I’ve been trying to reduce my reliance on Big Tech companies (Google, Facebook, Twitter etc.) for some time now. There’s many reasons, but I can summarise it like this: I don’t think they make a positive impact on the world.
Part of it is about privacy. Most big tech companies rely on advertising, and advertising means tracking you so they can target you with ‘better’ ads and make more money. All these companies track you as much as they can. For example, take a look at Facebook’s Off Facebook Activity page. If you haven’t already seen it or turned it off, you might be in for a shock.
Another thing is how these apps manipulate you. Since they want you to spend as much time in their app, in front of the screen as possible, they feed you content that makes it more likely you’ll stay there. I realised almost none of my Twitter feed was posts from people I actually follow, but other accounts, ads and so on. And often it’s negative content - it’s human nature to look at bad things that trigger anger and outrage for longer than positive things, and the algorithms have learned this. I’m not sure I want to support a vision of a world like this.
Alternatives To Google
Let’s start with Google. Google has a massive suite of software, and I haven’t managed to completely move off it. Having an Android device makes that very difficult. But there are at least some good alternatives for many of Google’s products. If you just want to browse a list, check out Restore Privacy which has a comprehensive and up-to-date list of alternatives. Read on for the ones I use.
Use Brave instead of Google Chrome
Brave is a web browser that does many things to protect your privacy, blocking trackers and ads by default. Other than that, it’s almost identical to Chrome, so it’s very easy to switch in my opinion. It’s available on mobile too.
Use DuckDuckGo instead of Google Search
DuckDuckGo is a search engine that doesn’t track your search history, and gives unbiased results that’s not based on your previous searches. Once you get used to it, the results are almost as good as Google, and it’s again very easy to switch.
I personally use ProtonMail as an alternative to GMail. It’s a secure, private email service basd in Switzerland that also includes other tools like calendar, drive and VPN. I like the clean interface and the fact it has a mobile app, and there’s no ads or other nonsense. Although there’s a free plan up to 500MB, I pay for it so I can use a custom domain.
Alternative to Google Drive
I took an unusual approach to this and set up my own cloud drive using DigitalOcean Spaces and Rclone. The reason for this is I wanted a solution that would last forever, so the idea of hosting my files on a 3rd-party cloud drive provider that could get shut down didn’t appeal to me. Also I wanted full control over the files, not limited by a complicated API. It’s the closest thing to a NAS, but with the availability of the cloud!
Rclone is an amazing tool. It lets you encrypt files on cloud storage using your own keys, so even the cloud provider can’t decrypt it. Then you can mount the drives locally (even on Windows), and mirror and back up to other cloud providers - I have a backup on AWS S3 just in case anything happens to DigitalOcean. There’s a mobile app too which is great, but unfortunately it doesn’t play well with other apps - it’s difficult getting other mobile apps to write to files on there.
I’ll probably do another blog post on my cloud drive at some point.
The main reason I use this is because it’s included in my Adobe subscription, but it saves a lot of hassle with having to host it somewhere else. Also, I think it’s worth paying to keep your photos safe. I’m not sure if Adobe is that much better than Google in terms of privacy though.
Before this, I used to use a self-hosted version of Lychee, an open-source photo manager. The main issue with this was that it couldn’t use cloud storage for the photos, so it would have used up vaulable disk space on my servers.
I think that’s covered the essentials for now. In the next post I’ll share some other stuff I use, such as: