Becoming Less Reliant on Google: Location, Browser, Search
One of my new year’s resolutions is to be less reliant on Google by this time next year. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, I’m sure many others do as well once we realize what’s involved and why those services are free. However it requires time, maybe in some cases money, and most of all a loss of functionality because there’s no denying Google builds great stuff. In the end I’m generally just complacent and end up accempting the warm embrace of slick free services harvesting every possible detail about me to power advertising.
This year however I hope to improve this, not eliminate use of anything from Google, but use less.
I use an Android phone, it’s great having directions, ETA and traffic warnings in the car. However I have no idea why I have this on all the time. It’s a simple toggle in the settings dropdown, very easy to turn off and on as needed, great for battery life when it’s off. I’ve started shutting this off by default now and only enabling if I have some specific reason to. I’m not 100% positive it eliminates all Google location tracking but I’m positive it eliminates some and it’s an easy win and I have no idea why I wasn’t using it previously.
It’s also possible to disable a lot of things directly on your Google account in a web browser via “Manage Your Google Account”.
This will play into several solutions I want to pursue so I’ll just make the point here separately: use Firefox.
Everywhere. Desktop, Android, iOS.
Yes, Chrome is probably a little faster for some things (particularly Google services, and therein lies the problem), and web developers probably have more ammunition for why you should or shouldn’t use Chrome. From my perspective however, Google has too much control of the web as is, let alone giving them the actual browser you use to interact with it.
I’ve been a Firefox user pretty much since it’s inception. Mozilla has tirelessly improved it by leaps and bounds in recent years. It’s incredibly fast now, feature rich, open source, privacy and open standards focused, and just a joy to use. I have immense respect for Mozilla and it’s a great shame that so many people just default to Chrome today when such a great alternative is available.
Firefox gets you Sync, encrypted sharing of all your bookmarks, history and passwords across devices, Mozilla has no access to that data. (Chrome does have something similar I believe, if you set it up correctly) There’s also the AwesomeBar, just start typing what you’re interseted into the location bar to search your bookmarks, history, or the web.
I tap a lot of search queries into that little search bar on my phone and looking through what’s in there, it’s not always information I’m comfortable with Google or advertisers having.
In the context of search, I simply added a Firefox search widget on my phone next to the Google one, and set my browser to use DuckDuckGo, a privacy focused search engine that doesn’t store any information about you or your search habits.
Certainly the search results are not always the same calibre as Google’s, but it’s fine for about 95% of what I need and easy to fall back to Google if needed.
These simple changes are a start. Over the course of the year I want to investigate getting off Keep, Gmail, Calendar, and the real kicker, Photos. Damn I love Google Photos.
I want to investigate doing this by self-hosting as much as possible, open source projects running either on a RaspberryPi in the basement or a $5-20 cloud server. I’m interested in how a suite of these solutions could be packaged together for one click install, unified auth, backed by Docker or perhaps Kuberenetes. I think it would make an interesting project.