Leaving the Google ecosystem behind

For once a more personal note and not directly related to my work in performance testing. Yet it is inspired by my work in software security, which makes me probably a bit more paranoid about privacy matters than other people.

I posted on LinkedIn about my move to get my Calendar and Contacts out of the grasp of Google, which got quite a few responses. One of the responses was from an old colleague who asked the following:

Interesting. Just killed my FB account and thinking about leaving Google… Inform me about your experiences!

So, Leonard, thanks for the inspiration,  here is your answer.

Some time around May/June 2016 I killed my (personal) FB account, since it feels like nothing but a drain on your time, adds no real value other than waiting for someone to add a “like”. Yeah sure, it may seem nice that you have all of your “friends” on there and it is so wonderful to stay in touch with your great-great-uncle from the middle-of-nowhere-in-Africa. But I completely lost interest. So I closed it, deleted it and threw the username and password out of my password manager.

Basically I stopped wanting to be the product, I wanted to be a customer again. Not some pawn in a complicated psychological game of how to get me to click on as many useless commercial links of junk I do not need.

Having left Facebook behind got me thinking that Facebook is only the first step. I needed go on to stop being a product and start being a customer again. I am a very happy and dedicated Android user, used to run Cyanogen, now running LineageOS on my phone. Why those? I actually get to choose what is on there, I do not have to accept the bloatware Samsung or some other vender wants to put on it to keep track of me and lock me in their ecosystem.

I then realiezd I am fully stuck in the Google ecosystem, using their mail, calendar, contacts, play store etc. That too had to change, so I started looking into leaving the Google Ecosystem as much as possible, starting with my mail.

When I started digging into possible solutions for mail instead of Google, I decided i did not want to host stuff like that, on which my work and livelyhood depend, at home. I want some professional company to look after my mail. On top of that I decided I still wanted to ensure CIA, AIVD, Sleepwet etc cannot (easily) keep track of my mails, let alone that my hosting company can read my mails to again give me banners in my face.

I opened an account at Tutanota and one on ProtonMail to compare the interface and possibilities of these two. They are quite similar in terms of privacy, however Tutanota has the added benefit of custom domains, catch-all email addresses etc. so I went for Tutanoa. I started off immediately with a paid account, I believe that a good initiative like Tutanota or Protonmail, but also all of their competitors, should be supported. No freeloading on stuff like that for me.

I then moved all my personal correspondence to Tutanota. This started to work very well for me, their (web)client still has a few kinks to fix and new features that are badly needed, but after a year of using them I am very happy with them.  I now have 2 mail domains hosted at Tutanota, one personal and one business account. Both are paid, both are safe and both are working very very well for me.

Next up I started to try to get as much away from the Google play store as possible, since that too adds to the tracking and the concept that you are the product. Instead I try to use as much as possible, F-Droid. So far, that is less easy than I had hoped for, but my first go-to android store for the past 6 months has been F-droid.

The one thing Google of course still truly rocks at is search. I was hesitant to leave them for search, their results are generally very good. Which is of course no surprise, since they seem to know me better than my wife knows me. Moving away from google for search was a bit of a no-brainer in the end., Although I so now and again have to use Google anyway. But then I use it in a “private browsing” session. Google search was replaced by DuckDuck Go, also available for your android or ios device. DuckDuckGo is now the default search engine on my laptop as well as on my mobile devices. Sure I need to come up with better search queries so now and again, but at least they are not tracking me so badly as Google is doing.

The last thing I still had in the Google ecosystem were Contacts and Calendar. Since these are not integrated within my mail provider, I had to look for a good alternative. In the end I decided to opt for a privately hosted nextCloud instance. Privately hosted since I do not want to add more costs to hosting things and on top of that, my stellar router can easily handle my calendar and contacts behaviour. I synchronize them via a VPN connection to my home.

These last steps, calendar and contacts, I finished some 24 hours ago, I have since killed the automatic synchronization to the Google servers in my android settings and am giving it 1 week before I remove all contacts from my last google account. Once that is done I will only have 1 thing still within the Google ecosystem, that is my Google Play account for the few things I cannot get from F-Droid.

Looking back at it all, I have in the last year and a half not had any regret of closing facebook and getting google more out of my life.