customizable and even offers downloadable Wikivoyage travel guides so that you’ll be equipped with an offline itinerary and directions wherever you wind up.
A noticeable downside of OsmAnd is that in some searches it may include fewer results for categorical searches like “Coffee shops” or “bars” which means that it may not be always be the best choice for conducting impromptu exploration. It also currently doesn’t have any platform for reviews of the places you bring up, which actually might be a boon as it relieves you from inevitably reading some Yelp reviewer’s tragic novel about receiving too many salt packets at Burger King.
For most of us, De-Googling will not be an overnight process. Whether it is worth the effort is up to you. In any regard, diversifying one’s digital dependence across multiple platforms is likely to be beneficial for a variety of reasons. If nothing else, it’s a fun chance to geek out with some new apps.