Leaving Google, Part 1: Search Engine, Email

Okay, so I’ve decided to leave Google, now how can I replace the same tools that Google gave me – for free?

As I’ve mentioned in the previous post, the reason why Google provides their products for free is because they earn profit off the data those products gather. You will be hard-pressed to find a free tool that provides a decent level of privacy and security. The key things to look for are open source software and donation-funded software. In some cases, you will have to pay something in order to get quality software. Just keep that in mind; I will attempt to list the prices of the software I use, for your convenience.

Since the last time I posted, I have begun migration of my default search engine and personal email provider.

 

Search Engine

Google, by default, records your search history and which webpages you often visit from the results. This is used to improve their algorithms and make searches more relevant to you, but it also creates a profile of your interests which they can use to target ads at you. Enter DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo is a relatively young but maturing search engine that started in 2008. Since then, it has grown to over 15 million searches done daily. Its privacy policy states that the only data stored in the cloud is the terms of your search, to help correct misspellings or provide more overall relevant suggestions. It does not collect any information that could potentially personally identify what machine or person performed the search (like IP address, User Agent data, location, WiFi network, etc.).

I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for the past 2 weeks, and I have had no serious issues with it. The search suggestions and results are significantly less useful than what I saw on Google; the results I used to see on the top of the page have gone down toward the middle. However, it is not a huge inconvenience; it is expected of a search engine that is not personalized. Overall, I would highly recommend DuckDuckGo as an alternative search engine. As a bonus, it is free and open source!

 

Email

Transitioning email providers seems like a lot of work. Imagine if you had to access the account of every website you’ve ever registered your email address to. That’s what I’ve had to do over the past 2 weeks; there are some accounts I had even forgotten that I had! Before we get to that, we need an email provider. I had the choices narrowed down to two: ProtonMail and FastMail. Self-hosting a web server is also a possibility, but you will still have to have a third-party email address to register a domain for it.

ProtonMail is the provider of choice if you want absolute security and privacy. It is an email provider hosted from Switzerland, where there are strict laws that enforce the privacy of users’ data. They do not track any personal data, meaning they cannot provide any direct proof that a certain person is linked to a certain mailbox unless the mailbox becomes decrypted and personally-identifiable information is found. It also enforces that emails be encrypted end-to-end, meaning only the user holds the key that can decrypt messages stored on the server. The only disadvantage is that end-to-end encryption is not supported by common email clients like Thunderbird; you must download and install their own app. Bonus: it is open source and provides free accounts with limited capacity. The standard plan is 48 EUR (USD 54.12) per year.

FastMail is another privacy-oriented e-mail provider that is hosted from Australia, which is another nation that has very strict privacy and anti-surveillance laws. Its advantage over ProtonMail is that it provides compatibility with IMAP/POP clients like Mozilla Thunderbird; however, that means that they can read messages on the server. This is not so bad; they still state that they do not use your personal information and do not cooperate with blanket surveillance agencies. They have 2 plans aimed at personal use, priced at USD 30 and 50 per year, with the main difference being the amount of storage available for your inbox. They also have a professional plan for USD 90 per year with even more storage and features targeted at business owners.

In the end, I chose FastMail for my personal needs. In the long run, I will be spending less for a few tradeoffs in privacy. I am currently on the $30 plan and will switch to $50 later if I run out of storage.

 

Stay tuned for next time; we will be talking about media and productivity apps!