De-googling, so far

Over the past few years, I have tried to gradually reduce or eliminate my use of Google products and services. It has been difficult to ditch Google’s products in some categories, and in some others, it has been nigh impossible. Here, I list the services I have tried to find alternatives for, discuss the ease (or lack thereof) of finding a satisfactory alternative, and rant about my experience so far.

Before we begin, I feel like I should put a few important caveats out of the way. First, these are notes from personal experience, and are not a comprehensive review of alternatives to Google’s offerings. If you are looking for comparisons of alternatives, they are not here. Second, using some of the alternatives I mention requires having a self-hosted server setup of some sort, which for many people will be entirely out of the question.

I have used DuckDuckGo as my primary search engine for the past six or seven years, and although it has its flaws, it has been adequate. The problem with DuckDuckGo is that in many cases, it doesn’t seem to show a good understanding of the search query, for lack of a better way to put it. It takes my search terms too literally. It’s saving grace, though, is the ‘bang’ feature: if you decide that the results are not what you hoped for and you wish to go to Google instead, just add a !g in your search. This works not just for Google but for a long list of websites, and I find this feature incredibly handy when I know beforehand that I want to search a particular website, like Wikipedia, YouTube or Amazon.

After reading constant praise for it on HackerNews, I tried Kagi for couple of months last year. Kagi has a lot of strengths. Just out of the box, it’s results are markedly better than DuckDuckGo and perhaps even Google. Their feature to up-rank or down-rank websites of your choosing is an absolute lifesaver. Not having to wade through SEO’d junk to find what I need prevents a lot of frustration. That said, I had two major issues with Kagi. First, their cheapest subscription tier has a limit of 300 searches monthly, and I would find myself running against the limit halfway into the billing period. I would have gladly paid for the unlimited tier, if not for my second issue with Kagi: privacy-wise, I simply don’t believe that a service that requires login and thus naturally associates all your activity with your identity is better than a service which can be used without a login. So I’m sticking to DuckDuckGo for the time being.


Unlike Search and many other categories in this list, it is not difficult to find a capable alternative e-mail service. I personally use ProtonMail and Fastmail. Proton positions itself as the privacy-focused option, and claim to have end-to-end encryption. They bundle e-mail with storage, calendar, VPN and a password manager at a very reasonable rate. I will continue using ProtonMail as one of my email accounts, but I don’t like the fact it is difficult to use third-party email clients with their service. Yes, that is due to how they do end-to-end encryption, and I don’t have a reason to doubt their honesty, but is it really end-to-end encryption if you don’t have sole ownership and full control of your keys?

Besides moving away from Google, I also decided I want to own the whole of my email address, including the domain name. So, a year and a half ago I started using Fastmail with a custom domain. A feature of Fastmail I like and use all the time is masked email, but in fairness a lot of services provide this feature these days. Unlike Proton, FastMail makes no claims of extreme privacy, but I lke it because it has a nice and clean web UI and it works with my favorite FOSS e-mail client on Android.


Back in the days when Google Photos had free unlimited photo storage, it was pretty much unbeatable. Yes, the resolution was capped to 16 megapixels, but during the time I relied on Google Photos, I didn’t have a phone with a camera capable of much higher resolution. After Google axed the unlimited storage, other photo storage services seem pretty competitive with Google Photos. At a glance, Microsoft OneDrive, iCloud, Amazon Photos and DropBox all seem like options I would at least consider. But I have not tried any of those services and have no plans to do so, because I self-host a personal instance of Immich to store all my photos. In just a couple of years, Immich has gone from zero to having a very rich feature-set, and although it doesn’t have a stable release yet, it is stable enough for me. Using the immich-go CLI tool, it is a breeze to import media from your Google Takeout export to Immich as well.


Cloud storage of files is an easy switch: there are many, many file storage providers available with very competitive pricing. For myself, I initially used a Nextcloud instance I self-host. I still have some of my files in Nextcloud, but I found it to be slow when syncing a large amount of files, so I opted for a simpler solution. All my important files are now in a directory in my home server, and when I need access to them I just mount the directory in my laptop with sshfs. In case I need a web interface, I have a FileBrowser instance running. Side note: I love how simple FileBrowser is. It does the things I need and not a thing more.

I realize switching to a different storage provider will be more difficult for people who use Google Drive for collaboration and need to share files often with other people. Fortunately, in my case what I needed was just to not lose my files if my laptop goes belly up, and to be able to occasionally access important files from my phone.

Calendar and Contacts

Using most calendar and contacts clients with different providers, and switching between them, is more or less straightforward thanks to the CalDAV and CardDAV open protocols. I use my NextCloud instance as the server for both, and it works flawlessly. On the client side, I use Fossify Calendar and GrapheneOS’s default contacts app along with DavX5 to facilitate the synchronization. I recently discovered that the Calendar and Contacts apps that come with the Gnome Desktop Environment support CalDAV and CardDAV as well, so that’s neat! I can now view or update my calendar and contact list from my phone, laptop or the browser!

For people who can’t or don’t want to self-host a Nextcloud instance, there are plenty of ‘cloud productivity suite’ providers that provide file storage, calendar, contact and email services with a single account. Microsoft Outlook and Apple iCloud are the most popular ones, but privacy-focused alternatives like Proton are growing.


Let me begin by saying that I am extremely grateful that GrapheneOS exists. It is Android but with privacy and security features that severely limit the capacity of big tech to spy on you. This includes Google itself, as GrapheneOS by default comes without all the apps and services that Google includes on a regular Android phone. Optionally, you can install Google Play Services, but as a regular, ‘sandboxed’ app: which means Google has the same privilege as any other app in your phone, and you can decide what permissions to allow it. But the catch is… well, there are several. Whether or not you’ll find them acceptable depends on where your preference lies in the privacy-convenience trade-off scale. Because unfortunately, you must sacrifice one to get more of the other. The first issue is that it only runs on Google Pixel devices. This is because the GrapheneOS project has a sizable list of security and support requirements that a device will need to fulfill to be supported, and apparently only Google Pixel devices do at the moment. If you already have a Pixel phone (like I did when I first decided to try GrapheneOS), this is not an issue. If you don’t already have one though, you’ll have to make a decision about whether you want to support Google’s business by buying a device they produce, even though you’re doing that so you can give Google less control of your digital life. To me, that feels like an acceptable trade-off.

The other issue is that many apps will either not work, or will be partially broken. I have used GrapheneOS for a total of 16 months in two stints, 8 months each in two devices; first a Pixel 3a and now a Pixel 7. Until about 2 months ago, I used it without the (sandboxed) Google Play Services. In this configuration, there is a whole category of applications you cannot use: most prominently, banking and finance apps will just refuse to work. Many apps that work will have some features broken: notifications in particular will be missing for a lot of apps. Some apps will keep complaining that your phone does not have Google Play Services and thus is not supported, but still continue to mostly work (looking at you, Snapchat). But I found I could still manage. Apps like Telegram, Signal and Whatsapp use their own notification delivery mechanism, so they aren’t impacted as long as you turn off battery optimization for them. All the banks I have accounts with have mobile websites that work reasonably well. I was even able to take trips through Uber’s mobile website, which was a pleasant surprise. The location functionality did not work, but I believe that was due more to the browser than to Uber itself. I tried to get as many apps as possible from F-droid, the app store for open-source Android apps. For proprietary apps, I used Aurora store, which is an alternative open-source client for the Google Play Store. Not ideal, but better than manually downloading APKs from websites like APKPure and APKMirror.

About two months ago, in a moment of frustration, I decided to install the sandboxed Google Play Services and Google Play Store to see if that would improve my experience. Some things are noticeably better: for instance, notifications work for all apps, installing new apps is way easier, and I can install and use some financial apps without issues. It is still far from the regular Android experience; for instance, apps don’t auto-update, you have to manually go into Google Play Store and update them. This is unfortunate, but you necessarily lose some functionality when you limit the god-like permissions Google has on a regular Android device.

Slight tangent: one of my big gripes here is with Android Auto. Contrary to what the name might suggest, Android Auto is not part of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). Instead it is a proprietary standard, and the Android Auto app on your phone is a proprietary app that has privileged access to your system. If I want turn-by-turn navigation in my car’s head unit out of an open-source maps app on my phone, that is simply not possible without a privileged, proprietary app in between to mediate. Before January 2024, it was not even possible to use Android Auto in GrapheneOS, but now it is at least supported, although it does depend on the sandboxed Google Play being installed as well.

Every time I am frustrated with the state of things with GrapheneOS, I think about getting an iPhone, using it without any Google apps, and enjoying the ‘just works’ nature of Apple products. But then I would be handing over control of a large part of my digital life to another big tech company, so I haven’t bought an iPhone yet. Apple does like to make a big deal of at least pretending to care more about your privacy than the rest of Big Tech, but I would rather not rely on promises if I can, and where possible, use open-source software stacks I can trust. So I’m sticking with GrapheneOS on my Pixel, at least for the near future.


OpenStreetMap is a fantastic dataset and in many cases, is better than Google Maps in terms of map accuracy. I use it a lot. But Google Maps is much more than just the map data: it has client apps across different platforms with a consistent interface, routing and turn-by-turn navigation, public transport information, live traffic data, and most importantly for me, business reviews and opening hours. For the last one, Google’s sheer size means that the network effects are on their side, and I’m not aware of any effort to create an open dataset of business reviews. All this means that it is difficult to quit Google Maps entirely. OpenStreetMap-based apps like Organic Maps are great and I frequently use them, but I find myself using the Google Maps website a lot, for tasks like searching for restaurants to getting an estimate of how long my commute is going to take.


The sad reality here is that YouTube essentially has no alternative. Yes, it is technologically difficult to deliver video to the internet in a way that is cost-effective, but the problem that is orders of magnitude more difficult is that of building a critical mass of creators and viewers that the network effect takes over. All the creators are on YouTube, so everyone goes there for content. All the viewers are on YouTube, so creators put their videos there. There are platforms that are trying to provide an alternative, but they are mostly unknown to the general populace. I have never given serious thought to PeerTube because I don’t know of any creators I watch that upload their videos to a PeerTube instance. I think is promising, and a bunch of creators I like upload their videos on it. I do have a Nebula account but rarely end up using it, since most videos get uploaded to YouTube as well, and when I open Nebula, I find myself having already watched all the interesting videos on YouTube.


At this point in time, it is exceedingly difficult to fully avoid using Google products and services, and you’ll need to sacrifice a lot of convenience in your attempts to use alternatives. Nevertheless, capable and privacy-friendly alternatives exist for many product segments in which Google dominates, and I think it is worthwhile to reduce your dependence on Google where you can. If you are so inclined, self-hosting can provide even more freedom and privacy.