Making my relationship with Google healthy again

I don't like being reliant on Tech Giants for my online experience. While I find it easy to stop using services, tools and hardware for some of them, escaping Google has proven to be a challenge. I've been heavily reliant on too many Google's services for too long. Here's how I fixed that.

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I don't like being reliant on Tech Giants for my online experience. While I find it easy to stop using services, tools and hardware for some of them, escaping Google has proven to be a lot more challenging. Like most people, I've been heavily reliant on so many Google's services that I have difficulties naming all of them. Here's how I fixed that.

My background

I have experience working as a sysadmin and I'm renting a pretty beefy dedicated server for a little under €30 (thanks Hetzner !). That means I can spin up pretty much any project you can run on a Linux-based server, most of which you can find on awesome-selfhosted . This provides me with a lot of leverage that other people simply can't have or couldn't afford. Still, I believe that writing this article could inspire someone to go down a similar path.

A long time ago, I relied on more Google products than I could name on top of my head. Here's some of them:

Nowadays, that list includes just a handful of products:

Luckily, I've never used Gmail for personal purposes, though the companies and NGOs I've worked for required me to do so (no way of going around that). Personally, I just use Fastmail (referral link that'll give you 10% off on the first year) and a custom domain. If I ever felt like switching my email provider, I'd just point my DNS records somewhere else.

Low-hanging fruit

First of all, I'll go through some of the alternatives that were pretty easy to find. They are close to being one-to-one replacements, requiring only adjusting to the new interface.

The Holy Grail: Nextcloud

Most of all, I'm heavily reliant on Nextcloud . While its main purpose is to offer cloud storage on an infrastructure you own, I look at it more like a Gsuite alternative. Once you start digging through its App Store , you realize that it can replace a lot more than just Google Drive:

I do almost all of my writing in Markdown. If I wasn't, I'd try out OnlyOffice or Collabora integration as an alternative to Google Docs. If you'd like to see your email from within Nextcloud, you can look into Mail , and if you rely on some feature that you can't find in Nextcloud's app store, you can use External sites to embed some third-party interface straight into your Nextcloud layout.

I currently have about 400 GB of data on my Nextcloud server. If I were to use Google Drive instead, I'd have to upgrade to the 2 TB plan, which at the moment costs $9.99 / month or $99.99 / year. Since I would still need my own server for other purposes (like running this website), that's an additional $10/month. With my current infrastructure, I have 4 TB hard drives (in a RAID1 setup), allowing me to nearly double Google Drive's 2 TB plan (some space is needed for whatever else I'm running on that server). The next available plan on Google Drive is 10 TB of storage for a whooping $99.99 per month!

All in all, Nextcloud is one of my favourite pieces of self-hosted software, and I believe I couldn't find any alternative that would be able to replace it in its entirety — on my own server or someone else's.

The difficult parts

Of course, not everything Google offers is easy to replace. I do have a Google account created with my non-Google email address. (When you try creating a new Google account, you'll notice an option named "use my current email address instead".) Using that option allows me to have a fully-functional Google account, usable across Google's services (except Gmail of course). I mostly use it because I need it for my phone to work and because it allows me to control my privacy settings across Google's properties.

I've resisted long and hard to owning a smartphone, finally caving in a few years ago. With projects like Ubuntu Touch and Firefox OS simply dying off, there's no usable alternative to iOS and Android at the moment. Out of those two, Android is a lot more open. I'm using a phone from the Android One series, which brings fast updates, a couple of years of support, and zero non-Google apps that you can't delete. F-Droid is my preferred app store, but I don't consider myself an open source purist. Therefore, the software I use is a mish-mash of apps downloaded from F-Droid and Google Play.

There are some services that Google offers that I cannot realistically replace without losing a lot of convenience as a result. Most notable of those is YouTube, which hosts a huge chunk of all video material available online. While I'm not able to stop using it completely, the type of videos I most frequently watch there are educational videos from channels such as Half as Interesting, Philosophy Tube, Joe Scott, Isaac Arthur, City Beautiful etc. Luckily, all of these creators and a bunch more offer mirrors of their content on a streaming service called Nebula , which is how I offset my reliance on YouTube. Plus I have access to some original material from established YouTube creators that are impossible to find anywhere else.

Finally, we have Google Translate that is simply irreplaceable by any other tool. If you need to translate something from any language to any other, nothing gets the job done quite as good as Google Translate. The closest you can get to is by using DeepL's Translator , but it only supports about a dozen of languages. My native language isn't one of them.

In Conclusion

All in all, I'm perfectly happy with my current relationship with Google. If they were to ban my account with no specified reason, I'd just get an iPhone and not a lot of things would change.

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Aleksandar Todorović

Published 4 years ago