DEV Community

Cover image for Google alternatives?
Ingo Steinke
Ingo Steinke

Posted on

Google alternatives?

Some years ago, I tried to use Android without using Google. While my wife was using a Fairphone One with Google services, I had a rooted Samsung Galaxy S II with open source Android 7 (AOSP) thanks to cyanogenmod / LineageOS. I could have used Google apps, play store and Google location provider etc. but that time I preferred to try the hardcore google-less way.

Cyanogen mood: my old rooted Galaxy phone
Cyanogen mood: my old rooted Galaxy phone is still part of my device lab.

Cyanogen mood

It's inconvenient, yet possible, to use Android phones without Google services. No assistant, no spyware, no convenient online services at all, unless you explicitly choose and install one.

I felt a bit like a yokel wearing a tinfoil hat: no popular solution worked out of the box, no way to use banking or car sharing apps (that either refused to start on a rooted phone for security reasons or didn't support location services from any other location provider except for Google), and as many popular apps are not listed in f-droid, I had to download apk files from Android Police's APK mirror and make a manual install for every update.

The lesser evil as a comfortable compromise?

When I was looking for a new job (before eventually becoming a self-employed freelancer), I chose to try the exact opposite strategy for a while, currently using a Google Pixel 4a and all of their services, including docs and calendar sync. Despite the clunky UI of Android 12, it still seemed a good user experience over all, and I was happy to get all the latest security updates and have access to my data from any device.

Android 12's Controversial Clunky UI Update

Just upgraded to Android 12 and what the fuck is this new UI?!

Android 12 Screenshots: People are getting so angry over this controversial change in Android 12

If this is supposed to be more accessible, then why most of the text is truncated and keeps moving like an old LED advert device in a cheap shop window?

Don't look beautiful

Google still have cute animations on their search website and I still like their artwork in the calendar app, but somehow their current motto seems to be "don't look beautiful". But wasn't that supposed to be "don't be evil" when Google appeared as a fresh new hipster startup?

When Google dropped "don't be evil" 😡

Although Google dropped their motto "don't be evil" some years ago, their services still seem to be the lesser evil or rather the only useful alternative in several cases.

Trying to use Ecosia, which makes use of Microsoft Bing as the actual search engine, for "googling" dev related knowledge, I had to resort to Google sooner or later again, which will also refuse to produce useful search results eventually.

Searching without matches: screenshot of a blue character sitting with a fishing rod, next to the message: your search did not match any documents.

Adding (mis)features instead of fixes

Instead of fixing their very own search algorithm and stop to deteriorate the popular Android operating system, Google tryed to use its supremacy as the most powerful Chromium maintainer to push the controversial tracking technology FLoC.

Screenshot of a drawn eye with the Google Chrome logo as a pupil on the sites Am I FLoCed?

But Google's public blunders are just the tip of the iceberg.

Try and google Dr. Timnit Gebru and you may never want "to google" anymore. Dr. Gebru, founder of the Distributed AI Research Institute, was terminated as Google’s ethical AI leader in December 2020 after criticizing the company’s practices in a research paper. Quoting a DAIR mission statement:

AI is not inevitable, its harms are preventable, and when its production and deployment include diverse perspectives and deliberate processes, it can be beneficial.

This video by VICE news, AI Ethics Researcher Timnit Gebru's Firing Doesn’t Look Good For Google, is provided by YouTube, a former startup that was purchased by Google in 2006. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, the "big four" or "GAFA" companies are North American firms that have become a dangerously powerful oligopoly that dominates most people's digital lives.

Trying to make a list of useful alternatives

As we can see, there is a growing list of reasons to ditch Google products and services for good, but we have to find and support useful alternatives. Here are some that I already tried or that I'm willing to give a(nother) try someday:

Google as a search engine 🔎

Maps and Navigation 🗺️

Weather

Web Browser 🕸️🌏

  • Chromium (like Chrome, without Google extras)
  • Vivaldi (based on Chromium, maintained by ex-Opera staff?)

Android System and Android App Stores 🛒

  • f-droid
  • apkmirror (app store mirror server by androidpolice)
  • LineageOS (formerly known as Cyanogen Mod)
  • TeamWin TWRP
  • What about Sailfish, Ubuntu Phone, and Firefox OS? Is this still a thing?

Smartphones and Computers 🖥️🐧

  • Fairphone
  • Tuxedo or any other Laptop preinstalled with Linux
  • Apple and Microsoft (if you're doing native app development or you just don't like Linux)
  • Sailfish OS

Calendar, Contact Sync, Documents 📅

Ads and Analytics

Google Analytics was recently declared illegal in the EU as Austria's data regulator has found that the use of Google Analytics is a breach of GDPR. And Google Ads, like any other "behavioral" advertising, is not only unethical and a waste of bandwidth and usability that can deteriorate your website's web vitals ranking, but as Jeremy Keith pointed out, it does not even work.

Google Analytics

  • Matomo (formerly known as Piwik)

Google Ads

  • any other commercial ad provider: not really an alternative
  • hosting selected ads on your local server, that match your content
  • getting a sponsor

finish my work in progress

Acknowledging the tendency to release thoughts and concepts instead of striving for perfection, I have just wrote down what came into my mind without making any effort to add any up-to-date research myself. DEV is not StackOverflow, and you can't downvote, so please do my homework and help me complete this list. At least I did add some external links.

In the end, we might all benefit from a community effort, so please leave your suggestions in the comments!

Discussion (25)

Collapse
patricktingen profile image
Patrick Tingen

For a while now I am using startpage.com/ as search page. It is essentially a shell around google, thus giving you the google results (albeit non-personalised) while not giving away data to Google. You might want to give it a try

Collapse
ingosteinke profile image
Ingo Steinke Author

Thanks @patricktingen ! I should probably also add metaGer which combines results from more than one search engine.
Does anyone have a source where DuckDuckGo fetch their results? Meta or just Google as well?

Collapse
valeriavg profile image
Valeria

According to wiki:

DuckDuckGo's results are a compilation of "over 400" sources,[53] including Yahoo! Search BOSS, Wolfram Alpha, Bing, Yandex, its own web crawler (the DuckDuckBot) and others.[3][53][54][55] It also uses data from crowdsourced sites, including Wikipedia, to populate knowledge panel boxes to the right of the results.[55][56]

Thread Thread
melvyn_sopacua_afcf30b58a profile image
Melvyn Sopacua

And yet, primary results are Bing. On the shopping tab you may even find ads now. I was like ... the hell? and worked that feedback button.

But most annoyingly, you can't do precise searches, even when quoting things, it always tries to think for you and assume you mean something else as well, and then doesn't actually find the thing you are looking for and even puts in results (and lots of them) where your words aren't even on the page, the source or even the backend code if you could read it.

The only one that - aside from privacy - really did a good job providing relevant results and had it's own index, was Cliqz, which unfortunately had to fold due to changing priorities.

There's also Qwant, but again, Bing powered and I gave up using it, because performance was abysmal. Perhaps that has changed.

Collapse
aaronmccollum profile image
Aaron McCollum • Edited on

Happy to help add to the list - if I overlooked or missed something and list a duplicate below...well...whoops

Browser: Firefox - I have had a great experience with them for the most part. Their most recent UI update makes it less boxy with the harsh edges, which makes me happy.

Calendar, Email: Protonmail - they are my secondary email provider. Solid.

That being said, I still use Google as my primary tool for most of everything and will probably continue to do so. However I do use Ecosia when I can, as I really love their mission.

Collapse
kanishka profile image
Kanishka

I switched to Protonmail as my primary two years ago. Today, I just noticed that ProtonMail has a small indicator in the header section of each email message indicating the number of trackers that were intercepted and where the trackers were coming from!

It's possible to make non-google services as your primary, you just to have to build up familiarity and proficiency with the alternatives. The only one that requires multiple apps to replace it is Google Maps and still can leave you wanting for something more feature full than the current alternatives.

Fundamentally, we have to decide whether we are willing to sacrifice some of the convenience funded by massive amounts of venture capital and revenue from advertising or not.

Collapse
zsh profile image
❮ ZI ❯

It's confirmed and well known already that ProtonMail is a huge honeypot, mostly de-anonymizing users and collecting data. Also it provides fake security which looks good but does noting. Do a little research, won't take long. I liked Proton services a lot at the beginning.

Thread Thread
kanishka profile image
Kanishka

Thanks. I haven't done any research on the deeper encryption questions. I'm mostly shopping for applications and services that are partially or fully open source and which aren't supported by selling user information to advertisers. So, even if ProtonMail did cooperate closely with governments, it is at least claiming to have a business model paid by user subscriptions instead of paid by advertising.

Collapse
ingosteinke profile image
Ingo Steinke Author

some more thoughts on corporations: "GAFA" is missing Microsoft, another very big and influential company that keeps buying and assimilating smaller startups and established businesses. While Microsoft is said to have better accessibility, and they have partially embraced open source and release useful cross platform stuff like VSCode and Edge browser, they're still bad and annyoing in their own way.
Some similarities between Microsoft and Google: usability and design got worse and more ugly, and more confusing over the years, both have search engines that aren't really doing a good job, both offer online advertising with ugly and confusing dashboard apps, and dubious value, to spread ugly ads over the internet and collect user data while doing it. And so on....

Collapse
karandpr profile image
Karan Gandhi

1).It's very hard to escape Google on an Android. @theimpulson can back me up on this. (he works for /e/ OS btw).
If you have developed an Android App, push notifications, safetynet, & lot of stuff need GMS. The only alternative to GMS is microG.

2.)Developing an Android app without using Google libraries for android is very difficult. You can see lot of F-Droid apps use Google SDKs and they are marked "using non-free libraries".
Also since late 2021, Developers have to upload apps in aab format on Play Store. It will be a hassle for developers to make APKs since aab's are also signed by google. They cause signature conflicts.

PinePhone is the only half decent open source option. But it's not a functional phone, rather an enthusiast device.

Collapse
thumbone profile image
Bernd Wechner • Edited on

Puzzles me to see ownclowd on a list without nextcloud. Which forked from owncloud (over openness issues) and as far as I know has grown bigger and more popular than owncloud and I generally find ahead of owncloud on lists.

I'd also add OWA to the Google Analytics replacements.

openwebanalytics.com/

Collapse
webbureaucrat profile image
webbureaucrat • Edited on

For doc sync etc.

  • NextCloud
  • Mega.NZ
  • skiff.org
  • Disroot.org

Calendar:
ProtonCalendar

For weather I use mobile.weather.gov. I always prefer web apps to native apps because web apps generally run with lower permissions.

Collapse
cyberjack profile image
CyberJack • Edited on

You can always use public instances of searx or whoogle instead of google search. They will use google and other search engines, and strip ads and trackers to enhance privacy.

Both can be selfhosted privately if you don't want to use a public instance.

Better browsers for android are iceraven or Mull. Both are hardened Firefox forks.

For desktop Firefox with hardening from arkenfox's user.js will do.

Collapse
climbing_dev profile image
Maciej Modzelewski

Plausible is recently a popular Google Analytics alternative. It's an open source project.

Collapse
dlepenven profile image
David LE PENVEN

For searching and maps there is also Qwant , it seems to use some Microsoft services for some results and ads.

Collapse
melvyn_sopacua_afcf30b58a profile image
Melvyn Sopacua

I actually switched Google for Apple on the phone. Since there's really no other provider, it may as well look and work better. Though, I miss the Android back button sometimes. Pure nostalgia, though. Don't really need it.

Plus, I have Safari limited to only Apple support, so even apps trying to use it (I look at you n26), will get a prompt to "allow this site". This is because, I can't install uBlock Origin on iOS, so I'm not allowing a browser.

Collapse
gamerseo profile image
Gamerseo

Google is so popular that, unfortunately, there are no alternatives.

Collapse
ingosteinke profile image
Ingo Steinke Author

There is a German word, alternativlos, meaning without alternative, used by former chancellor Angela Merkel. She ruled Germany for 16 years and used to describe a new legislations as being without alternative. If I remember correctly, her quote was criticized even by linguists(?) philosophers(?) being nonsense as the notion of no-alternative contradicts the essential meaning of "alternative".

(Unfortunately I don't have a link to that discussion anymore.)

Collapse
melvyn_sopacua_afcf30b58a profile image
Melvyn Sopacua

What does popularity have to do with anything? That could apply to Whatsapp, LinkedIn, Facebook. But not to Google services as they have no real footing in communities.

1 minute silence for Google Plus.

Collapse
vivekkj profile image
Vivek K J

some suggestions:

Browser: Firefox
Cloud: Nextcloud
Analytics: Plausible
Search engine: Searx

Anyways, nice post :)

Collapse
kanishka profile image
Kanishka

eOS ships fairphones

Collapse
tqbit profile image
tq-bit

You might want to give Brave Browser a shot as well

Collapse
ingosteinke profile image
Ingo Steinke Author

Good to mention brave, but personally I'm happy with Vivaldi at the moment.

Collapse
ethand91 profile image
Ethan

Thanks for alternates list :) I need to keep my android phone for work purposes, but when I get a new one plan to change the OS. Can't stand Android 12's UI :/
Bookmarking for future reference.

Collapse
ryanfiller profile image
ryanfiller

I like goatcounter as a free (you can pay if you want, I do) analytics alternative.