"Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it;"
This article relates what I did to replace Google.co.uk as my default search engine and Google Chrome as my browser. What it won't do is explain all the available products out there and compare them. Life is too short and there a plenty of websites doing that sort of thing already.
These days to 'Google' is the verb we use when we want to express how to find something on the internet and it suitably reflects the dominance one company has had on the internet search function. It's almost as if not using Google means you aren't using the internet correctly. Pair that with approximately 70% of internet users using its Chrome browser, and you've got market domination. This in itself is never a good thing, but when you consider that Google Analytics is also the most prevalent statistic gathering (tracking) service used by sites across the web you can rightly start to wonder at the volumes of data this company holds or passes through its hands.
There are a number of alternative search engines which focus on privacy, with more being released all the time. Some interesting examples are:
https://peekier.com/ - which presents results in a more visual way
https://jivesearch.com/ - an open source tool (ie developers can access and see the code behind it and even run the code themselves) giving greater transparency
https://www.startpage.com/- same results as Google but runs on servers in the USA
Some of the Pro's, Con's, and ways they make money are listed here.
I have been using https://duckduckgo.com/ for a few weeks now, and to be honest, I haven't missed Google search one bit. What impresses me about this site is the ethos behind the company:
- Stand up for a pro-privacy business model
- Get unbiased results outside the Filter Bubble
- Search secrets should remain private and away from the targeting of advertisers.
- DuckDuckGo apps block Google's hidden trackers
Although they partner with Yahoo for search results, who have been linked with the National Security Agency access in the USA in the past, DuckDuckGo assure people that it "continues to promise that it does not collect or share personal information". With most things in life you have to decide who to trust initially, and in the face of new facts reassess your decision. For now, I am content with DDG.
This is why DuckDuckGo think you should use them instead of Google: https://www.quora.com/Why-should-I-use-DuckDuckGo-instead-of-Google
OK so new search engine selected. Now for the browser. I'm an Android and Windows person and don’t use Apple products. I have switched to Mozilla Firefox as my browser. This can run on any platform; Windows, Apple, Android, IOS.
"Established in 2003, guided by the Mozilla Manifesto, the Mozilla Foundation believes the Internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible to all."
Mozilla have a not for profit foundation at the heart of their organisation with many volunteers contributing to initiatives. They are guided by principles that underpin an open internet, security, and privacy. Have a look at the Mozilla Manifesto. No software company will claim to be bug free, but when choosing a company and software to use, I would always choose a company who align themselves to an ethical worldview. Principle 4 really covers what we are talking about.
"Individuals’ security and privacy on the internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional."
A view that Google do not hold. The Google CEO once said: "Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it;". Many would argue they have.
Mozilla and Firefox don’t have the same pervasive data collecting eco-system that Google Chrome is part of. It's open source software which means its transparent to developers and security experts. The Foundation doesn't trade in user data, so there's no reason for them to harvest it. If you install Firefox on your phone, like I have, you can sync your bookmarks and passwords between devices but this data is encrypted so that it can't be read by others.
Like anything with computers you can dig and dig and, especially if you have the expertise, find examples of bugs, problems or questionable decision making. For the general consumer you need to go with what feels right from the available information. In comparison to Google, Firefox makes the right noises to my ears. But again, its right to switch to a better offering if something more effective comes along.
A good thing about most browsers is that you can install free Add-Ins to beef up some of the functionality. In my Firefox installation I have installed add-ins that prevent Ads being displayed (Ad-Blocker), an encrypted password manager (Last Pass) though Firefox has one built in, and DuckDuckGos Privacy Essentials which shows me things that have been blocked and the different types of trackers that the browser has found on the websites I've been on. There are many Add-Ins to help your privacy, some of which are listed here.
So these were the high level steps that i carried out when migrating to Firefox and DuckDuckGo:
- Export any bookmarks you have to a file - this should be an option in the Bookmark manager area of your existing browser.
- Download and install Firefox
- Create a Firefox account to enable our bookmarks to sync to another device - note, if you are going to ditch Google Mail at a later date dont sign up with your Google email address. Use a different email
- Update the Home page to Duck Duck Go (see Image 1 below)
- Import the bookmarks
- Install any add-ins
- Install Firefox on that mobile device
- Log into your Firefox account on the mobile device
- Uninstall Chrome Browser
- Ensure Firefox is your default browser
So if I look back at my Google Audit i can cross out two items:
- Note 9 Android phone with associated Google Play store - they know all my apps and how i use them
- Google mail - they can read all my email content
Google search - they can see everything i search for
- Google Contacts - they know all my friends
Google Chrome browser and bookmarks (which I sync on my pc and phone) - they have statistics on what i do with my Internet usage and where
- Google Calendar - they know what i do with my time when they aren't recording my online behaviour
- Google Maps / Street View - they know where i go and the places i might go
- Youtube - they know more about my interests
- Google Chromecast (and Google Home app) - they know more about what i watch
- Google translate - they know the countries, languages and cultures i'm interested in
The quest continues.