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Breaking free of Google

Posted on 2021-11-03 20:34:41 UTC.

This post will be for those of you that care about privacy – i.e. if you want that information about you is exclusively under your control.
In that context not only Google is to blame, but actually most of the cloud services we know and use today.

Still Google will serve us as a nice placeholder as it is the market-leader when it comes to providing free services in exchange for your user-profile that Google in turn uses to sell target advertising. Even if you are fine with that, Google is also infamous for killing services – which might hit the one you rely on eventually.

As the world is moving mobile-first, a prerequisite for replacing a service is that we can easily integrate the replacement with an Android device.
Some might wonder why I chose Android here, given that it is made by Google. See, the problem is not who makes a service/ device, but who controls it. And with Android the main leverage for Google is bundling its services. If you take them away, the device itself is fully under your control – in contrast to Apple/ iOS.

Now, that we set the stage, lets start with:

Nextcloud

At the heart of our efforts will be Nextcloud. This started as an open-source alternative to Dropbox/ Google Drive, but is nowadays grown into a platform for a plethora of different services.
The main selling-point is that you can just install Nextcloud on your own machine – ensuring that your data stays private. The software being Open-Source also means that it is not under control of a single corporation – in fact Nextcloud was forked from its predecessor Owncloud after a corporation tried to put the screws on its users.

Note, that if you are serious about this, you will need to invest around 500€ to get a machine for hosting that is decently fail-safe. If you rather want to be cheap, you can also just use a RaspberryPi to get away with less than half of that amount. For inspiration, you can take a look on the built I use or on the list of commercial nextcloud device providers.

Files & Photos

By using the Nextcloud Android App, you can directly replace Google Drive/ Dropbox as this is the core functionality of Nextcloud.

Additionally, the App allows you to automatically back-up your Photos/ Videos and free the local storage so you can stop using Google Photos too.

Contacts & Calendar

Nextcloud also supports Contacts and Calendar out of the box. To integrate them with into your Android Device there is the DAVx5 app. This app will function as an additional data provider, so you can just continue using the stock Google Contacts and Calendar apps. Those will, however, stop sending any data to Google.

This is especially useful, if you run a small-business and must ensure that your customer data is private according to the CCPA/ GDPR.

Nextcloud News

An often overlooked part of your privacy is Google News (also part of Google Now). Each time you view an article there, Google can mine your interests and political views – similar to what Facebook does. And by now you should know where these things can lead.

Another drawback here is that the Google Algorithm will create a bubble for you by only showing content coherent with your current world-view.
I still prefer to manually choose the news sources – to create that bubble myself.

To do that, one usual subscribes some Web-feeds using a Feed aggregator like the Feedly service – similar to what Google Reader used to offer, before being killed by Google.

The go-to app here is Nextcloud News combined with the Android App for a pleasant mobile usage.

Music

Most of you are probably just stream music via Spotify/ Youtube Music, but keep in mind that these services merely rent the songs and as such they can arbitrarily disappear from your library.

Therefore, I like to have my own copy of the song. Unfortunately it is very inconvenient to juggle mp3s around for getting the music to various devices.

Google Play Music used to offer best of both worlds for me, where you could upload your own music files and manage your playlists in one place. Additionally, you could make the music available offline by pinning individual playlists on your device.
Unfortunately, that concept did not allow Google to arbitrarily inject ads into my music stream and therefore the service got killed as well.

Nextcloud Music to the rescue! This app picks up your music library via Nextcloud files and allows to stream that via the Browser or the Subsonic API.
This is where the Ultrasonic Android Player takes over. As with Play Music, you can either stream the library or pin individual songs/ playlists for offline use.

Other

If you clicked on the links above, you probably noticed the F-Droid alternative app store for Android.
Getting your apps there ensures that you are using verified packages and open-source software. You can easily use it alongside with the Play Store. If that is too inconvenient for you, all of the above apps are also available via the Play Store.

Finally, there is the web-browser. If you do not log in with your Google Account, using Chrome is mostly safe. However, I suggest switching to Firefox. See the my original article on that topic for details. In short; the main reason is the availability of extensions. Those allow you to block ads on the mobile web too and use Youtube in the backround.

Header Image: Digital Chains by stanjourdan (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

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