Ungoogle yourself: interesting alternatives to Google products

You want to escape Google's prying eyes? We present some great alternatives to Chrome, Google Search, YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Drive, Play Store and Android OS.

Ungoogling

Björn GreifEditor

Google (or its parent company Alphabet) collects vast amounts of data about virtually everyone in the Western world with its search engine, the Android operating system, the Play Store app sales platform, the Chrome browser and services such as YouTube, Gmail, and Maps. In addition, the Internet giant monitors around 80 percent of global Internet traffic with its tracking scripts. This makes Google by far the most important data monopolist – well ahead of Facebook.

All Google products are designed to gather as much information as possible about each individual user, to merge the data into detailed profiles and to use it for targeted advertising. Ultimately, you pay for Google’s alleged free services with your data – and thus you become the product.

If you don’t want that, you should turn your back on Google – which sounds easier than it actually is. A good first step is to switch to products and services that are not controlled by Google. Below are some interesting alternatives for most Google offerings.

The open source browser Cliqz made in Germany is based on Mozilla’s Firefox and comes with a built-in anonymous quick search engine and various privacy functions. It offers comprehensive protection against activity tracking and identity theft (phishing), an integrated ad blocker and many other useful features such as automatically encrypted website connections (HTTPS Everywhere) and a video downloader. To complement Cliqz quick search, you can set an alternative search engine such as DuckDuckGo or Startpage as your default. In addition, the free Cliqz Browser supports Firefox add-ons and is available for all common platforms (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS). In case you don’t want to take the detour via the Play Store, you can download the apk file for Cliqz for Android here.

If you want even more privacy, you can use the Tor browser, which is also based on Firefox. Tor anonymizes connection data by encrypting requests and routing them through multiple Tor proxy servers around the world. However, this has a negative effect on browsing speed. Furthermore, the Tor browser’s extremely strict tracking protection can break some website functions.

The anonymous Cliqz search engine built into the Cliqz Browser displays the three most relevant website suggestions directly while you’re typing: simply type a query, select a suggested site or press Enter for more results. Special Smart Cliqz results provide weather forecasts, currency converter results or top news in real time. Unlike Google, Cliqz doesn’t store any data needed for searches on its servers, but only locally on the user’s device. This way, your data always remains in your possession and under your control.

DuckDuckGo and Startpage are also anonymous search engines that do not collect personally identifiable information. They use a traditional search results page, but without Google’s tracking and ad targeting. DuckDuckGo mainly utilizes search results from Bing and Oath (formerly Yahoo), Startpage relies on Google results. Both can also be set as a complementary search engine in the Cliqz Browser.

Dailymotion offers a similar interface as YouTube with various channels and a search function. Unlike YouTube, it focuses on quality rather than quantity. In addition, Dailymotion is considered more tolerant than YouTube or Vimeo when it comes to copyright issues. Uploaders therefore have to worry less about their videos being removed due to potential copyright infringements.

At Vimeo, quality goes before quantity.
At Vimeo, quality goes before quantity.

On Vimeo you find mostly professional content from musicians, filmmakers and other artists. Quality goes before quantity. Search results can be filtered by category, playing time, upload date, etc. On the main page you will find curated and sorted lists as well as trending videos. Unlike YouTube and Dailymotion, Vimeo does not have any advertising at all.

The open source and free Android app NewPipe allows access to all YouTube content, but without Google’s tracking and advertising. It cannot be downloaded from the Google Play Store, but requires the installation of the alternative app store F-Droid (see Play Store alternatives).

NewPipe lets you access YouTube content without Google tracking (Source: NewPipe).
NewPipe lets you access YouTube content without Google tracking (Source: NewPipe).

F-Droid is an installable catalogue of FOSS apps (free and open source software) for Android. The client makes it easy to browse, install, and keep track of updates on your device.

Yalp Store lets you download apps directly from the Google Play Store as apk files. It connects to Google services using a built-in account, so you don’t need your own Google Account to use it – unless you want to access apps you’ve already purchased. Yalp Store can also search for updates of installed apps and lets you search for other apps. The Yalp Store itself can be downloaded from F-Droid.

Yalp Store lets you download apps from the Play Store as apk files and keeps them up to date (Source: GitHub).
Yalp Store lets you download apps from the Play Store as apk files and keeps them up to date (Source: GitHub).

ProtonMail, based in Switzerland, is a secure e-mail service. Users can log in anonymously, all messages are end-to-end encrypted and no IP addresses are logged. The software code is (partly) open source. ProtonMail offers free access with 500 MByte storage and a limit of 150 messages per day. If you need more storage space and want to send more messages per day, you have to upgrade to a paid account (starting at $48 per year).

A free ProtonMail account includes 500 MByte storage and up to 150 messages per day (Source: ProtonMail).
A free ProtonMail account includes 500 MByte storage and up to 150 messages per day (Source: ProtonMail).

Like ProtonMail, the German e-mail service Tutanota supports end-to-end encryption, allows anonymous registration and does not store IP addresses either. Its software is completely Open Source. Tutanota provides 1 GByte free storage space for emails. Premium functions such as custom domains, unlimited search, aliases, inbox rules and email support are available from 12 Euro per year. The Pro version starts from 60 Euro per year and includes 10 GByte storage, 20 aliases, priority support and additional features.

Tutanota offers 1 GByte free storage for emails (Source: Tutanota).
Tutanota offers 1 GByte free storage for emails (Source: Tutanota).

Here WeGo (formerly Here Maps) uses its own map data and is similar to Google Maps in terms of handling and functionality. The navigation options include routing for cars, bicycles and pedestrians as well as public transport, taxi and car sharing. Offline maps and navigation are also supported. Here WeGo is available for Web, Android and iOS.

Here WeGo is very similar to Google Maps in terms of handling and functionality (Source: Here WeGo).
Here WeGo is very similar to Google Maps in terms of handling and functionality (Source: Here WeGo).

Maps.me uses map data from OpenStreetMap and is available for Android and iOS. It provides routing for cars, bicycles, pedestrians and public transport. Since the app uses offline maps by default, no Internet connection is required for searching and navigating – assuming, of course, that the required map has been downloaded beforehand. In the settings, you can also disable the Google Play Services for locating your position. However, Maps.me collects various usage data according to its privacy policy.

Maps.me allows offline navigation based on OpenStreetMap data (Source: Maps.me).
Maps.me allows offline navigation based on OpenStreetMap data (Source: Maps.me).

An open source alternative is OsmAnd, which also uses map data from OpenStreetMap. Like Maps.me it is only available for mobile devices (Android and iOS). The functionality is similar to that of Maps.me, but the handling is a bit more cumbersome. The free version offered in the Play Store is slightly limited (download limit, no Wikipedia POIs). These restrictions do not apply to the full version OsmAnd+ which is available for download via F-Droid.

OsmAnd is open source and also uses OpenStreetMap data (Source: OsmAnd).
OsmAnd is open source and also uses OpenStreetMap data (Source: OsmAnd).

The Canada-based service Sync.com offers end-to-end encrypted cloud storage and promises that not even its own employees have access to stored data (zero-knowledge policy). The service includes cross-device and cross-platform file synchronization (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Web) as well as various sharing capabilities (files, folders, links). The handling is similar to Google Drive or Dropbox. The free Starter version comes with 5 GByte storage space and limited sharing options. Starting at $49 per year, you can get the Personal Pro version with 500 GByte (or 2 TByte for $96 per year) as well as various business plans with even more cloud storage.

Sync.com provides end-to-end encryption, file synchronization and various sharing options (Source: Sync.com).
Sync.com provides end-to-end encryption, file synchronization and various sharing options (Source: Sync.com).

The open source software Keybase uses public-key cryptography and combines encrypted cloud storage and a crypto messenger. Keybase creates a virtual drive (or /keybase folder) on your computer that contains a private, a public and a team folder. Accordingly, only you, everyone via the public website keybase.pub/username or only team members can access your stored data. All files on the virtual drive are automatically uploaded to the cloud in encrypted form. A big advantage of Keybase over competing products: Currently, users get a whopping 250 GByte of free cloud storage.

Keybase is a crypto messenger and encrypted cloud storage service in one (Source: Keybase).
Keybase is a crypto messenger and encrypted cloud storage service in one (Source: Keybase).

Additional tip: To make sure that your cloud storage provider cannot read your uploaded data, you should encrypt it on your device before uploading. Tools like Cryptomator can help you with this. The open source software financed by donations is free of charge and does not require registration. You can also use it to create a data vault on Google Drive, for example. All files that you store on the virtual drive provided by Cryptomator automatically end up encrypted in your vault on Google Drive.

Cryptomator allows you to encrypt your data locally before uploading it to cloud storage services like Google Drive (Source: Cryptomator).
Cryptomator allows you to encrypt your data locally before uploading it to cloud storage services like Google Drive (Source: Cryptomator).

Regardless of which apps you use, Google already gathers a lot of data through its Android operating system and the pre-installed Play Services. If you want to prevent this, you’ll have to switch to another operating system. A good choice here is LineageOS which emerged from the discontinued CyanogenMod project. LineageOS can be used without a Google account and is compatible with most Android devices. The installation is quite complex, but thanks to detailed instructions for halfway experienced users, it is manageable.

LineageOS Logo
LineageOS Logo

LineageOS comes by default without Google Play Services and Google Apps. Instead, the Android distribution contains several open source applications. If you still need certain proprietary apps or libraries that require Google Play Services, you can try the open source framework microG. But because installation and setup are quite complex, microG is not really suitable for beginners.

The most obvious Android alternative, which is also suitable for laymen, is of course iOS. However, the migration is associated with high costs for an Apple device. In addition, you will exchange the fairly open Android world for the closed Apple ecosystem. On the other hand, Apple is – as it often emphasizes – more privacy friendly than Google because it has a different business model.

Even if you’ve replaced any Google products with alternatives and deleted your Google account, you’re not safe from the Internet giant’s prying eyes. Google will probably still know more about you than your closest friends or relatives. As mentioned at the beginning, Google’s tracking scripts run on more than three quarters of all web pages, e.g. in the form of Google Analytics or Doubleclick. If you want to hide your online activities from Google and other data collectors, an anti-tracking tool such as Ghostery or the Cliqz Browser with built-in tracking protection is strongly recommended: