How to live without Google?

I left Facebook long time ago. I was a pretty early adopter but after it swallowed roughly 2 hours (I was managing a photography group with 18K members at the time) of my time on a daily basis I made the hard decision and left it. At first it wasn’t easy. I missed social occasions that were only announced there. I missed getting feedbacks and comments. I lost contact with some distant friends and had difficulty convincing the rest to meet in real world. It seemed like everyone was busy. I know I was busy when social media satisfied almost all my social needs.

When the news Cambridge Analytica broke out I was surprised by no means. Being a web developer I knew how powerful this technology is. I was just wondering why is it such a big deal? And why did it take so long?

Now some people have started closing their Facebook accounts. It’ll be hard, but the pain lasts only a few weeks. Don’t forget to close Instagram and WhatsApp if you use them too (same company)! I wholeheartedly believe when Facebook says “there are others”:

Lately there has been an email circulating at Google where its employees ask the CEO to pull out of a defence program where AI is being weaponised.

This made me think: maybe it is time to quit Google. Can someone even quit Google? Let me explain my situation:

  1. First the obvious one: like most people I am quite accustomed to “googling” stuff on the internet. Being a web programmer I spend more time on the internet and I “google” for almost every programming issue or curiosity. Google search has learned a lot about my world so when I search “rest”, it shows me articles about “Representational state transfer” rather than some vacation ad. I’ve learned to be cool with it. The benefits of having a quick and relevant result to my queries worth sharing that data with Google.
  2. Like any other smart web developer, I use Google Chrome a lot! It is the browser with the best developer tooling. Some lazy devs don’t even bother to test their code in other browsers (me included) so the end users have to have a Chrome browser handy even if it’s not their default browser. Chrome knows my passwords and addresses and credit card number because I chose to trust Google and in return get auto-fill feature for those tedious repetitive forms on various internet sites.
  3. I use Google Keyboard on my Android phone because it’s smarter than the default one. This means I trust Google with my every keystroke.
  4. I have two Android phones: one for my job, one for personal use. My personal phone has location history in the past 4 years — Google knows where I’ve been across the globe and when. I use my phone to take photos which automatically get “backed up” to Google Drive. I guess it’s another fair compromise. If my phone gets stolen, I know that Google has a copy for me.
  5. I have a Google home in my kitchen which is constantly listening to pick up when I summon it saying “OK Google”. The device itself doesn’t have much processing power as it is based on Chromecast hardware so it sends my queries (even the simplest ones like “how’s the weather”) to Google. So Google can hear me. I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist here but it’s enough to say that Google home is so personalized that I can ask it “who am I?” or “How old I am?” and it knows who is asking. If I ask it “what is my daughter’s name?” it replies “I don’t know, what is her name?” the first time and then can answer me the next time I ask. So it remembers and learns.
  6. I use Chromecat to make my 5 year old TV shine like the smartest new ones. I mostly use it to watch Netflix and TED but when I’m not watching, Google shows some nice screenshots which explains why the device is consuming bandwidth according to my router even when not used.
  7. Google has this nice DNS ip that I use as a secondary DNS address for my devices: 8.8.8.8! It is supposed to be faster than the DNS that my ISP assigns me and who doesn’t like speed? I have faith that Google doesn’t store all my DNS queries. Faith is a good thing in a world where we’re surrounded by technology and bots!
  8. I bought a Chromebook for the kids. Chromebook is basically a Chrome browser running on hardware (on top of Linux) and one of its main use cases is education sector. So I figured why wait till they go to school? Let’s prepare them.
  9. I keep my shopping list and a bunch of other stuff that I may forget (including my Todo list) in Google keep. So Google knows what I’m up to.
  10. I’m a pretty loyal Google Calendar user as well, specially with its nice integration with GMail which reads my emails and adds relevant info (like flight booking) automatically to my calendar. In fact any any given day, there’s a good chance that Google can pinpoint exactly where I’m gonna be and when and with who. GMail has a pretty decent storage so I haven’t bothered to clean up my archive since 2006!
  11. Pretty much every company I’ve worked for since 2013 is using Goolge Suit which is GMail, Calendar, Google Docs, Slides, Spreadsheets, etc. for businesses. It is really nice and looks familiar. Collaborated editing is nice and everything just works! I guess they have nice pricing too which makes it desirable for businesses to want to use Google’s SaaS solution rather than managing their own.
  12. I use Google Authenticator app to generate one time passwords for 2 factor authentication. The very fact that I trust a Google app as my 2FA provider says how much I trust the company! But to be honest the other sites make it so easy by putting a link to Google Authenticator in their 2FA page.
  13. I use my Google Signin to login to Stackoverflow and a few other services. Wherever I have the option to create an account I usually go for creating a new one rather than linking it to my already-existing Google Account. This is probably not better than using Google Signin anyway because I use my GMail account when registering an account.
  14. Oh and I use GMail! It is so convenient that the “non-google” email I have is also connected to it via IMAP so I get one mailbox with all my emails. If someone sends me an email, their email ends up in GMail anyway but that shouldn’t be a problem because many companies are already using Google suit even if their email addresses don’t end up in @ gmail.com!

The list can go on. I don’t have Google Nest to control the temperature at my home and I don’t have any of their wifi access points. I don’t have Googlecast Audio either. Nor do I use Google Music (a Spotify rival) to listen to music. But all of these are pretty popular as well. In fact there’s a whole bunch of Google products that I don’t use!

https://youtu.be/SrsCEbi5N7Y

Update: here’s a Gizmodo staff trying to quit Google.

The main reason Google has embedded itself into our lives so deeply is because:

  • They make good products: they are fast, user friendly and do the job pretty well. Their products often stroke a sweet spot between what is possible and what the people want. It usually doesn’t take too long for a high demand feature request to be delivered.
  • They know how to make the developers happy: from Chrome to Google sign in and from Android to YouTube API, Google knows how to attract developers. This contributes to creating an ecosystem that depends more and more on Google.
  • Holding the gateway to the internet, they have a pretty good chance of directing the users towards their product. For example if you search for a particular topic, there’s a good chance YouTube will show up. The perception of YouTube being a top player, leads to more content being available on the platform, hence a positive feedback loop.
  • They are innovative: who would think distributing internet using baloons is a good idea? Who would guess a notebook that only runs a browser (Google Chrome) will dominate the education industry? And that little tiny Chromecast can transfer any TV with an HDMI port to a smart TV. The list goes on… Having the big bucks and a great brand Google has managed to attract some of the best brains in the industry. What happens when you put great people together and get out of their way?
  • And last but not least, Google is not just 70,000+ people. It exploits an army of robots too, each of which is at least as good as a human on the specific task they are doing! Google is one of the pioneers of using AI in their product. The bots work almost for free, but create a huge added value. This is like digital slavery but without the ethical dimension. That is one of the keys to their success. For example the bots get you engaged with Google products. See this video fun an interesting illustration how this works.

I’ve been thinking really hard about how can I remove Google from my life and I can’t! I mean it’s not as simple as closing my Fabook account!

The scary part is that Goolge knows MUCH MUCH more about me than Facebook could possibly know.

Sure I can use duckduckgo for my search needs (assuming it gives me equally good and customised results), I can use Firefox instead of Chrome (BTW Google is a main contributor to Mozilla), I can use iPhone instead of Android (I really don’t like Apple’s closed-source religious ecosystem), I can use Alexa (it’s debatable which one is the lesser evil) or I can totally stop using Google Home. Calendar stuff can go to a good old wall calendar but I’ll miss the benefit of having it everywhere in my phone. I guess there’s an alternative for Google map that’s equally good, but since nothing comes even close to YouTube, I guess I’ll use VPN in some incognito mode and just live with the fact that customised video playlist and subscriptions are not for me! Replacing GMail is easy. For example Fastmail promises a more secure solution. I guess I can deal with a couple of extra spam mails per day due to non-sophisticated spam detection AI of other email providers. Google keep is an easy one to replace! I’ll just go back to pen and paper but I’ll have to deal with the problems I used to have with that system (not being able to search my paper notes or sort my Todo list).

To be fair, Google has put the extra effort to transparently share what it knows about you. Many other services don’t bother. I’m sure there is a rival service to everything Google offers albeit with a bit less quality and possibly more cost. In fact I tried running my own cloud using a Synology Diskstation (very good products by the way, highly recommended) but the Google alternative is just so damn convenient. Besides the alternative of running from Google to some other giant American company doesn’t solve the real problem that the companies are governed by the laws of the countries they operate in (plus their home country).

Sorry to disappoint you but I don’t have the magic bullet. Leaving Google is gonna change my life in ways that I’m not comfortable. You may think I’m just an stupid lazy person but I challenge you to try it for yourself. It is possible to leave Google but in the end, does it worth it? I mean the company has don’t be evil as its motto! I guess I’ll just live a happy pig for now! 🐖But I’m wondering if any brave pig has ever thought about leaving the comfort of farm and living in the wild with all its risk (finding your own food, dangers of being hunted, etc.) but then came back to the farm to live a “happy” life until the time of slaughter (which also happens to be during their best age in case of pigs).

A colleague wisely put it as “leaving Google is like leaving the internet”. It is indeed true because Goolge owns part of the physical fiber networks backbone that connects the continents to each other. There’s a whole Google infrastructure that drives our internet activity even when not directly using Google products. Google Station aims to connect people to the internet around the world.

You can see all your Google activity here.

Side note: I’m not actually that naive. I’m still looking for practical ways to leave Google and my Synology box is the closest I’ve come to a solution. I’m not advertising for them but something like a personal NAS that supports packages goes a long way. Their rival QNAP is also interesting. Try not to Google them for fun!

Liked what you read? Share & follow me to stay up to date with the latest essays.

Knowledge Worker, MSc Systems Engineering, Tech Lead, Web Developer