25 Nov 2021[
I personally don’t like how most of the big tech companies are invading privacy. One of the most intrusive in this case is Google for which users are the commodity to trade and they are selling the data to other companies. User data are big business nowadays and it looks like it will stay like it for some time. This is the main reason why I’m writing this blog post to show people how to live without Google account.
For those wandering, yes, this will not stop Google from obtaining your data, it will just not be as accurate as if you would use their apps directly. Almost every website today is using Google Analytics, which is not in your power to do much with and most of the people is using Google Android on their smartphone, which is happily collecting anything happening around it.
Note: Always try to find free software or at least open source alternative. This way you can be pretty sure that there isn’t anything malicious in the code, if it’s publicly accessible.
This post is split to two sections. One will be talking about the Google apps (photos, drive, office suite, youtube etc.) and second one will look at the Android.
I hope this post will help somebody to improve their privacy protection.
Alternatives to Google services
In this case you can simply use NextCloud or you can use any other way to organize yourself. I personally replaced Google Calendar with Org Mode plugin for Emacs, but I assume this is not for everyone.
This is one of the tricky ones. If you don’t want to lose all the contacts on Google Chat, you don’t actually have any alternative and you still need to stay there. But you can still try other options. In case of messengers the options are really wide. But if you want messenger focused on privacy it’s a short list. I tried a few of them and I’m actively using some of them.
Let’s start with Signal. It’s some time I last tried it, but it’s the best option if you really value your privacy. It’s completely open source and all chats are E2E encrypted. But the groups are not persistent (at least they weren’t when I last tried it), which means that the group is deleted when every member logs out. And because all the communication is P2P there is no shared history across multiple devices, which could be inconvenient for those who are switching from device to device.
Next option I’m using is the Matrix. It has similar features as Signal, it’s completely open source (you can even host your own authentication server) and the 1:1 chats have E2E encryption by default. But it keeps the history of conversation across devices and the groups are persistent on the server with the option to have E2E encryption for them. By far the Matrix is the best option from privacy/feature viewpoint.
Last option I will mention here and which I use most is the Telegram. Unfortunately it’s not fully open source (the server side is not open). But it has the most features from these three mentioned in this section. It even allows you to make calls that have E2E encryption. You can also create chats with E2E encryption, but those are limited with features you can use. In this case the privacy is not really ensured, but from the current behavior of Telegram creators and the hate some three letter organization has against them, it seems that the privacy is still in better hands than at Google. From the feature point of view it’s the best option, you can use.
This one is a little difficult. I’m using NextCloud, but you need to have a place to host it. There are services that can give you a user space on their hosted NextCloud. It’s by far the best alternative I could find. It allows you to do most of the things you would expect from the cloud drive. At least I don’t miss anything I would expect from cloud drive.
Google Keep is a service for storing any notes. I replaced it by Org Mode plugin for Emacs, but you can also use tasks in NextCloud.
Google maps could be easily replaced by OpenStreetMap. In most cases it’s pretty accurate and if not you can edit it by yourself. This project is fully open source.
In the Covid-19 situation plenty of new services providing video calls were created. So right now there is plenty of options to choose from. I replaced Google Meet with Telegram, Jitsi and in some cases TeamSpeak (audio only). All of them are viable options that allows you to have conversations with others and some even have option for sharing your screen or other documents. From the privacy standpoint the best is the Telegram, which allows you to have E2E encrypted calls. From anonymity perspective the best option is Jitsi, which doesn’t need any account for creating a meeting. If you want to host it by yourself, you can do so with both Jitsi and TeamSpeak.
Google Office suite
Google Office suite in this case refers to Google Docs, Google Sheet, Google Slides etc. I must say that in this case, I didn’t found any good alternative for online collaboration. But for other things I’m mostly using LibreOffice and sharing the documents on NextCloud. I found out there is even Open Document Reader available for Android, so it’s possible to read them on the mobile. If you want to collaborate on MarkDown documents you can use hackmd.io, which even has integrated WYSIWIG editor.
The best option in this case is to use NextCloud. The only thing I’m missing on NextCloud is the option to allow other users to subscribe to gallery via email and got notification about new photos in the gallery.
The word “google” something got to our everyday vocabulary, but they are other search engines you can use that will not invade your privacy. Here are two of them I’m using most often.
Brave Search is a new one on the field from the creators of the Brave browser. It’s focused on privacy and returns non personalized search results.
DuckDuckGo is another privacy focused search engine. Like in the case Brave Search it returns non personalized search results.
For Gmail there are some privacy focused alternatives, you can use. I tried two of them.
First I went with ProtonMail. It is using E2E encryption, so your data are not accessible by the ProtonMail admins. I was happy with it, but I was limited by the number of custom domains and didn’t want to to pay additional price for switching to higher tier.
So I looked for another alternative and now I’m using Tutanota. It’s open source, they have client for desktop and Android devices and same as protonmail they are using E2E encryption and 2-factor authentication.
Both of the options are pretty solid and you can surely find more privacy focused email services. Just forward all the mails from Gmail to new email and you are good to go.
Youtube has plenty of alternatives nowadays, but the main issue is content. I still find myself looking at youtube videos, because the video can’t be found anywhere else. But I will mention at least few options here.
Odysee is a video hosting site created by using blockchain technology and their own cryptocurrency and running on LBRY protocol. Because of this the authors are not able to censor anything (they can block the content on Odysee, but they can’t remove it from LBRY, so if there is still at least one copy of the video in blockchain, it could still be found). From the privacy point of view, they don’t collect any information about you (except e-mail and LBC wallet). You can even use it without creating any account at all.
Peertube is a decentralized video hosting service, which allows users to share videos in P2P way. I personally didn’t tried it, but it’s one of the suitable alternatives.
Alternatives to Android
Most of the Android phones are coming with Google Android pre-installed, but some of them allows you to open the bootloader and reinstall it. If your phone allows you to do this there are plenty of alternatives to choose from.
LineageOS is the most used replacement, it is free of any Google services and allows you to use all the Android features. It has guide for plenty of phones and good support. If you still need Google Play Services you can install microG, which is a good free (as freedom) re-implementation of official Google Play Services. By default the LineageOS doesn’t have any store installed, but I will talk about Google Play alternatives later in this section.
/e/OS is a nice privacy focused OS based on LineageOS. It has a little hard to search name, but otherwise it’s a fine Android OS with it’s own app store. The /e/OS also offers pre-installed smartphones in their store. They also have a really nice selection of default apps that are focused on privacy.
There are other options that are not Android based, but because most apps are created for Android you will still struggle with those options. But I will at least mention the Sailfish OS here. You can buy life long subscription on their page and they have official guides for some phones to take you through the installation process.
If you don’t want to use your google account, it’s best to get rid of this app and look for the alternatives. The first one I would go for is F-Droid, it’s a store containing only free and open source software. It has a nice collection of apps although it’s sometimes hard to search. F-Droid is really a first good download for a clean LineageOS, just open the page and download the APK package from the site.
If you want to have more apps to choose from or your favorite app isn’t free and open source software I recommend to use Aurora. This store allows you to browse, update and install apps from Google Play without the need to have Google account. It can even filter out apps using Google Play Services and allows you to buy apps that need money.
Google Maps for navigation
If you are using Google Maps on smartphone for navigation, try Magic Earth. This app is based on OpenStreetMap and it doesn’t sent any data about you to anyone.
The Google Contacts could be easily replaced by Simple Contacts, but to have them synced over NextCloud Contacts is a bit trickier. Fortunately there is an app called DAVx5. This app allows you to sync calendars, tasks and most importantly contacts from the WebDav server of your choice. It works without issue with NextCloud.
The Google Phone could be easily replaced by Simple Dialer. Simple mobile apps are light apps that are open source and respect the privacy of user.
The Google Calendar could be easily replaced by Simple Calendar. Simple mobile apps are light apps that are open source and respect the privacy of user.
The Google Messages could be easily replaced by Simple SMS Messenger. Simple mobile apps are light apps that are open source and respect the privacy of user.
The Google Photos could be easily replaced by Simple Gallery. Simple mobile apps are light apps that are open source and respect the privacy of user.
The Google Clock could be easily replaced by Simple Clock. Simple mobile apps are light apps that are open source and respect the privacy of user.
The Google Calculator could be easily replaced by Simple Calculator. Simple mobile apps are light apps that are open source and respect the privacy of user.
There are plenty of browsers to choose from that respects your privacy. I personally use Brave, which is a privacy focused browser with integrated ad blocker. I can also recommend Firefox, which is one of the few that aren’t based on open source chromium project.