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Last updated: 2015-03-04

Live without Google - summary

Google-free

In this article you will first learn about many reasons why you should consider a life without Google. You will most likely use Google services on your workstation (PC/Mac) on the one hand, and on your mobile device (Android phone/tablet, iPhone/iPad) on the other hand. This article explains ways to escape Google's reign on the former while another article helps you to find appropriate replacements for the latter. Enjoy!

Reasons for abandoning Google

Google is a company. Like any company, their goal is to earn money. To achieve this, they collect as much data as possible from you, earning money with target-oriented advertisement, i.e. advertisements that you see while surfing the web (or in-app advertisements) are preselected such that they most likely match your interests.

To collect data, Google provides high quality services which are free and comfortable to use. Examples are Google search, cloud storage (Drive), Calendar/Contacts/browser history synchronization, maps, messaging & video-telephony (Hangouts) and many more. Google provides easy access to their services by using various technologies, such as a web-interface using your browser, PC programs like Chrome, operating system like Android, or apps for it. Unfortunately most people are not aware that if something is "free" that automatically means that you, i.e., your data, is the product. Google knows a great deal about you. Here are some examples. Google knows...

  • What you like and what you're interested in (whenever you use Google to search for something, whenever you mention goods, services in emails or on Google+)

  • Who you are, e.g. your name, address, age etc. (if you're using Google+ and providing this information, and the information can also be inferred from your emails)

  • Who you know (from Google+, Gmail, and your Android phone contact synchronization which is enabled by default)

  • Your WiFi routers name (SSID), its location and password (given that you're using it with an Android device and haven't changed your default backup settings).

If you're like me, you should be scared by the amount of knowledge centralized in "one" place (the Google data centers). I'm not a conspirative "tin foil hat" person who fears that "the government" now knows all this information. If the government really wanted such information they would have other means to obtain it. However, the thought that a US corporation has this amount of knowledge about millions of Internet users world-wide, simply because these people use some of their services, is frightening to me, and thus I'd like to present ways to evade Google's claws for the future. You should also consider that if someone (other than the government) does gain access to your Google account credentials, this person will have access to your emails, contacts, calendar, locate or remotely delete all the data on your Android device and cause you all other kinds of harm.

Google on an Android device

For those of you who use Google's services not just on a workstation but also on an Android device (phone or tablet), you should also consider reading my other article. If you plan to abandon Google it should be all or nothing. Exemplary, just stopping to use Gmail and Drive on your desktop, but still using it (or other Google apps) on your phone, won't achieve much.

Getting rid of Google: the drawbacks

With Google being tightly integrated into your life, removing it not only sounds like work: it is a lot of work. The biggest problem is the loss of comfort. You have to learn new programs or apps, and you have to find new ways of synchronizing your data between your devices. You' ll have the problem of not having everything in one place. Then again, the reason why we get rid of Google is related to the problem: you actually do not want everything to be in one place, especially not in the hands of a corporation you can't control.

Removing Google from your workstation

On your work-station you're most likely using the following Google services in dedicated software other than the web-browser:

  • Google Mail within your email client (Thunderbird, Outlook, Apple Mail, …)

  • Contacts and calendar sync, usually also within your email client

  • Google Drive with the Drive PC app

  • Google Chrome web-browser

Let's work our way up from bottom to top and start with Chrome.

Chrome: analysis and alternatives

There are heated discussions regarding Chrome's privacy issues involving Chrome fans, tin-foil-hat paranoids and people who actually do know what they're talking about. I've spent some time reading various reports, trying to avoid excessive paranoia. To summarize, you can still use Chrome if you really love it, but you should change some of its settings. So here are the details:

To my understanding there is a “Chromium” project which is open source, actually it's “source only”, so you don't get a ready-to-go browser binary/executable from their site. Google Chrome is a product by Google which is not open source, but is built on top of Chromium, and extends it with various features. These include an auto-update service and various proprietary audio/video codecs (Flash, AAC, MP3, …), which Chromium may not include due to licensing issues. Chrome also integrates a couple of Google services, such as:

  1. Google search with auto-completion

  2. Chrome usage statistics and crash reports (usage statistics how you use Chrome, not how you surf the web, thus it includes e.g. how often you use Chrome, when you installed it and your Chrome settings)

  3. Content of your address bar while you type (search the web for “Omnibox” for more details) to provide you with auto completion. Also, the whole address bar content is sent to Google in case you tried to access a web site which returned a “not found” HTTP code, in order to recover your site navigation by suggesting alternative websites.

  4. RLZ tracking (see Wikipedia article), indicating where Chrome was downloaded from

You can amend any of these points:

  1. Use the startpage.com Chrome plug-in as default search provider

  2. Disable the transmission of usage statistics and crash reports in the Chrome settings

  3. The Chrome privacy settings dialog allows you to disable all the features mentioned in point 3 above.

  4. Download the browser from Google's Chrome website directly rather than from a different site. In this case, RLZ tracking does not apply.

Last but not least there are many alternative web-browsers, such as Firefox or Opera. Switching to another browser, however, will be a lot of effort, as you might have to find replacements for certain Chrome plug-ins. However, you do get some peace of mind when using something not influenced by Google (depending on your paranoia-level).

Drive: stop driving!

Not using Google Drive means that you should find another, similar (free) service which also provides file synchronization, set it up (which will upload your data to that provider's data centers) and finally remove your data from Google Drive, right? Well, this is something you can do, but be aware that your data is still uploaded to the cloud, and can thus be accessed by the service provider and anyone who was able to log into your account. You are encouraged to read my article about file synchronization which describes various file synchronization strategies, including local synchronization, without storing data on the Internet.

Email, calendar and contacts sync

Service provider & app replacement

Finding replacements for email, calendar and contacts synchronization is a difficult task, and it's impossible to provide a definitive guide here, because the best solution depends on your needs. I think it's safe to assume that you generally want your emails, calendar events and contacts to be synchronized between workstations and mobile devices of all types. This can only be achieved by having a solution that is “in the cloud”, i.e. using a service on the Internet, acknowledging the risk that your data might therefore never be completely secure. One thing you can do is to look for a service provider that is in your country, adhering to privacy-related laws and regulations that you consider reasonable. Another option is to host such services yourself, e.g. using ownCloud, either on a web-host on the Internet, or on a local machine at your home. Also, take into consideration that it's actually OK if a service costs money. Economy dictates that any service provided by companies can never be truly free, they are always expecting something in return (e.g. make you look at advertisements, using your data for God knows what, or, well, money).

Luckily there are standardized protocols which allow for synchronization, implemented by many service providers and generally available to clients/apps on all platforms. They are:

  • Emails: IMAP. Generally very high availability. Close to every service provider and e-mail client on any platform will support IMAP.

  • Contacts and calendar sync: Card DAV and Cal DAV, respectively. Support varies:

    • On the service side:

      • Some email providers also provide Card DAV and Cal DAV Endpoints as part of their service, so check for availability first.

      • You also have the option to host this service yourself, by setting up an ownCloud or Baikal or SOGo instance, see here for more server-implementations.

      • Some providers provide dedicated hosting of these services, e.g. ownCloud hosting.

    • On the client side: here life can become more difficult. Thunderbird (Windows, Linux, Mac OS X) with the Lightning calendar plug-in comes with Cal DAV sync, to sync contacts (Card DAV) you need the SOGo “connector” plug-in. Outlook doesn't support either natively, but there is the cFos plug-in that offers both CardDAV and CalDAV support. For Android there is CalDAV-Sync (paid app!), CardDAV-Sync and DAVdroid (free). iOS supports both out of the box.

Data migration

Migrating your GMail emails to another provider is relatively easy. Get a new email provider, follow their instructions to set up the IMAP access in your email client. Then also setup your soon-to-be-disposed Gmail account in your email client using IMAP, if you haven't done so already. Then copy the emails over from your GMail account to the new one. At least with Thunderbird as mail client this procedure is known to work, even when your email archive contains thousands of emails.

Migrating your contacts and calendar events is a bit more difficult. First, you have to find a server/service which can host Card DAV and Cal DAV data. Then you have find solutions for every client and its platform to be able to be part of the synchronization, and you have to choose one particular client for the migration step. For this, it's generally a good idea to export contacts and calendars from Google as files (see here for contacts, export as vCard file, see here for calendars, export as iCal file). The web-interface of your new Cal/Card DAV provider will often allow you to import these files. If you're using Thunderbird you can use the SOGo plugin to create a new (remote) address book and import the vCard file.

I personally have done the calendar migration with Thunderbird and the contacts migration with Android. The following paragraph details some pitfalls for Android contacts migration, skip it if you're not doing it with Android.

On Android, a contact always resides in a "account", e.g. Phone memory (which is not backed up or synchronized) or any cloud-connected account (e.g. Google-account, or your CardDav/CalDAV accounts). You first have to install an app that adds Card DAV support (see above), so that you can add a new Card DAV contacts accounts to your device (from the Android settings menu). The usual scenario will be that you have to move your contacts from the Phone account to the CardDAV account. The procedure is:

  1. Export all contacts from phone memory to a vCard file (.vcf)
  2. Delete all contacts from the Phone account,
  3. Import vCard file into the CardDAV-Account.

Unfortunately, the contacts management app “People” that comes with most Android distributions only supports steps 1 and 3. However, you can use the free app "GO contacts EX" for step 2. People simply doesn't support mass-deleting all your contacts. Both People and GO Contacts EX support step 1, it doesn't matter which one you use for that. Either way, in step 3 the People app will ask you into which account the data should imported, while GO Contacts EX doesn't (it restores them into the Phone-Account by default, which is not what you want).

Avoiding synchronization on Android

For those folks who do have contacts and use a calendar on their Android device, but don't want them synchronized:

  • The Phone account for contacts is actually a "local" account which isn't synchronized with your Google account, given that you have disabled synchronization in the appropriate setting dialogs. With the MyLocalAccount app you can create an additional local account.
  • To create and manage a local, unsynchronized calendar, I personally use Business Calendar. Local calendars can also be created using Offline calendar or Zoks Android Offline Calendar Manager.

Outlook and exchange calendars and contacts

If you feel at home using Microsoft Outlook, Exchange servers and the like, take a look at OfficeCalendar or the Nine app.

Comments

Comment by Marius |

I updated the article in the "Email, calendar and contacts sync" section. In there I added the sub-sections "Avoiding synchronization on Android" and "Outlook and exchange calendars and contacts".

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