Taking Privacy Seriously: Leaving Google Behind

Recently, I made the decision to become a little more secure on the internet. I don’t have much to hide except maybe bank account info, but I was struck by a Glenn Greenwald quote from a TED Talk he gave about privacy.

Over the last 16 months, as I’ve debated this issue around the world, every single time somebody has said to me, “I don’t really worry about invasions of privacy because I don’t have anything to hide.” I always say the same thing to them. I get out a pen, I write down my email address. I say, “Here’s my email address. What I want you to do when you get home is email me the passwords to all of your email accounts, not just the nice, respectable work one in your name, but all of them, because I want to be able to just troll through what it is you’re doing online, read what I want to read and publish whatever I find interesting. After all, if you’re not a bad person, if you’re doing nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide.” Not a single person has taken me up on that offer.

I find myself tired of knowing Google is going through the content of my emails and examining my searches to sell me things.
 
 I also know our new government (not that our old was too much better) is tracking the activities of anyone who is anti-fascist. I don’t trust them to follow the laws that would otherwise keep me secure from illegal search.

So I set out to become more private and that meant leaving Google products and using encrypted, more secure alternatives.

So what I have I found? Well, I have spent the last weeks and months testing products and making decisions on what I would do.

Here is what I found.

Browser:

The first, maybe the easiest step was changing my browser away from Google’s Chrome browser. I decided to go with Firefox’s nightly builds because they seem to run faster and feel a bit more Chrome like, so the switch wouldn’t be so shocking. With Firefox account syncing options, it wasn’t hard to get my bookmarks synced across a few devices with ease.

I also installed some plugins, thanks to recommendations from PrivacyTools.io, a site you should frequent for tips on internet privacy. I am now running Ublock Origin to block ads and trackers along with Privacy Badger and HTTPS Everywhere.

Alternatively, I run Tor Browser, a Firefox fork if I want an even greater layer of privacy.

Search:

Who doesn’t use Google to find things? Sure, we all know that weird friend who uses Yahoo still, or that one guy who still owns a Zune who uses Bing, but Google has it all.

I started with the always popular DuckDuckGo, but I found I didn’t get very good search results and it seemed to load really slow for me. Thankfully, thanks to PrivacyTools, I discovered StartPage.

StartPage anonymizes your searches through Google, so you still get the quality Google results without them seeing you, and without the ads. It easily integrates right into Firefox on desktop and mobile.

VPN:

When it came to choosing a VPN, I went through many trials. I asked for recommendations and started with the most popular, Private Internet Access, but I didn’t like that they were based in the US, but also found their speeds not all that great. Next I tried NordVPN. The speeds were actually great on my iPhone, but they don’t offer a native Linux app and setting up their different servers was kind of pain.

Finally, I settled on one that was recommended a few times, Mullvad. The price is good ($5/mo), and the speeds are wonderful. I use OpenVPN on my phone, but for my laptop running Linux Mint, and for my media server at home, an old Mac, they offer a native app which makes connecting easy.

I also have a free VPN account with ProtonVPN, and another with RiseUp. These secondary options, which give me okay speeds, allow me backups if something goes wrong with Mullvad.

Communications:

While this wasn’t really part of this move, I wanted to recommend some texting, video, and voice calling apps that are amazing. I am loving Wire, a chat app that has both desktop and mobile clients. Also, the very popular Signal app.

For file sharing, I have installed OnionShare.

Email:

This was the last big piece of the puzzle. I have been on Gmail since they launched the first wave of invites. It’s a wonderful web based interface and a good mobile app. Replacing it wasn’t going to be easy. However, I do own my own domain, and figured it was time to use it.

It came down to two providers for me. ProtonMail, makers of ProtonVPN, and Tutanota. Both offer a great service and allow custom domains on their paid accounts. Proton has a much nicer web and mobile interface, but Tutanota has been showing off its beta platform and it’s looking very promising.

Here, it really came down to price for me. ProtonMail is $5/mo or $48 a year, while Tutanota is $12 a year.

Given that Tutanota is open source, and they have a pipeline of amazing products in development, I pulled the trigger and moved my email there.

So what’s left?

Well, first, here is what I am still using from Google:

Gmail: While I have switched, I have nearly a decade of stuff on Gmail and accounts that still point here and important people who have this email address. I will slowly begin to migrate them away and likely end up at the point where I just forward all my mail away from here.

Google Photos: They offer free backup of all my iPhone photos. I have more than 10,000 photos here and don’t have a solid replacement in place yet.

YouTube: I mean, I can’t escape this one.

Google+: Yeah, it’s still a thing. I use it to share articles I have written. It also improves search results for my work.

Google Authenticator: I use 2-Step Authentication for as many sites as will allow and most use this app. The only app based alternative to this is Authy, and if you look in the comments, it’s problematic.

Google Maps: Anyone have recommendations on a good replacement for this?

I also still use Facebook and Twitter which are privacy nightmares of their own.

I am also still looking for a good Google Docs replacement. I am testing out Dropbox Paper, and I use LibreOffice on Linux, but I’d like something I can use online more. The hunt continues.

What are you using? What recommendations do you have as I continue to improve my privacy journey?

Share in the comments.

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