Breaking Up With Google

Sep 10, 2020 • Extra Ordinary



Mark my words: I am going to rid myself of all my personal Google accounts. As an advocate for digital privacy, I intend to walk the walk as much as I talk the talk.

Why? Google is a data company, not a services company. The difference is where their money comes from: services companies monetize use of their software. Google’s consumer services are free to use. While it’s true they make money from licensing its software to businesses and enterprise users, this is not even close to profitable enough to support their entire business model—the biggest slice of their revenue pie is and always has been monetizing use of your data to advertisers. Why should I care? This itself deserves its own write-up, so I will instead leave you with this for now and move on.

This is my game plan for how I will replace the services I use.

Gmail

This is the biggest example of ‘easier-said-than-done’. The solution is simple and obvious: just get another email service; there are plenty. Actually making the move is a little more complicated. I’ve had the same personal email address for 14 years. It’s the address upon which almost every service I use is listed as the primary point of contact. It’s the address all my friends and family have.

The replacement is not going to be another lesser-of-two-evils free email service that will snoop just as much as Gmail does (Yahoo, AOL, etc.). I’m going to create email addresses using this domain, @dgriffinjones.com, hosted by Runbox1. I considered hosting my own email server because I would not be limited in storage space, I could create as many email addresses as I desire with no additional cost and I can be reasonably certain I will not sell my own user data to third-party advertising companies—until I pictured a nightmare Catch-22 scenario wherein my hacked-together self-hosted system stops working and I would be unable to sign into or authenticate any accounts to resolve the problem without a functioning email address. It seems going with a third party service is a necessary evil for security’s sake and as far as I can tell, Runbox is not an especially evil company.

In order to transfer every online service I have ever signed up for with my Gmail account I will take a long trip down Keychain Access, my password manager, sign into all of them one-by-one and switch the primary email to my new one. I will still have to keep my Gmail account for a little while before I can comfortably close the account. If there is some online service that isn’t listed in Keychain Access, how would I know to change it? If I close my account and find out later that one of these has slipped under the radar, I may just have to cut my losses.

I hope that I can comfortably close my Gmail account by this same time in 2021.

YouTube

I use YouTube unlike most people, but here that is to my advantage. I have the subscriptions page bookmarked so that I see what the creators I follow post and nothing else. I don’t go to the Home page to browse the algorithmically chosen content unless I run out of subscriptions when I’m really, really bored.

The internet has had a solution to this specific problem for years: RSS. YouTube actually has a built-in method for converting your subscriptions to RSS2. This feature is only available through the old subscription manager, not the new one, which makes me think this feature may be deprecated soon. If you are at all interested in this, you should do it while you can. I will import my subscriptions to a folder on NetNewsWire, my RSS reader of choice, and use it as a way of staying up to date on the creators I follow without a Google account. NetNewsWire will give me a linear list of all the published videos from the creators I would be subscribed to that will open in Safari or the YouTube app.

On my Mac I’ll use YouTube signed out through Safari. On my iPhone, I’ll uninstall and reinstall the YouTube app to clear all the user data3. I’ll use a VPN too for good measure.

Drive

Google Drive is perhaps the hardest service to replace. I can convert all of my Google Docs, Sheets and Slides documents into Pages, Numbers and Keynote documents on iCloud Drive, but I have a lot of personal projects shared with my friends and family that don’t use any of the alternative file sharing services. I honestly don’t have a solution for this one yet. If I write back here in a year about how I haven’t been able to cut all the cords, I bet it’ll be because of Google Drive.

Chrome

I haven’t used Google Chrome as my everyday web browser for many years, but occasionally there comes a website which renders better in Chrome than Safari. I have been using Microsoft Edge in its place to fulfill this niche purpose. Edge and Chrome share the same Chromium code base, which uses the same Blink rendering engine, so websites should look exactly the same in Edge as they do Chrome4. This should be the easiest transition to accomplish considering I made it months ago when Edge was made available5.

Grab Bag

Follow-up

After I migrate my accounts and live under the new system for a while I’ll write a follow-up post letting you know how it works out and whether I recommend this. Add www.dgriffinjones.com to your RSS reader or follow me on Twitter to stay up to date.

Footnotes

  1. This may merit its own article in the future. I am going with Runbox for having the least outrageous storage plan pricing, end-to-end encryption, long company history and support for IMAP.
  2. Go to this Subscription Manager page, scroll down to Export Subscriptions and import this file into an RSS reader like NetNewsWire.
  3. While I prefer using the native iOS video player as seen in Safari, the video quality is limited to 720p. This is unacceptable.
  4. Theoretically this should also be the case for Safari since Blink is itself based on Safari’s WebKit, but they have gone their separate ways as Google continues to add more Chrome-exclusive features outside the web standards.
  5. I would have liked to link to a memorable strip of Sherman’s Lagoon where the punchline that the best way to feel accomplished when writing a to-do list is to write down something you’ve already done and immediately cross it off. Alas, Sherman’s Lagoon does not have a searchable index of all their historical comics.

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