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.

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!

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.

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!

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