Sometime in 2019, this article listing all the alternatives to Google products came to me over the wires. Ok it was probably Twitter. In a world of increasing surveillance, data mining, targeted advertising, and cookie pop-ups, I made it my mission to get off of Google products completely. Here's what I was able to do, why I went with the alternatives I did, and which Google products I'm still stuck on three years later.
What I was able to switch
This was the most straightforward one to switch. I'd already seen several colleagues turn to Duck Duck Go. I went through each of my browsers on my work machine, personal machine, and iPhone to point there instead.
In the first few weeks, if a search didn't return the perfect result in the first three listings, I'd find myself turning back to Google.com. Now I only end up on Google when I'm literally looking at a page that gives me zero results and I want to make sure the whole internet has nothing on the topic.
This too was a straightforward one for me. The hosting service I use for elizabethzagroba.com, Dreamhost, came recommended by my friend Sahar Baharloo and already included email as part of the services for my website. I'd set up firstname.lastname@example.org in 2011, but finally started switching my logins for my accounts to be connected to it. Switching all my accounts (and discovering which truly could not be switched) was the biggest part of this whole endeavor.
A couple friends recommended the privacy and security of ProtonMail. The email addresses I wanted had already been claimed, and their calendar feature wasn't available at the time. If you're looking to switch, try Proton first.
I'd set my default to Firefox at work already. When everybody else uses Chrome, you catch more bugs in Firefox.
The article made me discover Brave browser, which I started using for personal stuff. I settled on Brave for my desktop machines and the Duck Duck Go browser for iOS. I'm not entirely sure why I chose those; I think it was just a successful first experiment.
I was able to switch to Authy for almost everything. I believe I chose it because it was listed first alphabetically in the article. The LastPass account I use at work won't let me use anything except Google Authenticator for reasons I cannot explain, so I do still have that app on my phone with that one account.
I got everything I'd created off of Google Drive: deleting most of it, moving some of it to my personal machine, and put a few precious things into Dropbox and Dropmark where I already had accounts.
Using my work (Outlook) calendar for during-the-weekday events and my personal physical calendar notebook worked great before the pandemic. Now I've got a mix of in-person things and video calls as part of my personal schedule.
All of the suggested digital calendar alternatives cost money and came tied to an email address, which I didn't want to switch again. I end up using a combination of archived emails for video chat links and writing on paper when the appointment is. It doesn't feel "optimized" or "automatic" in any way, but the physical act of having to flip the pages in my notebook and write the event down helps me not to forget it.
I don't have the need to host video myself. I switched the video links on my website to point to Invidio.us instead of YouTube.com for my conference talks. I do find myself still using YouTube for exercise videos (thanks pandemic!) or when someone shares something on Twitter.
This is one of the ones I was most excited to discover. DeepL and Linguee, built by the same company, are for full-text translations and single-word dictionary lookups respectively. The quality of the translations is SO MUCH BETTER than Google Translate. The thought of no longer sending the sensitive information I receive in Dutch (tax letters, doctor results, immigration exams) to Google either through my Gmail or Google Translate feels great.
DeepL on desktop has a keyboard shortcut integration, so hitting Command + C twice (instead of the once you'd use for copying) opens the application and pastes what you've selected into the translator. Looking up individual words in Linguee gives you Wikipedia examples where the word is used in a sentence, so you can also see if it's part of a colloquial phrase or which preposition it's used with. Thanks to my friend Marine Boudeau for originally pointing me to these.
I added Clicky analytics to my website. This is another one I tried and stuck with because it was first in the list. I don't pay them, so the data's forgotten after 30 days and I have to login every couple of months to keep the account alive. I try not to think about how unpopular my website is honestly, but when something blows up on Twitter, I like being able to see all the different countries my website visitors are coming from.
I had been using Google Fonts on my website. Switching to Font Squirrel required choosing new fonts to use and hosting the fonts myself (a.k.a. putting them in a folder and using relative links instead of absolute ones). This was probably the most trivial thing to switch over.
What I wasn't using in the first place
I wasn't downloading an video games from Google Play, using the Android OS for my phone, instant messanging with GChat/Hangouts, or using Google Domains for hosting. Nor shall I be!
What I haven't switched
There are a few things I haven't switched, either because it's too much trouble when trying to live in a society with other people, or because I haven't given the alternatives a fair shake.
This is the big one. I spent a few weeks trying HereWeGo as an alternative to Google Maps. It was so bad that I decided to use it instead as an exploratory testing exercise. I need bike directions combined with landmarks, and I haven't found another map that combines them as well as Google does. Please tweet me what you're using instead if you've gotten used to something else. I'd be very interested to try again.
Docs, Sheets, Forms
People will read a document you send as a Dropbox Paper document, as an attachment, or in some other uncollaborative format. But convincing someone they need to set up an account at a different service just because you don't want to use Google is a step beyond what societal conventions will allow at this point.
Typeform makes more beautiful forms, but viewing the responses still puts you back in a Google Sheet. Some submissions will only accept Google Docs. These are not fights I can win, so I've stopped fighting.
Particular calendar features
If I want to schedule a call with my friends, where they can edit the invitation, I'm stuck sending a Google Calendar invitation from my Gmail. Accepting a Google Calendar invitation sent to email@example.com in the browser where I'm logged in to my Gmail gives me a 400 error. A calendar notebook plus saved emails has worked surprisingly well for relatively low volume of personal appointments I have.
Google Play is where, with my American credit card, I can rent movies that aren't available on Netflix. It feels better than giving money to Amazon, but I also haven't looked that hard for other options of how to rent individual titles without a subscription.
That's my Google situation.
That doesn't absolve me of all the other corporations stalking me and ruining the world. I've quit Facebook but not Instagram. I've limited my Amazon purchases to Christmas gifts to family members I couldn't find another way to ship, and moved off Goodreads to the vastly superior recommendations and statistics of The StoryGraph. But the websites I get paid to work on are hosted through AWS. I'm still tied into Apple for hardware, Photos, my desktop email client, Preview, and Keynote. I'm mooching of a shared Netflix account until Netflix finally puts the kibosh on that. I've had to lower my expectations for my ability to escape these companies and remain an online professional.
What I can do is afford to pay for email and web hosting. If my translation and analytics services stopped having free options, I'd likely pay for those too. Something I didn't expect in moving off Google products: it feels good to pay their competitors so they can survive. Every little bit helps.