What’s wrong with Google?
First of all it’s not just Google, there’s plenty of other massive corporations out there doing the exact same thing (Microsoft and Apple to name just two). They offer some great services but you have you ask yourself, “am I happy to give up my privacy for the sake of making my digital life a little easier?”
If you don’t appreciate companies like these snooping on your activities then you’re definitely going to want to ditch them. When we agree to their terms and conditions, we’re essentially signing our life away and saying they’re free to know every little detail about us. From tracking your location via GPS to finding out your interests based on emails and web history, it’s not an exaggeration to say Google knows far more about you than you do yourself!
Hold on, you suggested here that we switch to Android, isn’t that a Google product?!
It’s true the majority of Android phones are based around the whole Google eco-system. The Android operating system isn’t owned by Google though, they just use that system for their phones & tablets, as do Samsung, Amazon etc. The Android OS is actually a very ethical idea and is open for anyone to use, however the vast majority of phones will be setup with the intention of you signing into your Google account.
There are some great benefits of signing into a Google account, most notably all your contacts, emails, photos and accounts that are automatically backed up and can be synchronised across multiple devices. It is possible to completely de-google your phone but unless you’re tech-savvy and don’t mind losing certain functionality, it’s most likely not for you. If you’d like to know more, there’s a great article on how to completely de-google your life here.
Ditching Google the "simple" way
If you want to fully ditch Google, then kudos to you! However, you need to realise what you’d be giving up on. It’s not just the Google apps such as Gmail, Photos, Calendar etc. but many of the best Android apps rely on “Google Services”. If you enjoy playing games on your phone, there’s a good chance you’ll need to retain some of the Google apps and services pre-installed on your phone. This doesn’t mean your totally stuck with Google tracking your every move though, read the tips below on how to partially remove Google from your life…
When you buy a new Android phone, the vast majoriy of them will ask you to sign into your Google account. At this point, just create a new account which you don’t intend on using. This will allow you to use all the features Google has to offer, but any tracking they do will be linked to this new account. If you happen to use a fake name, adddress etc. then they’re not going to be getting much useful info from you.
Top Tip: Don’t use Gmail or Chrome (see steps 2 – 4), as soon as you start using this newly created account for emails and web browing, Google will start to create a profile on you. Even if you signed up with fake details, they’ll be able to retrieve your real information from the emails you receive in Gmail.
Using an existing phone: If you’ve already setup your phone, you might want to “factory reset”. This will wipe all apps and data on your phone and it will no longer be linked to your Google account. Make sure you backup any important data before doing this though, once you’ve reset, there’s no way to get back any data which was stored on your phone! If you’ve been using Gmail, your emails and contacts will remain available (via the gmail website) even if you factory reset. Similarly, your photos should be backed up on Google Photos, but login via the website and double check they’re all there before performing a factory reset.
Different phones have different methods for performing a factory reset, you’ll have to do a web search to find out how to do one on your device. Using your search engine of choice, just type in “<your phone make & model> factory reset” and you should get some useful links with instructions, it’s generally just a couple of button presses somewhere in the settings menu.
Most users will either use Google Chrome or Google Search for their web browsing. It’s understandable why you’d go for these browsers, as most Android phones are setup by default to pre-install these and they encourage you to use them. What they don’t tell you is, by using these you’ll be handing over all your browsing history and personal data to Google so they can target you with marketing (and possibly use it for other nefarious purposes!).
We suggest installing a privacy-focused browser, our top 2 current favourites are listed below. We’ve also added our previous top favourite in this list but it’s made it’s way down to number 3, if you read the notes below you’ll realise why!
- Brave is a privacy-focused browser which is capable of blocking trackers and unnecessary ads while enabling anonymous browsing using Tor.
- Firefox can block more than 2000 trackers and its default private browsing mode deletes your history and cookies automatically after you close all windows. It can also sync your passwords, tabs, history and bookmarks across devices.
- DuckDuckGo (supposedly) pride themselves on privacy, they don’t track you or share your information with advertisers. This used to be our number one recommendation but it recently transpired that they done a deal with Microsoft. The deal means Microsoft trackers have access through the app, do you really want Bill Gates to have access to your data? Probably not!
Google used to be a great search engine but nowadays not only does it track all your internet searches but the results are very much censored and controlled. You only get to see the results they want you to see (they promote the sites who pay for advertising).
Our current favourite is searx.org, they use a variety of providers to get their results, which means you’ll get far less censorship and will see more results than you’ll find Google. You’ll find an option to change your default search engine in the settings of your web browser. If you’re using Brave as your browser, just type searx.org in the address bar and press the search button, the website will then load. If you now go to your settings, you’ll see the option to set searx.org as your default search engine is available.
If you like the Google search engine, DuckDuckGo is essentially the same as Google but they block most trackers. We don’t necessarily recommend their app due to the fact they allow Microsoft to track you, but the search engine is quite good. If you want to set this as your default search engine, DuckDuckGo is usually one of the default options available in the settings menu.
Rather than using your Google, Microsoft or Apple email accounts, consider using one of the other alternatives out there which offer encrypted email. As mentioned in the email section, you’ll want to setup a new email account anyway so why not setup two new ones? You can have one for your personal day to day email and use the other just for registering social media accounts. ProtonMail and Tutanota are both great options and offer free plans.
The biggest drawback of using an alternative email service is that your contacts won’t be synchronised. You can import your existing Gmail contacts into your new email account fine, you can also import them into your phone’s phonebook, but unfortunately any contacts you add in future won’t be synchronised. What this means is, if you add a new contact to your phone, it won’t automatically be backed up in your email account like you get with Gmail, so if you lose your phone you’ll also lose that contact. Of course you can always go into your email account and manually add the new contact in there, it’s an annoying extra step but it means if you lose your phone, then at least you won’t lose that contact.