Ethical Technology

Ethical Google Alternatives: 2021 Update

“Google it.” Even my technophobe grandma understands what that means, and almost everyone with experience of the internet has used the company’s services in some shape or form.

Once a humble search engine, Google has morphed into one of the biggest companies in the world. “Don’t be evil” used to be part of its corporate code of conduct, but any trace of this old motto was purged in 2018.

From Android to YouTube, it’s tough to avoid its services entirely, although it’s easy to understand why you’d want to. The following guide discuses how and why it’s a good idea to remove Google from your life.

The origins of Google

The first version of Google, designed by computer scientists Larry Page and Sergey Brin, was released on the Stanford University website in 1998. Their original mission was to catalogue and organise the many pages of the internet, and they started from a garage in California. They nearly sold the company in 1997, but competitors like Yahoo! baulked at the $1m asking price. Instead, in 2000, Google developed AdWords, enabling them to heavily monetise the platform, with this funding used to expand across a wide range of services and products over the next decade.

By the mid 2000s, Google Maps had been launched, while purchase of Android was completed in 2005. The release of Google Chrome in 2008 was soon followed by apps like Google+ (2011) and Google Drive (2012). The company pushed on into cloud computing and other ventures, cementing their status as the undisputed king of the internet.

Of course, it hasn’t been smooth sailing: Google has faced a number of accusations regarding everything from monopolisation to disrespecting user privacy. 

Eight Reasons to Avoid Google

This list could have taken up twice the total word count alone, but here’s a rundown of eight of the best reasons to avoid the company. We’re open to further suggestions, so let us know what we’ve missed below!

1. Privacy

One of the most persuasive reasons to avoid Google stems from their blasé attitude to privacy. Each time you use their search function or one of their many services, you give away ever more personal information. We’re all aware that Google stores an enormous amount of data on the average user, from search history to advertising profile – however, you may not know just how sinister their data collection methods are.

For example, not only does your phone constantly ping your location to their servers throughout the day, smart lights inform the company exactly when you’ve chosen to go to bed at night. Additionally, Gmail tracks users’ purchases, and footage from secondhand Nest Cam Indoor home security cameras can still be viewed, even after being reset. If subsequent users can see the footage, Google can too.

In September 2019, Google was fined a record $170m after the Federal Trade Commission investigated how YouTube handled user data for children under the age of 13. FTC chairman Joe Simons released a statement soon after: “YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients, yet when it came to complying with COPPA [the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act], the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids. There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law.”

The only way to avoid your data being harvested is to limit usage of its platforms. 

2. Censorship

As Google controls so much of what we see on the internet, censorship is a key issue for the company. They’re aware of the delicate nature of free speech, so much so that an 85-page presentation entitled ‘The Good Censor’ was commissioned in 2018. Leaked and published online by far-right Breitbart News, the briefing gives an insight into Google’s current stance on the subject. It concludes that large tech companies “are performing a balancing act between two incompatible positions”, facing pressure from governments on one side and users on the other. Censorship requests are also noted to be rising, as shown in the image above.

Google had also reportedly been developing a censored version of their search engine for China, which would also link user queries to a phone number – a direct way of keeping tabs on individuals. The project was eventually shut down before release “after members of the company’s privacy team raised internal complaints that it had been kept secret from them.”

3. Tax avoidance

Most of the UK population will associate Google and Amazon with big companies’ tax avoidance. The story made headlines repeatedly over the last decade, with the UK press and government regularly combining to condemn the practice. It’s hard to blame them considering “Google’s UK unit paid just £6m to the Treasury in 2011 on UK turnover of £395m.” It’s a paltry sum, but has anything changed more recently? Not really:

In January 2019 it was reported that “Google moved €19.9bn ($22.7bn) through a Dutch shell company to Bermuda in 2017, as part of an arrangement that allows it to reduce its foreign tax bill, according to documents filed at the Dutch chamber of commerce.”

Despite the legality of these methods, it leaves a sour taste when considering the detrimental impact unpaid tax money has on the funding of services like the NHS, or education and the arts. Removing Google from your life will only lower their income infinitesimally, but a concerted effort from a significant portion of users could have an effect on their engorged coffers. 

4. Antitrust concerns

Google is massive, and has consequently faced allegations of monopolisation from both sides of the pond. They’ve also paid out on multiple occasions in recent years.

The EU threw the book at Google in 2018, when they found “Google violated competition rules by paying phone makers to exclusively pre-install Google search on their devices and preventing them from selling phones that run other modified, or ‘forked,’ versions of Android.” They hit the company with a $5bn antitrust fine, and Android phones are now slightly more flexible, in compliance with European regulations.

It didn’t take long for them to end up in hot water again. In March 2019, “Europe’s antitrust regulators slapped Google with a $1.7bn fine for unfairly inserting exclusivity clauses into contracts with advertisers, disadvantaging rivals in the online ad business.”

In September that year, 50 US states and territories banded together to commit to another antitrust investigation, due to concerns about Google’s impact on smaller companies. They’re hoping to send a “strong message” to the giant, but it’s hard to hurt them financially when parent company Alphabet is worth over $820bn.

5. Treatment of employees

From the outside, Google is generally seen as a great company to work for, but multiple concerns have been raised by employees in recent years. Two employee activists, Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton, organised a mass demonstration against Google, where 20,000 workers walked out of their offices to protest the handling of sexual harassment claims. A few months later, both Whittaker and Stapleton felt that they’d been made to pay for their role in the walkout. The former explained in an open letter what happened subsequently:

“Just after Google announced that it would disband its AI ethics council, I was informed my role would be changed dramatically. I’m told that to remain at the company I will have to abandon my work on AI ethics and the AI Now Institute, which I cofounded, and which has been doing rigorous and recognized work on these topics. I have worked on issues of AI ethics and bias for years, and am one of the people who helped shape the field looking at these problems. I have also taken risks to push for a more ethical Google, even when this is less profitable or convenient.”

Stapleton was told she was going to be demoted, despite being a high performer in her sector. After failed attempts to escalate to HR and her vice president, Google suggested she go on medical leave, despite having no illness. She eventually had her role reinstated after lawyering up.

It could be a series of coincidental circumstances, but it’s easy to see why they feel penalised for their role in the demonstration. Either way, not a good look for Google.

6. Pushing AMP

I quietly ignored AMP when it first arrived on the scene. “Accelerated Mobile Pages” tended to load quickly on my phone, although it was annoying if I quickly copied a link only to see a weird AMP version on my desktop.

A range of privacy experts penned a letter discussing their problems with the Google project: “AMP keeps users within Google’s domain and diverts traffic away from other websites for the benefit of Google. At a scale of billions of users, this has the effect of further reinforcing Google’s dominance of the Web.”

Considering that Google already controls much of what is seen and heard online, this is a worrying development. 

7. Google’s changeable ethical stance, and AI concerns 

The ethics of AI is a delicate subject, one probably deserving of its own article. Of course, Google is heavily invested in AI, and has released a list of principles and objectives for their applications. They’ve committed to staying away from weapons tech, but admit “we will continue our work with governments and the military in many other areas. These include cybersecurity, training, military recruitment, veterans’ healthcare, and search and rescue.”

While their technology won’t be used to actively kill people, it would be preferable for Google to ensure their AI development is safe and ethical. They launched the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC) in 2019 to work on developing AI responsibly, but it was forced to close just a week later. More than 2,000 Google employees signed a petition criticising the company’s selection of one of the council members, Kay Coles James, who The Guardian reported “has a history of fighting against trans rights and LGBT protections, has advocated for Trump’s proposed border wall, and has taken a vocal stance against abortion rights.”

Arguably not the best person to comment on ethical issues.

8. (A Lack of) Diversity

In a similar vein, Google has rolled back a number of diversity and inclusion initiatives in recent years. ‘Sojourn’, a “comprehensive racial justice program created for employees to learn about implicit bias and how to navigate conversations about race and inequality”, was cut entirely.

NBC News reported on the rollback in 2020; after contacting Google employees, it found that:

“Seven current and former employees from across a range of teams and roles at the company said separately that they all believed the reason behind cutting Sojourn and taking employees off diversity projects to move them elsewhere at Google was to shield the company from backlash from conservatives.”

However, in terms of diversity itself, it’s worth noting that Google has seen incremental positive change in direct workforce representation year on year.

Ethical Google Alternatives

We’ve come up with a list containing some of the best ethical alternatives to popular Google-owned products.

Ethical Google Analytics Alternatives:

Launched in 2005, Google Analytics is a platform used to track and report on website traffic, and accounts for a significant share of the online analytics market. 

It’s free to use, but by doing so you’ll be handing Google even more of your data. (There’s also a premium version, Google Analytics 360, which features a variety of paid tiers.)

If you plan to record website traffic, it’s best to have a transparent policy about any data collected, so we’ve listed a couple of great ethical alternatives below:

Clicky

For web analytics, 1,336,176 websites currently depend on Clicky to monitor, analyse, and react to their traffic in real time. It produces detailed reports with a range of additional data available, and you can see how its features compare with big names in the sector here

It’s also General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)-compliant, and works to anonymise visitor IP addresses by default.

AT Internet

AT Internet provides “flawless data quality powered by an advanced, ethical and user-friendly solution”. That ticks the majority of the boxes in terms of what we’re looking for; it further notes that:

“AT Internet has always held the protection of users’ data and respect for their privacy as a fundamental value and a guiding principle. As a result, our Analytics Suite is fully compliant with the GDPR. We provide our customers with real guarantees, meeting the strictest privacy criteria.”
However, it’s worth mentioning that the company was acquired by Piano Software Inc. in 2021, for an undisclosed sum. We’ll have to wait and see whether this affects the service in the long term.

Plausible

Plausible is marketed as a simple, lightweight alternative to Google Analytics. Their script is 14 times smaller, which should mean quicker load times, and key information is stored on a single page. It’s open-source and available on GitHub, and is committed to giving the user full ownership of their data. It’s great if you’d prefer a minimalist approach, and also emails users a weekly report including key stats like “pageviews, visitor numbers, top pages and top referrers for the week.”

Countly

Countly is an analytics platform that offers a chunkier experience than Plausible. You’ll still find all relevant information on a single dashboard, but with additional detail about everything from custom actions to tracking individual sessions. Countly gives the user full control and ownership of their data. It’s a UK-based company, but all  employees work remotely.

Fathom

Fathom Analytics provides “simple, useful website stats” without tracking or storing personal information about its users. Instead, it collects data about trends and insights, so there are no ethical ramifications about optimising your website traffic. Everything is available via a single screen, and it’s “built on modern, cloud-based technology.”

Ethical Google Search Alternatives: 

Google’s quintessential service, its search bar helped the company to grow into the behemoth we know today. 

Over the years, Google has faced numerous complaints about its search function. For example, there’s the use of dark patterns to get users to click on ads, or the censored version released to comply with Chinese regulations. 

After a $5bn fine for the way Google promoted apps on the Android OS, the company allowed different search engines to be installed as default apps on its devices in Europe. It did so to meet EU regulations, but by proposing an auction, with spots going to the highest bidders, its methods still raised eyebrows. 

Ethical search engine Ecosia released a response, saying that it would “not be taking part in Google’s revenue-making auction. We are calling on Google to cease damaging, monopolistic behavior. Android users deserve the option to freely choose their search engine, and that choice should not be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Google has chosen to give discrimination a different form and make everyone else but themselves pay, which isn’t something we can accept.”

Ecosia

Given their strong stance, it’s only fair that we add Ecosia to our list of recommendations. It uses ad revenue from searches to plant trees, so are hard to ignore if you’re looking for an ethical option. Founded in 2009, the browser is completely free, and the company aims to bring reforestation to those who need it most. To date, it has planted over 69 million trees and counting, as well as helping coffee farmers in Colombia and protecting orangutan habitat, among other projects.

MetaGer

MetaGer states that it “protects against censorship by combining the results of multiple search engines. Our algorithms are transparent and available for everyone to read.”’

In terms of the collection and use of personal information, it says: “By using MetaGer you retain full control over your data. Our anonymizing proxy keeps you protected even when you continue surfing. We don’t track.”
This is backed up by its privacy policy, which lists all of the information it does collect in a transparent fashion.

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is a nifty alternative search engine with none of the worrying privacy problems associated with Google. Your IP address isn’t stored, and your user information isn’t logged – meaning search results aren’t skewed by your history, and your browsing data is private. DDG is customisable, with options and themes like Dark Mode. It’s also popular, as they record 1.3bn searches per month. It takes time to disconnect from Google’s web, but DDG makes the switch painless. 

Searx

Searx is another popular metasearch engine solution. 

A metasearch engine (or search aggregator) is an online tool that uses the data of other search engines to produce its own results. In other words, it’s like using multiple search engines like Yahoo!, Bing, and Google at the same time. (Roughly 70 are supported at the time of writing.)

It’s self-hosted, and there’s no user tracking or user profiling. Searx protects the privacy of its users in multiple ways, regardless of type (private/public). Removal of private data from search requests comes in three forms: 

  • Removal of private data from requests going to search services 
  • Not forwarding anything from a third party’s services through search services (e.g. advertisements) 
  • Removal of private data from requests going to the result pages.

YaCy

YaCy is a distributed web search engine, based on a peer-to-peer network. Its FAQ notes: 

“YaCy has a strong connection to privacy-aware tools. As such it does not collect personalized data. It also has no ‘phoning-home’ integrated. This web page does not use cookies. However, linked services may have cookies.”

It will take some getting used to, compared to Google search, but it promises that you “don’t need any special knowledge or additional software” to get started.

Ethical Android Alternatives:

Google acquired the Android mobile platform in 2005 for a reported fee of $50m, prior to release in 2008. A great success, it proved to be a lucrative purchase. 

Android is currently the most popular mobile OS in the world, having held this crown since 2011. (Estimates put Android’s market share at roughly 72.44% over the past 12 months.)

However, in 2018, the European Commission found that Android had used its mobile OS to illegally “cement its dominant position”. The commission fined the company $5m, and threatened to charge “further penalties of up to 5% of its average global daily turnover” unless changes were made.

Similarly, Google was fined a further £127m in September 2021 for “allegedly preventing smartphone makers like Samsung from using customised versions of its Android operating system” in South Korea. 

The chairwoman of the Fair Trade Commission (FTC), Joh Sung-wook, said in a statement: “The Korea Fair Trade Commission’s decision is meaningful in a way that it provides an opportunity to restore future competitive pressure in the mobile OS and app markets.”

Apple might be a slightly better option in terms of privacy (aside from its draconian walled garden), but what ethical OSes are there?

LineageOS

How about “a free and open-source operating system for various devices, based on the Android mobile platform”?

LineageOS extends the functionality and lifespan of mobile devices from more than 20 different manufacturers, thanks to an open-source community of contributors from around the world.

It also removes a lot of bloatware, while still including many essential and useful apps such as AudioFX and FlipFlap. It also offers a range of features that aren’t available on the Android OS.

Replicant

Replicant is another option which fits the bill. It’s “a fully free Android distribution running on several devices, a free software mobile operating system putting the emphasis on freedom and privacy/security”. 

Replicant uses LineageOS’s source code as a base, with parts of the code reworked to remove anti-features that can spy on the user. Most importantly, Replicant does not include any of LineageOS’s proprietary components (programs, libraries, firmwares), and instead provides some free software replacements. The rest of the system is also adapted so that these replacements can run correctly.

Purism Librem 5

The Purism Librem 5 is marketed as a mobile phone “for anybody and everybody interested in protecting his/her data, communicating privately to your loved ones, or supporting a future of protecting your digital rights.” That’s pretty much everybody, and Librem has kept its promises. It’s built with PureOS, an open-source operating system not based on either Android or iOS. It’s the perfect choice if you’d like to stay away from this traditional duo, although it is expensive at $699. It was due for release in September 2019, with the first batch shipped out on the 24th.

Ethical YouTube Alternatives:

I hate what YouTube has become. 

YouTube is undoubtedly the largest video-sharing website in the world, with content on almost every topic uploaded constantly. Yet despite being popular enough to give bigger content creators full-time jobs, the platform has faced a variety of issues over the years. 

As with Android, it was acquired by Google – for $1.65bn, in 2006. YouTube is now another cornerstone of Google’s services, but has been subject to problems and issues ranging from uploaded content to censorship.

(And, since the service has been heavily monetised, it’s now almost unusable, with even 30-second videos featuring multiple ads.)

DTube 

DTube aims to become an alternative to YouTube, allowing users to watch or upload videos on the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) and share or comment on the immutable STEEM blockchain, while earning cryptocurrency. 

Because of the decentralised nature of IPFS and the STEEM blockchain, DTube is not able to censor videos or enforce guidelines. Only users can censor content, through the power of their up- and downvotes.
Best of all, there are no adverts! The crypto angle makes DTube slightly suspect, but it’s a viable method for circumventing the usual advert-driven business model. It’s also very similar to YouTube’s layout and overall design.

PeerTube

The most similar ethical alternative has to be PeerTube. Financed by French non-profit organisation Framasoft, it’s a “decentralised video hosting network, based on free/libre software.” In plain English, PeerTube is a network with many different hosting providers, and you’re free to join or host your own. PeerTube UK is an example of a network it’s possible to join. In practice, it has a similar layout to YouTube, and since it was only released in October 2018, expect more features and updates in the coming months.

Flix Premiere

If you’re more interested in content, Flix Premiere is a platform for watching a range of award-winning independent films. Signing up is free for the first month, and it’s available on a range of smart devices. The Guardian did call it “the Lidl of indie cinema” – but the German supermarket does offer good value for money…

Ethical Chrome Browser Alternatives:

It’s entirely possible that you’re reading this right now on Chrome. It’s another Google service that’s a leader in its field, somewhat justifiably. Personalised results make it easier to find what you’re looking for – but every interesting entry is liable to be added to your advertising profile in some shape or form.

Removing yourself from Chrome will go some way to curbing the data Google can collect about you, so we’ve listed a couple of great privacy-focused alternatives below:

Brave

The Brave browser is a fast, private, and secure web browser for PC, Mac, and mobile. (It’s also what I’m using to write this review.)

Other browsers claim to have a ‘private mode’, but these only hide the history within your own browser. Brave lets you use the Onion Router, or Tor (free, open-source software for anonymous communication), within a tab. Tor not only hides your history, it masks your location from the sites you visit by routing your browsing through several servers before it reaches your destination. These connections are encrypted to increase anonymity.

It’s also exceptionally fast, as it blocks all ads and trackers while in use. (I’ve blocked over 200,000 adverts over a period of roughly six months, saving just under three hours in total.) 

Adverts on Brave use a crypto token called a Basic Attention Token (BAT), which is paid to the user at the end of the month. You can also choose to hide ads entirely, as I’ve done in the image above.

Tor

The Tor browser is well-known in privacy circles, as it blocks third-party ads and trackers while you’re online. Despite being blocked by some mobile internet providers, it’s perfectly safe, and the nonprofit’s mission is to “advance human rights and freedoms by creating and deploying free and open source anonymity and privacy technologies”. Tor was used to great effect by protestors during the 2010 Arab Spring, although the privacy features have seen it used for sale of illegal drugs and distribution of paedophilic images. In cases like these, the company will work with law enforcement agencies to apprehend those involved. 

Firefox

Mozilla’s Firefox was briefly the second-most-used web browser, before being surpassed by Chrome in November 2011. At the time, Firefox was noticeably slower when loading pages, and took up a lot of memory. Though eventually overtaken by the lightweight Google Chrome, Firefox has improved massively in recent years. TechRadar rated it fastest web browser in a May 2019 report, so it’s worth checking out on that basis alone. Firefox is also completely free to use, and runs on open-source software.

Ethical Gmail Alternatives:

Gmail is a free, advertising-supported email service released in April 2004. 

Over 1.8 billion users worldwide make Gmail indisputably the most popular email platform. By comparison, just 400 million use Microsoft Outlook and only 225 million have signed up to Yahoo Mail. 

But, in a world of data-driven digital marketing, can you trust an email service owned by Google, and what ethical alternatives are available?

StartMail

StartMail is based in the Netherlands and complies with EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) privacy laws – some of the most stringent regulations for the protection of consumers’ personal data.

It offers 10GB storage, and you’ll be able to use your own domain, create temporary email addresses, and send password-encrypted messages. 

Interestingly, anonymous payments can be made with bitcoin. As a premium service, personal accounts come in at $35.99 per year, while business accounts with custom domain support and centralised billing are also offered.

Runbox

An independent, private Norwegian company, Runbox is headquartered in Oslo. The company’s email service was launched in September 2000, with the key personnel from Runbox Solutions involved ever since. 

In its current form, the company was founded in March 2011, and is owned by employees, board members (77.54% in 2018), and close associates. That’s a great start, and its ethical credentials are proudly listed on its website: 

“We take our ethical responsibility seriously and will always make our best moral judgments with regards to our customers, our employees, our partners, and our shareholders. We will act ethically with regards to the principles that govern Norwegian legislation, such as human rights, freedom of speech, and environmental rights. We comply with Norwegian laws and regulations, and we will never intentionally compromise them.”

ProtonMail

ProtonMail is a Swiss end-to-end-encrypted email service protected by the country’s substantial privacy laws; your data can’t be shared with third parties, and no personal info is required to open an account. ProtonMail is an open-source project, and basic accounts are always free. It can be used without installing any additional software, and there are apps for iOS and Android to complement its web version. The company “[does] not have access to the contents of emails on [its] servers thanks to zero-access encryption”, while its paid plan vastly upgrades storage, as well as allowing for a custom domain name.

Tutanota

Another open-source, end-to-end-encrypted option, Tutanota claim to be “the world’s most secure email service”. However, they do collect metadata that includes sender, recipient, and the date of the message. Free, with 1GB of storage allocated to private users, its email systems are powered by green energy. The business version of their website is donated to non-profit organisations, and iOS and Android apps are available for mobile devices. You can check out the roadmap listing a range of upcoming features here.

Mailbox.org

Mailbox.org offers a combination of email and cloud storage from €1 per month. Powered by eco-friendly energy, with servers located in Germany, it was released in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013, providing a “secure, ad-free, anonymous, and tracking-free email service”. The company goes the extra mile to ensure eco-friendliness, using options like public transport or car-sharing for travel, and renewable energy in their offices. The Mailbox.org client is available on mobile and desktop, and comes with a packaged cloud office suite which can be used for editing documents and sorting out appointments via an address book.

Fastmail

Fastmail is a privacy-focused company, taking aim at competitors like Gmail and Outlook with their premium service. Giving the user “complete ownership and control of their data”,’ calendars and contacts, as well as email, are available via one app. All users will have an ad-free experience, while extra features like your own email domain, or extra online storage, can be purchased. A 30-day free trial means you can give it a try if you’re not sure about paying for an email address. They argue that the “companies that monetise your data owe you a lot more than a ‘free’ account for what they get!”

Ethical Google Drive Alternatives:

Google Drive is a file storage and synchronisation service with over one billion users worldwide. Google Docs are seen as an industry standard for many companies, as it allows anyone with an account to create, edit, and share documents and spreadsheets. It includes 15GB of space for storing files and images, but this is shared across Gmail and Google Photos. Though highly functional, it is susceptible to spammers.

The Google Drive terms of service promise not to use or share “your files and data with others except as described in our Privacy Policy”. In turn, the privacy policy states: “We use the information we collect to customise our services for you, including providing recommendations, personalised content and customised search results. Depending on your settings, we may also show you personalised ads based on your interests. For example, if you search for ‘mountain bikes’, you may see an ad for sports equipment when you’re browsing a site that shows ads served by Google.”

So though it’s free, some of your information may be used for anything from personalised adverts to general improvements to the service. If you’re worried about the privacy of your Google Drive data, here are a couple of alternatives:

Nextcloud

Nextcloud is another viable solution: “Unlike competitors, we offer hosting strictly through partners and have absolutely no incentive to lock our customers into a SAAS [software as a service] solution.” 

The company’s mission is to develop software for decentralised and federated clouds as alternatives to centralised cloud services. It’s 100% open source, and has a strong focus on sustainability, privacy, and security.

NordLocker 

NordLocker is developed by Nord Security, a well-known cybersecurity company which is also behind NordVPN. Its encrypted solution comes with a free, 3GB lifetime plan, which upscales depending on the amount of data required.
It says: “NordLocker was designed to bring privacy back to you. You hold the encryption key. That’s why no one else, not even us, knows what you encrypt or store on the cloud.”

LibreOffice

LibreOffice, an offshoot of OpenOffice, created by non-profit the Document Foundation, is a completely free and open-source office suite, available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.  It includes a range of apps analogous to Google Drive’s word processor, spreadsheet and presentation programs, plus many others. It’s also highly compatible with Microsoft Office apps, and has a similar interface to the popular MS service. There’s no real-time co-authoring, but another alternative is available if that’s a make or break feature: 

Etherpad

If you’ve used Google Docs, you’ll know how handy it is to be able to collaboratively edit a project in real-time. Etherpad is an open-source online editor with good functionality and customisation options, developed by volunteer contributors on GitHub. As you can see from the image above, it’s easy to colour-code different parts of a document to different authors, and there’s a chatbox for talking things out. Interestingly, Etherpad was originally a Google competitor when first released in 2008, but were quickly snapped up by the giant. The software was acquired and discontinued, but was later released as open-source in 2009 following an “outcry from users”.

Ethical Google Maps Alternatives:

The main ethical concern with Google Maps is arguably the privacy users have given away in the name of progress. You’ll never get lost, but if you leave the app open with location services running Google will always have a rough idea where you are.

OpenStreetMap

OpenStreetMap is a collaborative tool which “powers map data on thousands of web sites, mobile apps, and hardware devices”. The project was inspired by Wikipedia, and is developed by millions of users. 

The service can be used positively, such as when, in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, “107 volunteers from around the world logged on to their computers and, over the course of five days, used satellite imagery and mapping software to identify and draw more than 1,600 roads and 9,000 buildings.” Among other examples, it also helped following a devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and has worked to map Ebola-affected areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Its deeds speak for themselves, and it’s classified as ‘open data’, so everyone is “free to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt our data, as long as you credit OpenStreetMap and its contributors”.

Mapstr

For mobile users, Mapstr allows users to “keep track of all your favorite places around the world, tag them, and find them on your very own map”. 

Unlike with many other mapping platforms, privacy is key here, and you can choose what you share and who you share it with. Nothing is made public, including “your places, your custom places, your comments, the pictures you add, and the information you change”.

Ethical Google Translate Alternatives: 

Google Translate makes it easier to understand the insults I receive online, and there’s no denying that it’s a slick piece of tech when it works. 

It’s also improving all the time, as we’re handing the company so much information. There are still multiple teething problems, and it’s another market Google owns a significant share of.  

DeepL

DeepL is a premium service available in 26 languages, which you can test out for free, up to a limit of 5,000 characters. It says: 

“With DeepL’s advanced features, you can simplify your workflow, save valuable time, and scale your translation needs without compromising on translation quality.”

The pro version will translate entire documents, while also offering alternative translations, the choice between a formal or an informal tone, and integration tools.

It also offers an offline dictionary app called Linguee, which translates German, French, Italian, and various other languages.

Ethical Google Authenticator Alternatives:

Google Authenticator works using two-step verification to provide an additional layer of security when signing in. It’s always smart to have an authenticator of some sort, but you don’t have to use the Google-branded solution.

Authy

Authy is a solid two-factor authentication (2FA) alternative. It’s completely free, with no hidden fees or adverts.

“In a nutshell, Authy is a product of Twilio, a company that makes it easy for businesses to communicate with individuals (and vice versa) by providing developers with access to complete software solutions. These businesses pay for authentications generated by Twilio’s pre-built authentication software, the Authy API [application programming interface]. The Authy app is free for end users because, in essence, it’s paid for by businesses working with Twilio to ensure you stay protected.”

Authy 2FA will work with any site that prompts you to use Google Authenticator, or any other time-based one-time password (TOTP) service.

FreeOTP

FreeOTP is a simple open-source, two-factor authentication application available on both the Play Store and the App Store. It’s sponsored and officially published by Red Hat, and has one of the cleanest privacy policies I’ve ever seen. 

Ethical Google Calendar Alternatives: 

Google Calendar isn’t necessarily the best option in terms of privacy, as it’s not ideal for Google to have even more information about the average user. Also, if you use the service for work or school, your administrator may be able to view your calendar. The company argues that:

“Google respects your privacy. We access your private content only when we have your permission or are required to by law.”

Nevertheless, we’ve tracked down an open-source option for mobile users:

Etar

For Android users, Etar (from the Arabic ‘إِيتَار’) is an open-source calendar app available on the Play Store. (It’s also available as part of F-Droid, which we’ll get into below.)

As it explains: “On Android there are ‘Calendar providers’. These can be calendars that are synchronized with a cloud service or local calendars. Basically any app could provide a calendar. Those ‘provided’ calendars can be used by Etar. You can even configure which ones are shown and when adding an event to which calendar it should be added.”

Ethical Play Store Alternatives: 

What about the Play Store itself? The platform is used for apps and varied digital content. There are a number of external options on the market, such as the Amazon Appstore, while the Epic Games Store could be strong competition in the long run. 

In the present, there is a sole alternative worth mentioning: 

F-Droid

F-Droid is an installable catalogue of free and open-source software (FOSS) applications for the Android platform. It’s powered by user donations, and is updated regularly with new features and languages. This non-profit also has a strong track record in terms of data and privacy:

“​​F-Droid respects your privacy. We don’t track you, or your device. We don’t track what you install. You don’t need an account to use the client, and it sends no additional identifying data when communicating with our web servers, other than its version number. We don’t even allow you to install other applications from the repository that track you, unless you first enable ‘Tracking’ in the AntiFeatures section of preferences. Any personal data you decide to give us (e.g. your email address when registering for an account to post on the forum) goes no further than us, and will not be used for anything other than allowing you to maintain your account.”

How to avoid using Google

Google search is easy to avoid, but it’s near impossible to avoid all their products and services if you spend any amount of time online. Business is business, but they might have a stake in everything from the phone in your pocket to documenting your online shopping habits.

Escaping Google’s web is a tough task, but the least you can do is ensure you’re giving them less personal info than they would like. Their apps and services are well made, but it’s down to you to decide whether that’s worth the ethical trade-off.

We’d welcome any suggestions for apps that we haven’t covered, or additional ways to keep your data safe from Google. Check out our list of resources and organisations if you’d like to find out more!

Resources: Organisations

Internet Society (link)
Privacy International (link)
Reclaim the Net (link)
The Document Foundation (link)

Resources: Further reading

  • ‘Google Will Always Do Evil’ (link)
  • ‘How Tech Companies Deceive You into Giving Up Your Data and Privacy’ (link)
  • Reddit: ‘r/degoogle’ (link)
  • ‘Google AMP Can Go to Hell’ (link)

Update

This guide was updated on 23 October, 2021.

Featured photo by Reza Rostampisheh on Unsplash

Author

James is a journalism graduate/freelance writer from London, who specialises in sports and technology. He has a particular interest in tech for good, and in his spare time he enjoys playing video games.

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