Written by David Balaban
Google is rapidly expanding its reach and becoming more influential in the online ecosystem. Long gone are the days when people would share links to the new ad-free search engine with the exotic name google.com, and invites to Gmail were truly precious. Things are entirely different nowadays. As time went by, Google has matured and adopted a new business model.
Researchers are convinced that Google’s business model revolves around corporate surveillance. Period. What they do is deploy mass surveillance under the guise of handy, free, fancy, cutting-edge applications that harvest all of your data behind your back. It’s your information that helps Google dominate the global online advertising industry.
In this paradigm, you are the product.
Analysts emphasize that Google tracks user activity in order to build a profile of everyone. This profile is further monetized in a variety of ways, even if you aren’t logged into your Google account. Here’s how the tracking is implemented:
- Via Google AdSense (all those irritating banner adverts displayed on numerous websites also monitor your activity)
- Via YouTube as well as other platforms and products owned by Google
- Via websites that leverage Google Analytics (most websites use it, by the way)
All the information that Google harvests about users is typically monetized by means of targeted advertising. It’s common knowledge that the company has grown into the world’s largest advertising entity. It can also provide your sensitive data to government agencies upon appropriate requests.
Under the circumstances, it might make sense to do the following:
- Delete your Google account along with all the collected data.
- Refrain from using Google’s products and switch to alternatives.
- Use effective online privacy protection tools, including the right web browser, anti-tracking extensions, and a reliable VPN solution.
If you are parting with Google’s services altogether, here is a worthwhile compilation of alternatives.
Substitutes for Google Search
The following search engines focus on safeguarding user privacy. Unlike Google, they don’t record your IP address, search history, user-agent data and unique ID in cookies.
- Searx: a universal private search engine
- Qwant: a private search engine with French origin
- Metager: a German private search engine
- DuckDuckGo: a good substitute for Google Search, which does not track or store your personal information
- StartPage: essentially, it’s the same as Google Search, except that it doesn’t apply tracking
Substitutes for Gmail
From a privacy perspective, Gmail is one of the worst services imaginable. It stores all of your sensitive information and indexes it, not to mention that it also collects data about your contacts. Once you have logged into Gmail, Google can start tracking your activity on all websites that use Google Analytics.
- Mailfence: a Belgian service, provides 500 MB of free space
- Tutanota: a German email provider, 1GB of free space
- org: based in Germany, delivers 2 GB of free space
- Protonmail: a Swiss service, provides 500 MB free of charge
Substitutes for Chrome
- Tor browser (its functionality is being gradually integrated into Firefox as part of the Fusion project)
- Brave browser
Substitutes for Google Drive
Substitutes for YouTube
Unfortunately, there aren’t many alternatives to Google’s multimedia service. Here are a few:
Hooktube is, essentially, a YouTube proxy that allows you to view blocked videos, download them and circumvent various censorship restrictions. And, of course, by using it you can rest assured Google doesn’t obtain your personal data.
In order to use Hooktube, all you need to do is replace the “youtube” part with “hooktube” in an arbitrary YouTube URL.
Substitutes for Google Analytics
Substitutes for Google Maps
The best choice for a PC is OpenStreetMap.
When it comes to mobile devices, there are several options to choose from:
- Maps (F-Droid): a service leveraging OpenStreetMap offline maps data
- HERE WeGo
- Me: this app does harvest some personal data, though
Substitutes for Google Play Store
Perhaps the perfect match for those who seek to abandon Google Play is F-Droid. It is a catalog of open source apps where you can download an APK file of the Yalp application catalog, and from there, download APKs for all apps available in Google Play Store.
Substitutes for Google Calendar
The bottom line
It’s worth emphasizing that Google and other major data aggregates aren’t the only entities harvesting your personal data. Internet service providers (ISPs) collect and sell it to third parties, whereas government agencies do it for surveillance. That’s why it is strongly recommended to use VPN services and other tools tasked with keeping the newest malware at bay and protecting users’ online privacy.