A Google Free Life

I’ve spent the last few weeks on a new adventure, and it has caused many frustrations, but I’ve finally found some sort of reward from it. The adventure is – and I never thought I’d say this – getting Google out of my life.

I have numerous problems with Google, mainly being privacy and security. (If you’re interested in more about this, you can look at this website, Delete Google.)

The straw that broke the camel’s back – me being the camel and Google being the straw – was me, having cancelled a subscription for an app on my phone using the Google Appstore. Me, being charged anyway. This camel was not happy, and though I received a refund, it made me realise how vulnerable my data is with a company like Google having access to my bank account and my email.

Thankfully, my Dad had already begun the switch to a Google-free life, and I emailed him – from my Gmail account – asking what to do.

Now, you may be thinking – Sarah, aren’t you a little paranoid? This is the way of the world; we’re all involved and nothing bad has happened to us.

But being paranoid isn’t what I’m feeling; I simply want to cut myself out of technology’s tangled web of filth. Don’t I have the right to some form of privacy? When there are data breaches, we don’t know where our personal information ends up or what they could do with it.

The steps to a Google free life aren’t easy, but the reward is great. I’ve outlined the basics of what I did, using the recommendation of my Dad who researched and implemented a similar process.

STEP ONE: Deleted Chrome and installed a different browser, as well as using DuckDuckGo instead of Google search.

While it is a struggle to stop saying “I’ll Google it” because DuckDuckGo just isn’t a verb, the privacy is refreshing. If you feel attached to the usefulness of Google services, this website, No More Google, offers alternatives.

STEP TWO: Bought a new email account, because privacy comes with a price these days.

I signed up to a new email address, and while you may not think it’s worth buying something you can get for free – from Google, and other large companies – this email service allowed me to use a custom domain name, giving my blog and newsletter a somewhat professional quality.

STEP THREE: Changed my phone’s operating system.

I literally have a Google phone, a Pixel 3a complete with Google bloatware, Google assistant, and Google tracking. It is possible to change the phone’s operating system, however, this process wasn’t completely painless. In total it actually took approximately two weeks from the day I started (ah, the poor camel) to the day my phone was free (ah, the lack of straw).

To put it simply, I needed to download some software onto my laptop which could then be used to start up my phone with the new system. Doing so completes a “factory reset”, deleting all data (and traces of Google) from your phone and starting fresh with the new system in place. The operating system I switched to is LineageOS.

The installation instructions for a Pixel 3a are here, however, at each step I had to consult other forums because nothing worked on the first try. These other forums informed me I needed to buy a cable that allowed me to transfer data between my phone and my computer, update the drivers on my laptop, and change the direct route on the command prompt.

Additionally, I wouldn’t have even known any of this was possible without talking to my Dad.

Despite the difficult process, I believe it was worth it for the privacy, and the new operating system works well, has a minimal design, and does everything you need a phone to do.

On a side note, privacy concerns are legitimate. My family has used the website Have I Been Pwned to find out if your email is in a data breach and, embarrassingly, mine had been involved in seven, and one paste. An app I don’t even remember signing up for suffered a data breach. What happened to this data? It was listed for sale on the dark web. Several other of my accounts involved in breaches had compromised data of email address, physical address, date of birth, social media profile, and more.

To help protect myself I use a password manager that generates a different password for each account, so if something is hacked, they won’t be able to use that password to get in somewhere else. I personally use Bitwarden, which is open source.

To access your password manager, a passphrase is recommended. This website, Use a Passphrase, can generate one for you and also tells you how long it would take to hack your account based on your password. Thankfully it would now take more than 200 centuries to crack my passphrase.

This is a lot of information, and it’s definitely taken me a long time to implement each step and to move everything over to my password manager and new email address, so I quickly learned not to get overwhelmed but to just take small steps. I’ve also linked a video at the bottom of this post if you’re interested in hearing about this from someone who explains it far better than I. I like it because Glenn Greenwald counters the argument that if you have nothing to hide you shouldn’t care about privacy.

In saying all of this, you might not see the point in taking the steps I have, which is fine! Do what you will.

Sarah xx

Glenn Greenwald | TED Global 2014 | Why privacy matters

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