Law in the Internet Society

My Breakup With Google

-- By JieLin - 03 Dec 2019

The biggest lesson I learnt from this course is just how little control I have over my own life – my privacy, my autonomy, my freedom. I have realized that I am so deeply entrenched in this network environment created by companies such as Google and Facebook that my freedoms have been slowly but surely chipped away, leaving me exposed and easily manipulated. Google turned from a company releasing useful products for my use to one that has ensnared me, and the internet as a whole, into its money-making, data gathering machine. Indeed, Google is pervasive in our digital lives in a manner no other corporation in the world has been. It is embedded everywhere. Personally, my laptop’s main browser is Google Chrome. My primary email is Gmail. My phone’s operating system is Android. To me (and for a lot others), Google is synonymous for search, maps, email, browsers, operating systems. Google has been recognized as a word in the Oxford English Dictionary since 2006. What its global dominance means is that there are not many well-used alternatives, especially for the privacy minded. However, what this course taught me is that alternatives definitely do exist, if I am willing to look for it.

First Steps

Chrome: Switching my default browser did not prove difficult. I already had Mozilla Firefox installed from the last technology project from the course, and realized that it could do everything that Chrome did for me – with the added advantage of protecting my privacy.

Search Engines: Switching a search engine was easy once I started looking. DuckDuckGo? emerged as a good alternative, as a search engine that prioritized protecting searchers’ privacy and avoiding the filter bubble of personalized search results. It does not profile its users and shows the same search results for a given search term. Setting this as my default search engine was simple yet impactful. For example, a search of “Avengers: Endgame” on the Google search engine first showed me that it can be purchased from Google Play and YouTube? for $4.99. The same search on DuckDuckGo? pulled up a short snippet from Wikipedia. Disregarding the declared Ad for Disney+, the first link was of IMDb – the same link was placed 3rd on Google. By switching to DuckDuckGo? , I am no longer victim to Google’s prioritization of its results and bias towards its own products.

Google Maps: Switching to a different map provider was also easy – I already had alternatives such as CityMapper? downloaded onto my phone. I also promptly deleted the data Google Timeline had about my movements, and turned off my location history. However, what proved difficult was shutting down my use of Google Maps entirely. Because car services such as Lyft and Uber relied on Google Maps, I could not disable/ delete it entirely from my phone, as that prevented my use of such car services that I rely on to get around.

The Tricky Bits

Attempting to switch out of Gmail proved to be difficult, as my Gmail has been my main email address. Looking for an alternative that could truly address my privacy concerns was tricky, as I did not want to merely switch from one tech giant to another, such as Yahoo Mail. To this end, an alternative for Gmail was to use ProtonMail? , an end-to-end encrypted email service founded in Switzerland, a country known for its strong privacy laws. I initially thought the limited storage space would be a disadvantage, however, having reflected on your comments, I have realized the dangers of storing all my mail on a third party’s mailserver. However, ProtonMail? does not require the recipient of my encrypted message to have an account and merely requires a password. This would not serve my secondary purpose of encouraging my recipients to also use encrypted messages. As such, I have started to look into free alternatives, such as Mailvelope, which requires the recipient to have a public encryption key. This would encourage my recipients to join me in the effort to take back our privacy.

The Biggest Challenge: My Phone

Yet, despite all my little efforts above, my attempts at taking back my privacy and identity prove futile with my Samsung S8, equipped with Google apps. Researching for options to changing my operating system was technically difficult, as it required deeper technical knowledge and effort than just simply deleting applications. This is compounded by the fact that the smartphone industry has become a literal duopoly with Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. Even Mozilla’s Firefox OS is no longer maintained. To this end, I found the next best option of Lineage OS, which is a privacy minded, open source version of Android that can be installed without Google services or Apps. This would cement my break-up with Google, with a de-Googling of my Samsung S8.

However, as installing this OS is difficult, I have instead started to take small steps in de-Googling my phone, through the simple steps of disabling all Google-related apps on my phone. I have also deleted all other non-essential apps (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, etc.). This required a bit more getting used to, as I have grown used to opening them on a whim. I also found myself unable to delete Whatsapp (despite its own set of privacy concerns) due to my reliance on it to contact my family in Singapore. However, as a user of Telegram, which has the option of secret chats that delete messages within a certain timeframe, I am gradually moving my conversations over to this platform instead.

Signal would be even better.


At the end of the day, with my main Google tools switched out/ disabled, I only feel liberated. My dependence on a single company is a form of enslavement, especially when my data and privacy is the currency. Taking back control of my data has empowered me greatly – contrary to my previous belief that such a task would be daunting, I have realized that alternatives and solutions are available and reachable if one is willing to look for them.

I think this is an important improvement, for demonstrating the nature of the process and the degree of subjective satisfaction you get from it. That is part of the learning, as well as the joy of learning.

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r4 - 29 Feb 2020 - 17:39:50 - EbenMoglen
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