Mat is co-owner and operator of digitalprivacy.shop and this is his story of how he threw Big Tech in the garbage and reclaimed his privacy...
This isn't a "how-to" guide, but more of the chronicles of how I degoogled my life. If you're on our website, then you already know Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple have a global monopoly and are gathering massive amounts of personal data on their customers. If you still think you "have nothing to hide", then watch this Ted Talk by Glenn Greenwald, this news report about AT&T's Room 641a, or just take a stroll through the articles on Reclaim the Net.
In the middle of 2020, my life, like so many others changed drastically for reasons I won't discuss here. The outcome was a realization that my world was not what I thought it was. After enjoying years of convenience and "free" services offered by giant tech companies, I had actually given away volumes of personal information about my life to them. I imagined my most personal secrets and conversations being stored on one of Zuckerberg's servers. Apple's iPhone was collecting everything I did and said and Tim Cook was selling information about me to third parties and highest bidders. Even worse, all of this information was being handed over to the NSA and other government agencies. I finally paid attention long enough to become totally outraged and knew it was time to degoogle my life.
The Worst First
I knew this wouldn't be easy, but I was ready. What to do first? That decision was actually easy... get rid of the worst one of all... Facebook. Should I leave a message for my Facebook friends and tell them where to find me? Nah. Real friends know how to connect no matter what. In just a few minutes, I found the "delete my account" section on their website and it was done. I was almost in shock. Did I just do that?! There may have been a message from Facebook that said my data would be deleted in 30 days. But... at that moment I knew I was never going back to Facebook. It felt like a weight lifted off my back. This was the beginning of freedom, and it felt really good.
The second most urgent step was to stop paying for my YouTube Premium subscription. I couldn't fathom giving Google anymore of my personal information, much less paying them money!
Next, I deleted Twitter and Instagram apps from my iPhone and deactivated the accounts. This was an easy decision since I rarely used either platform.
I was on a roll, excited to free myself from the prying eyes of the Silicon Valley billionaires. Each day, I took out my digital pruners and cut away another branch out of my path.
How to Eat an Elephant
The most difficult to remove was Google. See, I had used Google search and their services since Larry Page and Sergey Brin said "Don't be Evil". In the old days Google was an amazing search engine and for almost two decades I trusted them. I was dependent on them. So I wrote down every Google service I used and decided how to replace it. Every day I did my research and found a privacy-friendly replacement. Below is the excerpt from my notebook I used to track my progress. It lists the service and the replacement that I chose.
- Google Drive - ownCloud
- File transfer - ownCloud, sshfs
- Google Photos - ownCloud
- Google Hangouts - Element/Matrix-synapse
- Google search engine - DuckDuckGo, Swisscows, MetaGer, Searx
- Google Chrome - Tor Project, Brave, Midori
- Google Maps - OpenStreetMap, OsmAnd Maps, Qwant
- Google Fonts - Font Squirrel
- Gmail - Mailbox.org
- Google Calendar - Mailbox.org
- Google docs,sheets - Mailbox.org
- Google contacts - Mailbox.org
- Google Voice – Ooma
- Google analytics - goaccess.io
- Google news - Tiny Tiny RSS
- Youtube – LBRY, BitChute, 3speak, PeerTube
- Youtube Music - Jango
- Google Domains - namecheap, freedns.afraid.org
It was time to finally kick Google to the curb. Now, this was not a small decision. I remember the night I sat at my desk staring at the computer and thought about all the Google reviews I had made about companies and restaurants, my Google timeline that showed all the international destinations I had traveled, and generally the gigabytes of history and data that had accumulated about my life. Then I snapped out of that idiotic thought and pressed the final DELETE button. This was worthy of a celebration. After cracking open a cold tasty beverage I wrote this post on Mastodon...
It took 4 months to cut the tentacles away, but on 15 OCT I deleted my Google acct. For over 15 yrs I naively trusted... while they collected every imaginable piece of personal information about me. I gladly used the "free" services (gmail, youtube, voice, drive, maps). The convenience was wonderful but I was selling my soul... then slowly realized I had given up my rights. I assume my data is still on their servers (how long?) but starting 15 OCT I am reclaiming my right to privacy & freedom.
Goodbye Apple, Hello Android Custom ROM
I still had a few other items to attend to though. The part of the journey that took the longest was getting Apple out of the picture. I had to sell my iPhone X, iPad, iPad Air, and delete my Apple account. After discovering Swappa, I put the devices up for sale and waited for the buyers. If you're wondering how I could possibly use a smartphone and not have either Apple or Google breathing down my neck, the answer is custom Android ROMs or de-googled smartphone. Creating my de-googled phone was one of the most satisfying feelings of this entire process.
The final step... time to delete my Amazon account. Some of you are saying "why on Earth would you delete your Amazon account? Don't you buy everything from Amazon?". The answer is simple. Jeff Bezos has too much power and Amazon is a monopoly. I choose to support local businesses and local supply chains. Amazon has shown their willingness to crush small businesses and merchants. The only way to stop them is to say "No" and choose to go elsewhere. So on a rainy day in November I logged on to Amazon and requested my account be deleted. The email I received from them sounded almost awkward, like no one had ever deleted their Amazon account before. "Are you sure you want to do this?" and "You're the only person in the universe that has ever deleted their Amazon account". Yep. I am sure.
Looking Back, the Journey
It took four months, but I was finally free from the Silicon Valley billionaires. Granted, there is much more to do to protect online identity aside from deleting Big Tech. I can summarize my story best with this statement:
Ending digital tyranny requires a few simple steps: a willingness to learn, rejecting superficial conveniences, and establishing new paradigms.
If you think this sounds extreme, I understand that we each have our own tolerance of trust. But honestly, how much freedom are you willing to give up? I encourage you to take the first step and start degoogling your life today!
Below is the full list of actions I took over the course of those 4 months:
- Create mastodon account (Done)
- Delete Facebook account (Done)
- Stop subscription to YouTube Premium (Done)
- Set up LBRY account (Done)
- Delete Yahoo account (Done)
- Delete Adobe account (Done)
- Delete Twitter account (Done)
- Delete Instagram account (Done)
- Deactivate google voice (Done)
- Install Matrix synapse server (Done)
- Harden web browsers for privacy (Done)
- Use Tor (Done)
- Move all documents from Google Drive to ownCloud (Done)
- Move all photos from Google Photos to ownCloud (Done)
- Keep Tails OS on USB drive when I travel (Done)
- Research secure phone OS, hardware, apps (Done)
- Install VPN service (Done)
- Redirect gmail account to mailbox.org (Done)
- Sell iPad Air 3rd gen Swappa (Done)
- Sell iPad 4th gen on Swappa (Done)
- Transfer domains from Google Domains to namecheap (Done)
- Delete google account (Done)
- Delete microsoft account (Done)
- Install LineageOS on Nexus 6P (Done)
- Install F-Droid and FOSS apps on Nexus 6P (Done)
- Set up Nexus 6P on Tello network (Done)
- Sell iPhone X (Done)
- Delete Apple account (Done)
- Delete amazon account (Done)
- Buy an inexpensive tablet (Done)
- Install LineageOS on Samsung Galaxy Tab E 8.0 (Done)
- Publish public PGP key (Done)