Do you have a Google account (or more) logged into your Android? Do you have your Gmail linked to every service that you use on the internet? Do you sync all your browser and search history to Chrome for easy access across devices? Until a few months ago, I was one of you. Well not entirely; I never logged into Chrome for starters. I did not use Google Photos and had my Web & App activity, Location history, YouTube history paused for more than four years. Gmail was my primary email and I received emails about things that I purchased on Amazon, about the payments that I made via Google Pay, about the food that I ordered via Zomato, about the places that I went in an Uber, and the list goes on. Think of it like, my fellow techies at Google knew more about me than my own parents and most of my friends.
Now a question might arise, “So what?” Frankly, I do not have an answer for you. If “collecting anonymous data to improve user experience” is the goal, then why do you need to tie it all to our personal accounts? They might tell you that all data collecting initiatives are ‘Opt-In’; when you all must have realized by now that it is more like a payment to use their services. YES, you have been paying with your personal data, if not money. Google has so much data about you that, if it was possible to make an exact AI clone of you fed with all that data they’ve collected over the years, you could have an existential crisis. I decided to do something about it as I did not want to remain a puppet for them anymore. The trend has been set as if Email means Gmail alone, so I started by looking for email alternatives. After trying one to few providers, I settled with RiseUp‘s email service. They have been around since 1999 as an organization that stays afloat entirely from donations from people and other organizations that care about their data privacy. They do not have a proprietary email app and can be used with any email client. Then came the harder part, changing the registered email in all the services that I had signed up for. I soon realized that I had more than 50 services linked with my Gmail. One by one, I replaced all of them. Some with my main email from RiseUp and others with aliases (a very cool feature) from RiseUp.
I use a rooted android .i.e. an android with Super User privileges. I’ve been doing it for years now. So, it was pretty easy to purge all the apps linked to Google from my phone. Yes, I removed YouTube, Chrome, Drive and PlayStore too. Now where do I find alternatives? I did my research and with helpful advice from one of my friends (he doesn’t like being called out on public forums), I came across amazing Open Source alternatives. I had never even heard of these applications earlier as Google had everything under control, literally. For people who don’t know what Open Source is, they are applications or services with nothing to hide. Their codes are available on public repositories like GitHub for personal and commercial use. People from all over the world can verify it and notify the rest of us if there is anything alarming about it, while that is not something we can say about anything linked to Google.
I found FDroid and Aurora Store as replacements for PlayStore, NewPipe and Invidious as a replacement for YouTube, Firefox Fennec instead of Chrome, FairEmail as my primary email client and Orgzly as a replacement for Google Keep. Over the next few days, I had removed my Google Account from the phone settings. They’ve made us believe this lie that we cannot use android properly without a Google account. When the reality is that, they want to collect data about what apps we download and even what documents we work on. This explains why PlayStore and Docs, Sheets, Slides won’t work without an account; I replaced them with Libre Office. As for Maps and GBoard, they run without an account on the phone. I got MicroG to work for me so that I can still use Maps without worrying about being tracked and I cut off the internet supply to my GBoard via settings. Really, your keyboard doesn’t need to record everything that you type into your phone.
I separated my finances away from GPay by using standalone apps from the respective banks. Though I’ll miss the ‘Better luck next time’ scratch cards; what an amazing scheme to get everyone to use GPay and have all the bank details at one place! I then went over to MyAccount and deleted all remaining data, although deep down I know that nothing got deleted from their end. For an alternative to GDrive, I took help from a friend who has his personal server with a self hosted cloud service. Recently, I got a virtual private server from Contabo and hosted Nextcloud myself; and have been using it without any problems. For an alternative to Google Search, I started using SearX, another open source project with heavy customization. Now I’ve self-hosted SearX too. It has been over four months, since I last entered anything into a Google Search Bar. De-googling my life was a big step and let me say, I have been at peace after that.