Recently I've spent some time changing my habits and changing the online services that I use so that I am less dependent on Google to participate in the internet. I've written before that advertising as we know it is not actually advertising but surveillance. Since Google's business model is inextricably connected to modern advertising (A.K.A. surveillance marketing I felt it was time to start distancing myself from its products and services.
Side note: recently duck.com was acquired by DuckDuckGo. I hope there is a plan for them to rebrand as simply "Duck" because if I recommend the search engine to someone who is not as embedded in the internet as I am (nerd), they often won't use the service based on the name alone.
Anyways – surprisingly, of all the changes I made, switching search engines was probably the easiest. Moving to use a different search engine is as simple as changing your habits to navigate to a different webpage. Truthfully, I have tried DuckDuckGo several times over the past few years and always fell back to my old habits of using Google after just a few weeks or months. Now, with my last attempt, it's been at least 6 months and I can say I'm very happy for the most part. Occasionally I will use Google if I'm up against an obscure search term, but DuckDuckGo makes this pretty easy.
I'm not sure if DuckDuckGo has been drastically improving over the last few years or if my repulsion to Google has been growing but I can say I'm quite happy using DuckDuckGo as my primary search engine and that I have no major gripes with it.
Besides search, my largest attachment to Google I have is through email – and I have been using Gmail for a very long time. While Gmail has been reliable, the fact is that the business model is rooted in advertising and surveillance. It is well known that convenience is more attractive than privacy, but how far should companies be allowed to go? How is it considered ethical that Google scans the contents of all private emails?
I have so many online subscriptions and services that all rely on email – and hence Gmail – for my online identity. In fact, email is such a strong component of online identity that if a person were to gain access to my email account, they would likely gain access to my entire online identity and to all of my online services. Because of this and my growing concerns of security and privacy, I chose to move away from Gmail as an email provider and use FastMail instead.
Making the move away from Gmail was difficult, but FastMail offered all of the features that I need from Gmail: most importantly email (obviously) but also a calendar service. I redirected all my mail from my old account to my new one and have been using my new email addresses since. My hope is that, in time, my old email address will be used less and less until I can phase it out completely.
Another Google service that I use frequently is Google Analytics (GA). I had become so accustomed to using GA in my projects that it seemed almost crazy not to include it. How could I tell how well a feature or some content is performing if I don't have visibility into user behaviour? Well it turns out that I don't actually use that many features of GA – and to be honest – I think it is a distraction most of the time.
Around the time of my switch, I came across Fathom which promises to "Give your website visitors back their privacy". The product is very simple and it offers basically everything I need to maintain a minimal amount of visibility into the performance of my websites. I'm using Fathom now for all of my projects and I feel good about it. The product is fast and easy to use.
When the core business of a company is advertising, everything the company does relates back to this mission. Even if a well intentioned product owner inside of the organization makes a move to protect user privacy, the product and the business will inevitably trend back towards its business model.
For the most part, I'm now Google free. I don't despise Google as a company but I believe that their core business model is incompatible with privacy.