Under the hood of Google: how to get rid of surveillance on the Internet - ForumDaily
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Under the hood of Google: how to get rid of surveillance on the Internet

The phrase from Orwell’s dystopia “1984” – “Big Brother is watching you” – has taken on new colors in recent years. The role of Big Brother today is played by Google and its services, which literally know about our every step. But is it possible, if not completely to get out of their control, then at least to win a little more personal space for yourself? Expert Neeraj Adhikari blogs at "Habr" shared his own experience of how to escape the surveillance of Google services.

Photo: IStock

This is not a detailed review of alternatives to Google services, explains the author, who over the past few years has been gradually trying to limit the use of Google products and services or get rid of them altogether. In some cases this is extremely difficult or even impossible. However, the list of services he presented, tested as a replacement for Google, definitely deserves attention.

Search engine DuckDuckGo

“For the last six or seven years I have used DuckDuckGo as my main search engine, and while it has its shortcomings, it has been quite adequate,” the author writes, adding that the problem with this search engine is that it is often too takes the search query literally:

“However, it has a useful feature that outweighs the disadvantages. This is a “bang” feature: if you decide that you are not satisfied with the search results and want to search on Google, you can simply add !g to the query.”

This works not only for Google, but also for many other websites such as Wikipedia, YouTube or Amazon.

Search engine Kagi

One of the advantages of this search engine is that without additional settings its results are better than those of DuckDuckGo.

“The ability to rank websites up and down based on user choice is very helpful,” continues Neeraj Adhikari. “You don’t have to wade through a lot of SEO junk to find the information you need.”

Of the minuses, it should be noted that the cheapest search engine tariff has a monthly limit of 300 search queries, and you can exhaust it in two weeks. The author outlined the second disadvantage as follows:

“I don’t think that from a privacy perspective, a service that requires a login and therefore ties everything you do to an identity is better than a service that can be used without authentication. So for now I’ll continue to use DuckDuckGo.”

On the subject: Google can track people for years, and they don't even know about it: how to disable this feature

E-mail

Here, finding a worthy replacement for Google mail is not difficult, says Niraj Adhikari. He recommends ProtonMail and FastMail. The first presents itself as a service that uses end-to-end encryption, which means confidentiality is maintained. The service integrates well with data storage, calendar, VPN and password manager, and its tariff is low. Now about the cons:

“I don't like the complexity of using third party email clients with this service. Yes, this is due to the implementation of end-to-end encryption, and I have no reason to doubt the honesty of the owners, but is not it is it end-to-end encryption unless you fully own and control the keys?”

The author began using the FastMail service in order to become the full owner of his address, including the domain name.

“Unlike Proton, FastMail doesn't make any privacy promises, but I like it for its user-friendly, clean web UI and compatibility with my favorite FOSS Android email client,” writes Neeraj Adhikari.

Photos

When Google abandoned unlimited storage, other photo storage services became quite competitive. Taking a quick look at Microsoft OneDrive, iCloud, Amazon Photos, and DropBox, they all seem well worth checking out. However, Niraj Adhikari created a self-hosted personal instance Immich.

“In just a couple of years, Immich has grown from scratch to a service with a very rich set of functions. And although it does not yet have a stable release, it is quite stable for me,” the author writes. - In addition, using the CLI tool
immich-go you can import media from Google Takeout export into Immich very easily.”

Диск

Everything is simple here: there are many file storage services with very reasonable rates.

“Personally, I initially used a Nextcloud instance, which I hosted myself. I still have some of my files on Nextcloud, but it was slow when syncing a lot of files, so I opted for a simpler solution. Now all my important files are in a directory on my home server, and when I need to access them, I simply mount the directory on my laptop using sshfs. In case I need a web interface, I have a running FileBrowser instance.

The main pitfall is that Google Drive is still convenient for remote collaboration. However, if you are not faced with the task of sharing files, it is quite possible to store them on another cloud service.

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Calendar and contacts

“The open CalDAV and CardDAV protocols make it very easy to use and switch between most calendar and contacts clients,” explains Neeraj Adhikari. — I use my NextCloud instance as a server for both services, and it works perfectly. On the client side, I use Fossify Calendar and the standard GrapheneOS contacts app with DavX5 to simplify synchronization. I recently found out that the Calendar and Contacts applications included in the Gnome Desktop Environment also support CalDAV and CardDAV, which is very cool! Now I can view or update my calendar and contacts through my phone, laptop or browser!”

There are many “cloud productivity services” that provide file storage, calendar, contacts, and email from a single account. The most popular are Microsoft Outlook
and Apple iCloud, but privacy-focused alternatives are also being developed - something like Proton's email service.

Phone

Here the author sings hymns to the GrapheneOS operating system:

“It's like Android, but with privacy and security features that greatly limit the ability of big companies to track you. Including Google itself, because GrapheneOS by default comes without the Google apps and services installed on a regular Android phone. Optionally, you can install Google Play Services, but like a regular sandboxed application, that is, Google has the same privileges as any other application on the phone, and you can choose what permissions to give it.”

Now about the problems. GrapheneOS only works on Google Pixel devices. This is because the GrapheneOS project has high security and support requirements that the device must meet. It seems that at the moment only Google Pixel gadgets answer them. If you already have a Pixel phone, then this is not a problem, the author writes. But if you don't, you'll have to decide whether you want to support Google's business by buying a device it makes, even if it means limiting Google's control over your digital life.

Another problem is that many applications will either not work or will be partially broken. The most important are banking and financial applications that simply refuse to launch. Many running applications have some functions broken: in particular, notifications will not work in many applications. However, the selection of applications will help here. For example, the author experimentally found out that the Telegram, Signal and Whatsapp applications use their own notification delivery mechanism.

“All the banks where I have accounts have mobile websites that work quite well,” shares Neeraj Adhikari. “I’m even able to book Uber rides through the mobile website, which was a pleasant surprise.” The location features don't work, but I think that has more to do with the browser than Uber itself. I tried to download as many apps as possible from F-droid (an app store for open source Android apps). For proprietary applications, I used the Aurora store, an alternative open source client for the Google Play Store. Not ideal, but better than manually downloading APKs from sites like APKPure and APKMirror.”

Can, Apple ?

“Every time I get annoyed with the GrapheneOS situation, I think about buying an iPhone, using it without Google apps, and the convenience of Apple products that 'just work',” the author shares. “But then I would be handing over control of a large part of my digital life to another big tech company, which is why I haven’t bought an iPhone yet.” Apple likes to show that it at least pretends to care about our privacy more than other tech companies, but I try to avoid relying on promises whenever possible and use open source software stacks that I can trust. So I will continue to use GrapheneOS on my Pixel (at least for the near future).”

Cards

So, what could be an alternative to Google Maps? Niraj Adhikari believes that the OpenStreetMap service is more accurate and better than Google maps. However, the latter have a client application with the same interface on different platforms. Google is convenient for getting directions; it contains information about public transport, traffic jams, company operating schedules and reviews about them. And Google has no competitors in this yet.

Video

So far, according to Niraj Adhikari, YouTube has no alternative. Content creators, viewers - they are all there. Alternative platforms are simply not known to the general public, the author explains:

“I never seriously thought about using PeerTube, because I don’t know a single creator who would upload their videos to a PeerTube instance. Nebula.tv looks promising; some of the creators I like post videos there. I have a Nebula account, but I rarely use it because most of the videos are uploaded to YouTube, and when I open Nebula, it turns out that I have already watched all the interesting videos on YouTube.”

Conclusions

Today, according to Neeraj Adhikari, it is still difficult to completely move away from Google products and services, so you have to sacrifice a lot of convenience in trying to find alternatives. Nevertheless, they exist, and the task of getting away from Google is worth it.

“If you're determined, self-hosting can provide even more freedom and privacy,” the author concludes.

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