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The rise of Google and how you should take privacy into your own hands again

(Guest blog Post by ZEEF curator Jeroen Rijken)

Everybody at some point uses Google’s services, and why not? They are free, reliable and easy to set up. Email? Google’s got it. Storage? Three clicks, done. Every convenience you want, served on a silver platter. So why is it that all these services are free?

Well, the thing is, these services aren’t really free. In the case of Google you pay with something even more valuable than money: personal data. That’s right, all your email, documents, photo’s and search data are stored on Google’s servers. But how does having all this personal information about you help Google earn money? Personalized advertising. Your personal information is used to offer you advertisements tailored to your personality. This is an invasion of your privacy.

I’ve created a Google Alternatives ZEEF page to show you alternatives to Google services that are first of all not run by Google and secondly, not in the hands of another internet conglomerate. For example, you could just switch from Google Drive to Dropbox, but what do you actually gain by doing so? Now all your data is in the hands of Dropbox and considering the recent revelations by Edward Snowden this is not an improvement. It is better to look at why you need to move away from service like Google. Reasons may include better functionality and higher flexibility. However I think we can all agree that there is another reason. A better reason. A reason which is thought not to be of this century…

PRIVACY

 

The solution to these problems is to either store your data with companies in a way that they cannot access your data without your knowledge or keep it to yourself. This is where free and open source solutions play a huge part, just like encryption and location. If you use only free and open source solutions you can inspect the source code and verify that it is not doing anything malicious. Encrypting your data makes sure only you can read it and if your service provider is located somewhere the US has no authority (like Switzerland), you can be pretty sure your data is safe.

Some services from Google are easier to move away from than others. From Chrome to Firefox, Code to GitHub, Blogger to WordPress. But how about the more prominent services that people use, like Google Search, Gmail, Google Drive and the mother of them all: Android?

Search
This is probably the easiest of them all. Even though it sounds impossible, there are actually really good search engines out there that take your privacy seriously. DuckDuckGo is one of the best known search engines that cares about privacy. It has gotten a significant increase in search request after the Snowden revelations and not without a reason; the results are good and the bangs (!) help you get your information quicker. Others like ixquick and Disconnect Search are also great upcoming alternatives.
duck duck go

Email
Who hasn’t got Gmail? It is easy to set up, free and widely available. Free email providers that respect your privacy are scarce, if they exist at all (of course, how are they going to make money?). To be sure only you can read your email you should use an email provider which has implemented proper security techniques and takes a firm stand against government surveillance.

The most important things to look for in an email provider are thus whether your data is stored encrypted and in what country the servers are located. If you reside in the US the best solution is a provider that is either located in the US and doesn’t have servers outside the US, or in a country that takes a bold stand against US government surveillance (like Switzerland). If you reside in any other country, avoid companies that have servers in the US. Unless you are 100% sure your data is both stored and sent encrypted it isn’t advisable to use the service, regardless of your and their location. Fastmail is a good option if you reside in the US, Kolab Now works well if you do not.
fastmail

 

Drive
Setting up your own private cloud is a viable solution. Services like ownCloud can host your storage, contacts, calendar, news feeds and much more. The costs for the actual server don’t have to be that high and maintenance can be made easy if you decide to use a cloud hosting provider like DigitalOcean. For those that prefer not to host your own server, SpiderOak and Wuala are probably the most well-known cloud storage providers. You can find a lot more on my Google-Alternatives page.
Owncloud-logo

Android
This seems difficult. Google created Android. How are you going to use a Google service without using a Google service? Well, the platform may have been created by Google, but most of the source code is actually freely available! This is why derivatives like CyanogenMod, OmniROM and Replicant can exist. You can use these operating systems without using Google service like Gmail, Contacts and Calendar, however it is going to be a challenge unless you host these yourself. If you install a third-party market like the AppBrain market you won’t even need the Google services (remember apps like Youtube do require these).
CyanogenMod-Logo

Preach it, use it
Here is the part where it all comes together, or not…

As stated earlier in this article, moving away from Google is difficult. I am still struggling myself. I use DuckDuckGo for all my searches, except for images. Gmail will be replaced once I have a job so I can afford an email service like Kolab Now or Fastmail. Hosting my own ownCloud server will have to wait as well, seeing how I can’t afford a new server at the moment.

I use Cyanogenmod on my Galaxy SII and use F-Droid as much as possible. Once I have my ownCloud server setup, I can start using the AppBrain market and live Google free. For now I still have my contacts and calendar in the Google cloud.

Further reading
After such a long blog post I can’t leave you without some links now, can I? I have collected additional resources to read which you can find on my Google Alternatives ZEEF page. My page is partially based on the links in the articles by senk9. You should also check out the blog posts by Bryan Lunduke. He is currently transitioning away from Google service and because of his unique position he can offer you some help with the transition too.

google alts

About Jeroen Rijken
screenshot-zeef.com 2015-08-04 12-35-28
Passionate about UNIX-like Operating Systems. Soon to be GNU/Linux system administrator with an interest in security and privacy. Still trying to break free from the grips of Google.

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