Recently I’ve found my self de-Googling and de-Facebooking… again. It’s something find myself doing on occasion, but my changes often get rolled back because of some little thing. This time I think will be a little different. Instead of a puritanical purge of everything Google and Facebook in my life, I’ve chose a more practical approach where I use some stuff from both companies, but they’ve now got a much smaller snapshot of me and loss of a Google or Facebook account for whatever reason wouldn’t be particularly painful. There’s been times when loss of my Google account would have been devastating, but now it’d be merely annoying.
So starting with Google, the easiest thing for me to dump was Chrome. I’ve actually been on Firefox for a while so this was a freebie for me. Next was email. This was easy for me specifically because I’ve got between GMail and non-Google email a few time before. I went with Fastmail with my own domain, but there are many options out there. The first bit that needed some real effort from me was cloud storage. I’ve had Nextcloud setup for a while, but I’ve not really had it running up to “production” standards where I’d feel safe with it as my main cloud storage. The biggest issue being off site backups. I finally set that up with deja dup to backblaze b2 buckets. Now I moved on to changing things I’d paid money for, namely my Android smartphone and my Chromebook. The easiest of these was the Chromebook. I just didn’t use it much. I have a Linux desktop ann iPad in addition and I prefer to use use either of those, leaving the Chromebook in a weird in between where it’s not quite enough to use as my desktop daily driver, but also a bit too big and bulky(it’s a 15.6” model) for evening relaxation in the living room. I actually kept it and I use it for those frew time when I want to watch something on a larger screen, but not from my desk. So as far as Google knows I like to watch Netflix a couple of times a month. Replacing my Android did require an actual purchase of an iPhone(I’ve also ordered the Pinephone, but not sure how viable of a daily driver that will be when it gets here). For day to day use, I honestly can’t really tell a difference between using and iPhone or Android after a day or so of adjustment. Some people will have issues with the more locked down nature of the iPhone, but I don’t have anything I need to side load, but in the event that I did, I have access to a Mac and the developery stuff needed. Using Android without Google services is also an option if you have(or get) a phone that can accept custom ROMS, or builds of AOSP. Even using using a “Google Play” Android phone with non-Google services as much as you can might work if your going for a practical reduction of your Google foot printer rather the exorcising Google from your life for more puritanical reasons. For me switching to Apple got me off Google Maps since I mostly use it from my phone, and luckily Apple Maps seems to have improved to the point that I don’t feel like I’m really depriving myself too much. As of right now I have zero Google apps installed on my iPhone.
So where am I still using Google? YouTube is still basically in a class of its own. Content is king and while there are many sites and services that like to think themselves competitors to YouTube, they don’t have the content, or at least they don’t have the content I want for the most part. Though I will say I have looked at options to “firewall” off YouTube to a degree, such as setting up a some type of YouTube download script that will ket the videos for my subscription and rehost them locally just for me, but that’s a work in progress. For now I have YouTube installed on my iPad(only Google app there), and I use it from my desktop, which is the only place I’m logged into Google in the broswer from my personal account. That brings me to search. Google Search is often the first thing people get rid of when de-Googling, and in my own experience and talking to others it’s also the first place they start cheating. I’ve tried DuckDuckGo several time and it just doesn’t work as my main, and especially only search engine. Yes there are the “bangs” but one I start adding !g to every search, I might as well be using Google directly to save myself a couple key strokes. But since I’ve eliminated my exposure to Google by essentially dropping it everywhere else, I feel that the privacy threat is a bit lessened. For one, I’m only logged into Google on the web on my main desktop(and it’s also cordoned off with Firefox containers). My work computer is logged in with my work Google account(due to some oauth stuff) and everwhere else I run with Google logged out. I run adblockers everwhere with privacy filters to block a lot of the off-Google tracking by Google. So if anything, Google is probably getting a fractured view of me. Maybe they have some really good ML stuff that can piece me back together, but it’s worth the risk for me anyway. Overall I don’t think Google is getting a very good or full picture of me and I no longer worry about losing access to my Google account. Now that basically means I would lose access to my YouTube playlist and subscriptions.
And now, Facebook. Facebook has never had its hooks into me that much. I’ve never been a prolific Facebooker, but I did post stuff I was doing and pictures, especially on Instagram(since it’s owned by Facebook and my accounts were linked, I’m counting Facebook and Instagram as one in the same). The just sharing random shit on Facebook was an easy fix, I just stopped, though I do realize and appreciate that for some out there, it’ll be a bit tougher and more akin to stopping drinking or smoking. I went back and deleted my old posts and completely nuked my Instagram account. I unfollowed everyone just to make my newsfeed unappealing and keep me from going to Facebook out of boredem to just scroll. So why keep Facebook at all. Short answer is that for a lot of people, Facebook has basically killed other instant messageing and forums. There are several people who I can only contact via Facebook Messenger and for my local wargamming community, most of the organization happens via Facebook groups. Some of the wargaming stuff has moved to some local Discord channels, so did finally take the plunge and disable the non- messenger half of my Facebook account. Messenger is still on my phone and on my desktop browswer, but like Google, it’s in a container and it seems to be even more successfully contained via adblockers than Google.
At the end of the day, my goal is to reduce my privacy exposure to these services, without having to become a total hermit or being that guy who’s trying to get his 80 year old grandmother to use Keybase chat. That being said, I don’t fault any one who does choose purity over pragmatism. I’ve walked that path before and there are trade offs in both directions. I think I’ve chosen the tradeoffs that I’m comfortable with and I’ve hopefully lowered the “price” I’m paying to Google and Facebook for the few services I do use.1