Googleless tech

Part 1 and Part 2 covered the mobile side of things, and in this final post I'll go through the cloud part of things and how I managed to keep my things “in the cloud” in a seamless experience, similar to what you would get from Google.

Google offers some nifty features with its photo storage, where you can just take a picture and rest assured that the photo is stored in the cloud and easily accessible from your desktop just by accessing They also have google docs, which is awesome and easy to use, google calendar, gMail (of course), tasks, google keep (notes), google contacts and the list goes on and on. And it is free (free as in free beer, and only up to a certain level of usage). This kind of convenience is what we expect and have from Google, Apple and Microsoft. Some will say that this convenience is nothing more but pampering, just use a pen and paper to keep track of your events. Or that these small conveniences can take over your life and one should take a step back from all of it. They are right in saying that.

But, for those of us who need these conveniences or some of them and would like to have them available from a source which is not big tech and open, and free, what possible options can you have? Well, not many. But there are a few options. And it can be kind of mix and match. The main requirement after the obvious non big tech is open source. Nextcloud and Owncloud are options which fit the bill and are capable of covering many if not all of the features Google offers.

My choice was Nextcloud, simply because it seems to have more popularity than Owncloud, despite of it being a fork of Owncloud.

Nextcloud is an “on premises” solution to hosting your own content, apps and services. You can register for an account with a company which hosts nextcloud instances and provides nextcloud as a service, or host an instance of nextcloud yourself and use it from there. Nextcloud has contact management, calendar, notes, photo and document management, tasks and many other services which can be accessed and enabled on your nextcloud instance as an app.

On the Android side of things, there are apps which allow you to access nextcloud services, similarly to how Google's apps would work. The main Nextcloud app will handle syncing to your server and photo / document sync (so that when you take a picture it will be uploaded to the server just like Google's photos app does). The other apps will pick up on the sync settings set by the main app and will prompt you to use those setting when you first start them up. As a side note, for syncing contacts and calendar straight to Android use DAVx5.

Setting everything up on the Android side is a bit more involved than just buying a Google Android phone and start it up of course, but once everything is setup it's working just as well and seamless as Google.

Costs? To start off, I recommend just using one of the free Nextcloud providers. They will offer a limited suite of apps, but all the basics included. Try syncing with it from your phone and see how it works out for you. At first, I just synced my contacts and calendar to get a feel for it. If you then decide to commit to it, you will want to store your photos, videos and documents as well. The free nextcloud providers will offer you 8GB of data storage at best, which is nowhere close to enough for your average storage needs. So you will have to choose if you want to go for paying one of the nextcloud providers for a more complete service with more storage, or if you go the self hosting route. There are benefits and cons to either of them. Using a provider will make it so you don't have to worry with security, updates, and service stability. But then again, your data will not be in your hands, and it will be more expensive. For self hosting, you need some technical knowledge or willingness and time to learn. And you have to manage security and updates by yourself. But it will be cheaper and the data will reside in your hands.

I went for self hosting on a VPS, since I don't trust my home network with hosting a server. For hosting I went with Contabo, which is based in Germany but they have servers in the US as well (you will want to pick a provider who has servers which are geographically close to you) and has amazingly good starter deals. I am using on of the cheapest (if not the cheapest) options they have. I have a nextcloud server setup on the server, serving just my partner and I. It is by no means quick, but it works flawlessly, and I even have Collabora (a Google docs alternative) working on it. And it has 300GB of storage, which is enough for our storage needs when it comes to photos/videos and documents. This is for €4 / month. Compared to Google, who starts charging €2 / month once you hit 100GB on their photos storage, so I feel that Contabo's prices are more than reasonable. And the service is full root access, so you can set up any kind of server you want. Although if you are using the cheapest option as I am and already have a Nextcloud server on it, don't try putting anything else on there, it will bring it to a stop.

There are other more popular services which offer decent VPS options such as Linode or Vultr, so feel free to shop around and see what option is better for you and your needs.

As a takeaway from all of this, it is important for us to know that there are options and alternatives to what big tech offers us for free. And in this journey, the most shocking realization I had was how cheap you can get a self hosting solution going. Running my own server is €4 / month, and I pay another ~ €20 / year for my own domain and email. That is all the financial cost you need to break free from having your data used for the profit of large companies, and many times used by large companies against your own interests. If you can afford the financial and time costs of not using these mainstream services, it is something you should be looking into.

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In part 1 I went through the the reasons and the steps I took to start off my degoogling journey and suggested that F-droid is worth a try to explore open source alternatives.

Part 2 will focus on getting things running on an Android phone. As mentioned before, replacing your Android OS with an AOSP based OS will be conditioned on what phone model you own. Ironically, the easiest and safest (from a cyber security point of view) devices to get an AOSP based OS on are Google's Pixel phones. As a rule of thumb, you want a Pixel model which is not extremely recent (it takes a few months for developers to get AOSP running smoothly on a just-out model). There are many other devices which can run various google-less android operating systems, but it is hit and miss. XDA Developers forum is an excellent place to start searching with what your phone model is compatible with.

Since I own a Pixel 3a, I will keep to refer to my experience with getting things running for the rest of this post. After trying out open source alternatives from the F-droid store for a few months, I considered that I was able to make the jump to degoogling my mobile device and I settled on GrapheneOS.

This is a security (cyber security) focused operating system. It strips all Google from Android, including the DNS server which is set by default to Google Public DNS on Android AOSP. It also has numerous other security features which you can read about in detail on their website. It only works on Google Pixel phones and thanks to Pixels being so open about other Android OS (ROM) being installed, the process of installing GrapheneOS is extremely straight forward, especially when compared to other phones. The process is explained in detail on their website. An alternative to GrapheneOS which focuses similarly on security and is completely Google free is CalyxOS. CalyxOS is similar to GrapheneOS in many ways, a bit less secure than GrapheneOS, but will fit the security needs of any average user. It also seems to be a bit faster. CalyxOS also has a very limited list of supported devices. That being said, if you don't have a phone model which is not in the list have a look on the XDA Developers forum and see what ROMs are available for your specific model, LineageOS is a popular option. Changing the operating system on a phone is risky, so thread carefully and follow instructions precisely.

Be extremely careful when installing a ROM. It must be the correct version on the correct phone model. Getting it wrong will most likely turn your phone in a paperweight!

After booting into a fresh GrapheneOS installation, and getting over the fact that it just boots in to the system without having to give my email and personal details, the first thing to do was to get F-droid installed off their website so I can install my preferred apps. In my previous post I did mention that there will be some compromises to be made. The compromises are both for feature which you accept that you will not have access to. And security compromises. You might decide to keep using an app which is not open source and it's collecting your data because you don't really have a choice or the alternative is just not good enough. These compromises depend on your use case and on your wishes / expectations.

Further more, you can use microG, an app which simulates Google Play Services (without actually having any contact with anything Google related). This in itself is a compromise, although many will argue it is not a compromise at all since microG is open source and doesn't have any connection to Google. MicroG is not a perfect solution, some apps will not work with your de-googled phone even with microG installed. I do use microG in order to facilitate WhatsApp on my phone. As much as I would love to ditch WhatsApp, my family and other institutions I am linked to use it as a main way of communication, so I am stuck with it. In order to get applications which are in the Google Play Store, I (and many others) use Aurora Store. This has exact copies of the apps on the Google Play Store, and it enables you to download and install them anonymously (or with your google account if you wish to give your credentials).

For maps, many people are “addicted” to Google Maps, which is by far the best maps application out there. The open source alternative is OsmAnd+, an app which enables you to use the Open Street Maps API, an open source effort to create a Google Maps alternative. I am perfectly happy with using OsmAnd+, but many others who rely more on Google Maps will go through the hoops to get Google Maps working (microG can allow you to run GMaps). One other type of app to test before diving in is your banking app. It may or may not need Google Play Services to function. Most users report that banking apps work just fine, but there will be some which won't even let you login to check your balance.

One other thing to keep in mind is that in Google's Android, notifications are handled through Google Play Services. That means that on a de-googled Android getting notifications from apps relies on the apps implementing their own notification system. Most open source apps you will get from F-droid will have this implemented. And with apps like WhatsApp you should expect inconsistent notifications (WhatsApp will notify me of messages instantly if it is open in the background and up to 1h later if it's not already open).

If you get to this point, you should already know what you are comfortable with using as alternative and what you think you should keep from the closed source main stream apps.

In the next and last part I will talk about cloud backups and email alternatives to your de-googled experience.

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In the past few years it has become more and more obvious that big tech companies – most notable Google – own more and more of our information without us explicitly giving consent at any point. This is pushing people to move over to alternative solutions. The first obvious one is Apple. And although Apple seems to take security and privacy seriously, there is no guarantee that it will stay like this in the future.

These posts are not supposed to be tutorials, just a small journal of my journey and an introduction for you to which steps you can follow in order to de-google your digital life.

So I put myself down a path of completely stripping off Google's services from my life, up to the point that now I only use an email occasionally and still watch you tube on their website for certain things.

I started off with my phone. Android is an open source project, maintained mainly by Google. On top of Android, Google puts Google Play Services, which handle things like incoming notifications for all apps, payments, offer google maps API for all other apps and other similar services. Getting AOSP, or an AOSP based operating system to replace your Google Android operating system requires some technical knowledge and is highly conditioned to the exact phone model you own.

One can use Android open source (AOSP) on some phones and miss out on Google Play and Google Play services. What is left to use / do then? Happily, F-droid is a completely open source Google Play alternative which offers open source apps created by developers who believe that open source should be the way to go.

Before changing the operating system, I installed F-droid on my phone. Google Play does not allow F-droid to be present on their store because it is an alternative app store, so we can't allow competitors on there, now can we? So download the f-droid apk from their website, then install it by allowing your browser to install third party apps. F-droid has an antiquated look and its search function is pure trash. Both of this aspects have fixes in the works, but this is months down the line. To explore app alternatives, feel free to have a look or ask questions down at /r/fdroid and /r/degoogle, alongside searching on the f-droid app itself.

To get you started, look at NewPipe – You Tube front end which requires no login but still allows you to subscribe (locally) and has more features than Google's client. Twidere is a good twitter and mastodon client, Twire is a Twitch client, Slide for reddit and the list goes on and on. I've started by exploring F-droid and its apps for a month or two before making the jump to the next major step.

Open source alternatives are usually lacking in some features compared to their more popular, corporate backed counterparts, so there will be compromises to be done by you, on your part, both when it comes to you letting some feature go or you using a closed source app or service because you need a certain feature, despite the fact that you know that the company is using your data. The key, in my opinion is for the user to be completely aware that the product or service they are using in not open source and, despite it not costing any money, the user does pay with their data. Using open source apps and alternatives will not have advertising, which greatly helps with making users aware of how they are in fact the product which large companies use to make money, and not the benefactors of a free service / app. Try it out, get some open alternatives running alongside the ones you would normally use and see for yourself how it benefits you.

In the next post, I will be going through changing the operating system from Google's Android to and AOSP version of Android and all of the caveats this comes with.

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