This post is my story/guide of how I got rid of Google from my digital life. Whatever is your motivation (privacy concerns? censorship? others?), I’m hoping you’ll find something useful for yourself here.
This post is a work in progress. Instead of posting the story in multiple parts, I am just going to update this single post with new sections and information – as I make my progress in getting rid of google (and every other big tech for that matter).
Table of contents
- Step 1: Browser and search engine
- Step 2: Email
- Step 3: Cloud storage and apps
- Further steps
Step 1: Browser and search engine
First thing first – for the biggest impact with the least effort to limit google’s influence and control over your life: ditch Chrome browser and google.com website. There are many alternatives to google’s search engine such as Yahoo (a bit dated) or Bing, but I am going to recommend DuckDuckGo.com – they promise to never track or collect any information on their users – totally private. Such change will involve some inconvenience, because you’ll need to learn a new way around, but it will cost you nothing in terms of money.
As to the browser – I’ve been a dedicated user of the Opera web browser for a long time, so I don’t even need to make any change here. If you used Chrome, I recommend switching to Opera – you will not be disappointed.
Most useful features of Opera, from my perspective:
- DuckDuckGo can be selected as the native search engine
- “Contexts” – multiple open tabs can be organized into up to 5 workspaces, for some reason called “contexts”.
- Built-in ad blocker and tracking prevention.
- Built-in free VPN – no configuration, just works.
- Built-in client for WhatsApp (facebook & instagram are built-in too, but the point is to stop using these).
Alternatives, but not as good as Opera:
- Edge – a perfectly good browser from Microsoft. Fast, modern and secure – completely unlike the Internet Explorer that we learned to avoid. However – Microsoft is still big tech and nobody knows what kind of usage data they are collecting.
- Firefox – independently developed by Mozilla, a non-profit. While this is a solid browser technically, I stopped using it a number of years ago after the CEO of Mozilla and a man who helped start the foundation, was forced out of the organization by LGBT mob – because he donated to a catholic pro-family campaign 10 years earlier.
Step 2: Email
The second thing you can do – for the biggest impact on google and your privacy – is to stop using gmail and switch to something else. Technically every subscriber to home internet should have a free email account from the ISP (such as “comcast.net”, “verizon.net”, etc). Even some of the mobile networks provide free email accounts. If you are a Windows user you must have “outlook” email to log-into your windows PC, and if you’re an Apple person, you must have an “icloud” email. In the end, there is still “yahoo” and perhaps a couple other companies that provide free personal email. These are all good alternatives to gmail – with a certain amount of spam filtering built in, web interface, etc.
I still am concerned about using them, though. These emails are either provided by big tech, or the ISP. Big tech is connected to censorship and privacy concerns, while the ISP accounts work only as long as you stay with your current provider, and ISPs are technically “big tech” too.
The ideal solution is to have your own private email, with your own private domain. The downside is that this option is associated with some cost, albeit usually quite low. The upside is, however, that your email turns totally private and no-one will be able to scan it to track your online activity. What you need is this:
- Your own domain name – costs between $5 and $15 a year, depending on registrar and TLD (Top Level Domain, such as “.com”, “.net”, etc). I highly recommend registering your domain through namecheap.com – they provide privacy guard for free (although not for the “.us” domains – learned the hard way), their prices are moderate, and you can buy just the email service from them for a couple of bucks/month. But most of all – they don’t push tons of unnecessary expensive stuff down your throat – not nearly as much as some other companies.
- Hosting service – can cost as low as $30/year but often ~ $100/year. Alternatively – just email service, which can be found for ~$20-$30/year – for example from namecheap, as mentioned above.
In my instance, I already rent a hosting space for my business, so #2 is taken care of. I went in and searched for my last name to see what domains are available for purchase. Unfortunately for me, my-last-name.com was already taken – I finally decided on my-last-name.me, so that our family can have emails in the “firstname.lastname@example.org” style.
Registering your own domain is not a difficult process, although you need to watch for up-sales many registrars push on their customers. Setting up email with your hosting provider is a bit more challenging, although I’ve seen completely novice people set that up correctly on their own – with some effort and help from customer service.
Step 3: Cloud storage and apps
So, you want to own your own cloud, right? In practice the “cloud” consists of real hardware, and you are going to need a piece of one for your home or business. In a home or SMB scenario this is typically called a “NAS” (Network Attached Storage). I am using a Synology DiskStation (DS), which I highly recommend because it already has many apps that can replace google apps.
Cost-wise (there is unfortunately some cost associated with this change, unless you already own a DiskStation) here are the recommended options:
- Get a new Synology DiskStation NAS – at least 2 bay. 220+ is a good starting point. You are also going to need 2 hard drives – get the “NAS” hard drives designed specifically to work in NAS devices, at least 2TB space – get both of the same size and type. For this reason I would avoid Western Digital, even though this is the brand I am using.
- If you’re on a budget, find used DiskStation on ebay or some place like this. If you are into the “200” series, make sure you get the one with a “+”, and definitely avoid the “j” ones as they don’t support several important features. Get the NAS hard drives new.
- If you are on an even tighter budget and not afraid of tinkering around with computers, look at the xpenology website and build your own Synology DiskStation – this is actually what I did at my home.
After you get your NAS and put it together, there is a good deal of configuration that needs to be done. Fortunately, Synology has a nice “wizard” that will guide you through the basic steps of the set-up. It doesn’t always select the most secure settings, though, albeit it is a good starting point. In the end, make sure that you have ports 80 (http), 443 (https) and 5001 (admin interface https) open and accessible from internet, and that you’re using a strong password, and you’re NOT using the “admin” account (best to disable it completely). I may cover some of those topics in other posts later.
If, for some reason, during the set-up process you did not obtain the SSL certificate, you need to do this before enabling any cloud-based services, as all of them require https connection. This guide is not about that topic – use duckduckgo to find out how to do this – it’s not complicated.
Replacing the famous Google Drive with 15GB of free storage – once you have your DS up and running – is simply a no-brainer. Just install the Synology Drive Server and go over a couple of set-up steps, and you’ll be running your own version of Google Drive with several TB of space – as much as you have on your hard drives.
The package installer should take care of most of the configuration automatically. I did only 2 configuration changes: I enabled “team drive” to share in our family, and limited the number of preserved versions to just 1. I have TimeMachine set-up to take care of versioning for me. Then you need to install clients on your computers, log-in and choose which folders to sync.
You may quickly notice that by installing the Synology Drive you’ve also installed a web-based word processor, spreadsheet and presentation apps. Google docs on your own cloud!
Synology has a full-fledged calendar (with tasks) app in the Package Center. Install it if you didn’t already, and follow these simple instructions to replace google calendar across your devices.
- Log into both your DS->Calendar, and your google calendar.
- In google calendar choose the gear icon -> settings -> import/export, and click the “export” button. This will download your entire calendar as a zipped “ics” file. Unzip that file.
- On DS calendar, on the right side under the small month view you have a list of calendars with a 3-dot icon, click that icon and select “Import”. Then select your downloaded “ics” file and watch the DS calendar come to life with all your appointments and events.
Syncing with mobile devices
If you are an iPhone owner, you’re lucky, your new DS calendar is natively supported by iOS. Just find it in iOS and add, then remove the google calendar from sync. Unfortunately I can’t guide you in this process because I don’t own any iOS device – duckduckgo it.
If you are an Android owner, there is one more step that you need to do: install a Card/CalDAV sync app. There is a choice of apps. I started using the DAVx5 app and it works for me so I stick with it. It is available from the app store for a couple of bucks, but it is also an open-source app. So, if you’re not afraid of tinkering a bit with your phone, you can build the app from sources (or find a build on the internet) and install it for free.
Once you have DAVx5 installed, add your first account. There is a video on YouTube (brrr) that shows you how to set-up connection to your calendar step by step: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Uzjy44BVQ. However, the video is a bit outdated, there are couple of things that changed in the DS since the video was made. For now, follow the calendar guide and ignore the contacts guide, and secondly: do NOT install WebDAV nor CardDAV server on your DS – they are no longer needed.
Also, for security reasons, I would enter the local address of your DS – not the external address. I am sort of afraid of giving my DS username and password to some app, along with direct link to my DS accessible from the internet. I feel this is asking some hacker to come and mess with my files. With local link you will not be able to sync on the go, only at home, but to me it is a small price to pay for security.
If you’re successful configuring your calendar on your device, chances are you now have duplicate entries for every single event – you need to now edit settings of your device’s calendar and remove (un-set) access to google calendars.
Syncing with Apple Calendar
On your Mac, open the Calendar app, and go to the top menu “Calendar” -> “Add account…”. Select “Other CalDAV account…” and click “Next”. For the account type select “Advanced”, and then fill in the fields as follows:
- Username – obviously, your DS account username
- Password – your DS password
- Server address – you can use local one (even IP) or web/external address of your DS.
- Server path – the path to the caldav service on your DS – for me it was “/caldav/Michal”
- Port: 5001
- Use SSL: checked.
- Use Kerberos 5 for authentication: checked.
If you do all of this right and don’t misspell your password or anything else – in a couple of seconds your appointments from DS calendar will appear. Again, just like with the mobile devices, you need to remove the google calendars now – just disable them.
Syncing with MS calendar
That one I still need to figure out.
Synology has recently added a phenomenal Contacts app – it functions just like the google counterpart. Install it from the Package Center and follow this guide to sync all your devices to it.
As with the Calendar app, you may want to import all of your contacts from google – this time you don’t even need to export anything, just link the accounts with google temporarily so that the contacts are imported. Don’t forget to disable the linking afterwards!
Once you’re done importing the contacts it may be a good idea to check all of your contacts on the DS (online) and clean-up. I did not even realize how much clutter and duplicates I had until I synchronized all of the contacts with my phone, and ended up with a mess.
Synchronization with mobile devices
Again, if you are the lucky user of an iPhone, there is a straightforward way of syncing your phone to the DS Contacts app, albeit I don’t know it as I don’t have any iOS devices, as mentioned before. Try duckduckgoing it – I’m sure it’s easy.
As to Android devices, again the DAVx5 app will be helpful, however this time you should NOT follow the YouTube guide I mentioned in the Calendar section. Set up another DAVx5 account on your mobile device exactly the same way as you’ve set up Calendar access, except instead of “caldav” in the URL enter “carddav”, followed by your username. It magically just works with the Contacts app…
Now, an important remark: once the sync process starts, you may start seeing multiple duplicated entries in your contact book. Do not panic! Allow your phone to import them all and sort them out on its own – a couple of minutes later the ‘contacts’ app on you phone will recognize and merge the duplicates – at least this is what happened on my Samsung Note 5.
You might think that Google Photos are irreplaceable, and by dropping google you’re loosing a ton of functionality and convenience. Enter Synology’s Moments app – with auto-backup, AI technology to recognize faces and categorize, timeline display, and auto enhancement. Now you can own all of your photos and keep all the google functionality!
From my perspective, this app has everything I need. True, the face recognition feature needs some training, so you may find that photos of the same person were recognized as a multiple people by the AI algorithm. But at least there is a straightforward way to fix that. Another important note – the AI feature does not work on “light” DS models. So if you’re starting with Synology – make sure to get at least the standard model, preferably the “+” one for better performance.
In my instance, I’ve owned different DS models for many years – upgrading as I go, but keeping all my data. Photo backup from our family phones was always enabled, so switching from google I did not even have to import anything – my photos were already there. I started to backup photos to my DS at a time when this was the only feature available (just backup & store), and google photos did not yet exist. Back in those days I used Picasa program (from google) which was later discontinued in favor of the cloud-based “Photos”. For some reason I stuck with google even when Synology introduced Moments. Only the recent privacy and censorship issues prompted me to get rid of “Photos” and stick with Moments. For about 2 weeks now (as of the time of writing) all of my photos are removed from Google, and backup goes to DS only. I do not feel like I lost any functionality, however I surely gained a lot of privacy.
In any case, if you need to import your photos from google to Moments – there are many guides available on the internet – duckduckgo them!
This one is a hard one. There’s just one alternative: iPhone, and it isn’t necessarily any more secure from spying by the big tech than Android. Some people still recommend switching to apple, but I don’t think it is worth the investment.
On the other hand, if you have a Samsung or Huawei devices, these companies run their own app stores. You can limit yourself to those stores, however you will still be using plenty of google services that way.