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Take back your privacy and take back control of your online life… Leave Google Behind!

Are you someone who’s bothered by the notion of a 1984-esque future where everything you say and do is recorded? A future where big corporations (and the government) always know where you are, who you’re with, what your interests are, and what you’re up to?

Well, you should know that the company at the forefront of making that future a reality is a big firm that goes by the name of Google, based out of Mountain View, California. Google’s own former chief executive Eric Schmidt has made no secret of the company’s ambitions on many occasions. Read these quotes:

Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it… We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

– Eric Schmidt, former chief executive of Google, October 1st, 2010

“We can suggest what you should do next, what you care about. Imagine: We know where you are, we know what you like.

– Eric Schmidt, former chief executive of Google, September 7th, 2010

“I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions…They want Google to tell them what they should be doing nextWe know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are.

– Eric Schmidt, former chief executive of Google, August 14th, 2010

“Your digital identity will live forever… because there’s no delete button.”

– Eric Schmidt, April 23rd, 2013, speaking to Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report

Unless stopped, soon Google’s knowledge of you won’t just be rough, it will be precise… thanks to forthcoming “advances” like Google Glass. Yes, Google Glass. Heard of it? It’s the latest invasive technology being cooked up in Google’s labs… “augmented reality” eyewear that can record audio/video/pictures. Sounds cool – until you consider the creepy and disturbing ramifications.

Google Glass in its current incarnation - worn by Google cofounder Sergey Brin. (He can see you - and so can Google's servers. Permanently.)

Google Glass in its current incarnation – worn by Google cofounder Sergey Brin. (He can see you – and so can Google’s servers. Permanently.)

Writes Mark Hurst:

The key experiential question of Google Glass isn’t what it’s like to wear them, it’s what it’s like to be around someone else who’s wearing them. I’ll give an easy example. Your one-on-one conversation with someone wearing Google Glass is likely to be annoying, because you’ll suspect that you don’t have their undivided attention. And you can’t comfortably ask them to take the glasses off (especially when, inevitably, the device is integrated into prescription lenses). Finally – here’s where the problems really start – you don’t know if they’re taking a video of you.

Now pretend you don’t know a single person who wears Google Glass… and take a walk outside. Anywhere you go in public – any store, any sidewalk, any bus or subway – you’re liable to be recorded: audio and video. Fifty people on the bus might be Glassless, but if a single person wearing Glass gets on, you – and all 49 other passengers – could be recorded. Not just for a temporary throwaway video buffer, like a security camera, but recorded, stored permanently, and shared to the world.

Now, I know the response: “I’m recorded by security cameras all day, it doesn’t bother me, what’s the difference?” Hear me out – I’m not done. What makes Glass so unique is that it’s a Google project. And Google has the capacity to combine Glass with other technologies it owns.

First, take the video feeds from every Google Glass headset, worn by users worldwide. Regardless of whether video is only recorded temporarily, as in the first version of Glass, or always-on, as is certainly possible in future versions, the video all streams into Google’s own cloud of servers. Now add in facial recognition and the identity database that Google is building within Google Plus (with an emphasis on people’s accurate, real-world names): Google’s servers can process video files, at their leisure, to attempt identification on every person appearing in every video.

Charles Arthur adds:

For Google, “privacy” means “what you’ve agreed to”, and that is slightly different from the privacy we’ve become used to over time. So how comfortable – or uneasy – should we feel about the possibility that what we’re doing in a public or semi-public place (or even somewhere private) might get slurped up and assimilated by Google?

You can guess what would happen the first time you put on Glass: there would be a huge scroll of legal boilerplate with “Agree” at the end. And, impatient and uncaring as ever, you would click on it with little regard for what you were getting yourself, and others, in to. Can a child properly consent to filming or being filmed? Is an adult, who happens to be visible in a camera’s peripheral vision in a bar, consenting? And who owns – and what happens to – that data?

Oliver Stokes, principal design innovator at PDD, which helps clients such as LG, Vodafone and Fujitsu design products, says Yee’s restaurant scenario is “concerning”. “The idea that you could inadvertently become part of somebody else’s data collection – that could be quite alarming. And Google has become the company which knows where you are and what you’re looking for. Now it’s going to be able to compute what it is you’re looking at.”

For now, Google Glass is just a prototype. But Google has every intention of eventually bringing it to market. The company is already increasingly reliant upon sensitive information that it collects or scans to make money, and has long offered products to users which purposely do not have adequate measures in place to protect privacy. At the turn of the century, Google used to be just a search engine, but now, Google is everywhere – and the company is engaged in continually working to expand its reach. What’s more, Google has a near monopoly in the online advertising and search business.

“The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users…. We expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers.”

- Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, back when Google was just a search engine and not a spying machine. The lure of money eventually persuaded Brin and Page to embrace advertising and then user tracking.

Additionally, its support for many of its products is lackluster at best and terrible at worst. When something goes wrong, it can be days before Google even admits the problem, let alone gets it fixed.

That’s the hidden price of many of Google’s “free” products.

The following is a short selection of articles, blog posts, and columns that explain more about Google and its relentless assault on your privacy.

  • The Evil Side of Google – Exploring Google’s User Data Collection“The final resting place for data at Google is likely in permanent storage. Google’s privacy policies hint that some user data can never be completely deleted because of permanent backups.”
  • Google Chrome OS – do we want another monoculture?“But regardless of Brin’s claims, the new model pushes users towards Google. That means more opportunities to collect your data – and serve you ads. Whatever you think of Chrome OS – it may work and it may not – always remember that Google is, at heart, an advertising company.”
  • Is Google Turning Into Big Brother?“Microsoft only wanted all of our money. Increasingly, it seems that Google wants all of our data. In running away from the evil empire, have we now instead rushed into the arms of Big Brother?”
  • Google’s User Data Empire “For Google, it’s different. Their specialty is organizing information. They have access to more avenues for userdata than any other company in the history of the world, and the ability to connect every aspect of every person’s life.”
  • What Google Knows About You“Perhaps the biggest concern for privacy advocates is how the treasure trove of data Google has about you might end up in the wrong hands. It is, says Bankston, a wealth of detailed, sensitive information that provides ‘one-stop shopping for government investigators, litigators and others who want to know what you’ve been doing.’”
  • The Next Net“The search engine has dissected the behavior of Web surfers, including which sites they visit and which they link to. With this knowledge, Google proceeded to develop a map of the influence and relevance of billions of Web sites. It’s the heart of its search and advertising business.”
  • Does Google Know Too Much About You?“According to its privacy page on Google’s Mobile Privacy page, the company says, ‘for products and services with voice recognition capabilities, we collect and store a copy of the voice commands you make to the product or service.’ No doubt Google does this to improve its voice recognition services, but still: Google has a copy of your voice on file.”
  • Is Google Evil?“Google already knows more about you than the National Security Agency ever will. And don’t assume for a minute it can keep a secret. YouTube fans – and everybody else – beware.”
  • RSnake picks on Google Health… yes, Google wants your medical records, too! – “Seriously, with all that Google has undertaken, it’s become a one-stop shop for identity theft and privacy breach.”
  • Google’s Ad Targeting Turns Algorithms on You“Soon, everything of Google’s that you touch will all become part of your profile — from its website analytics program, sneaky Big Brother-esque Web History program, checkout system, news subscription reader, image search, cellphone location reporting service, book digitization, news site and GMail e-mail and chats.”
  • Ads Follow Web Users, and Get More Personal“In 2000, DoubleClick abandoned plans to connect online and offline data after a huge outcry. Google, which later acquired DoubleClick, has been conducting studies that connect the two areas.”
  • 25 Surprising Things Google Knows About You“Google is the go-to provider of many things online-search, email, maps, and more. But have you ever stopped to consider all of the information you’re sharing with Google? Read on, and find out all of the dirt that Google has on you.”

Don’t like the idea of Google being able to build a complete profile of you and know everything about you (where you live, where you work, when you’re sleeping, what your interests are, who you hang out with)? Wondering what you can do to change this situation?

Well, there’s a pretty simple way to put your mind at ease, and protect your privacy.

Leave Google behind.

This site exists to help users who have made the decision to part ways with Google, and stop relying on it for everything from email to search to chat. There are alternatives out there for every product or service Google offers.

Each category below offers a sampling of non-Google choices. You don’t have to rely on one of Google’s competitors for everything. The best practice is to find a reliable web host that cares about privacy… and set up shop there. Trust us, it’s totally worth the money. Especially if you own your own business.

Note that many of the websites on this list display Google ads, or serve up their own behavioral targeting ads. Unless you take action to block these ads from displaying, Google and other companies will still be able to track you and build a profile of you!

Search

  • Blekko – A better way to search the web by using slashtags. slashtags search only the sites you want and cut out the spam sites. use friends, experts, community or your own slashtags to slash in what you want and slash out what you don’t. Blekko believes in the privacy of searchers.
  • DuckDuck Go – A lightweight, yet powerful search engine that delivers more relevant results. It doesn’t collect any information about its users.
  • Yauba – Indian based, “The World’s First Privacy Safe Search Engine”
  • Bing – Believe it or not, Bing’s privacy policy is superior to Google’s. Opt out of personalized ads.
  • Ask.com – Ask is great at finding web pages the other search engines haven’t indexed.
  • Quintura – Visualized text search
  • Genie Knows – A local search platform where you can find information, restaurant reviews, and maps of over 20 million local businesses
  • WolframAlpha – Computational knowledge engine

News and Blog Search

  • Technorati – Beats Google Blog Search, hands down.
  • IceRocket – Excellent blog and news search. Also superior to Google Blog Search.
  • Twingly – They have a very appealing sales pitch… “You know how tiring it is to go through 100′s of links every day just to find the one or two that matters? Get started with Twingly in just 60 seconds or less and never spend time on irrelevant news again.”
  • Northern Light – Decent search engine of traditional media sources
  • RSS Micro – Nifty search engine that looks for RSS feeds and RSS feed entries that match queries.

Real Time and Social Search

  • Twitter – Find out what people are thinking and saying.
  • Topsy – Find information that’s being posted in real time on Twitter. Unlike Twitter Search (which is also useful) Topsy searches for URLs that are in tweets. Topsy is a great Google substitute and especially excels at finding stuff that has just been posted.
  • Crowdeye – What all the Twitter is about. Not quite as comprehensive as Topsy, but worth a try. Its frontpage is styled very similar to Google News, although the site itself does not utilize Google code.

Image Search + Photo Sharing

  • Ditto – One of the oldest visual search engines out there
  • Flickr – Search directly from the homepage (Flickr is owned by Yahoo).
  • Picsearch – An image search service with more than 3,000,000,000 pictures. Filtering can be enabled.
  • Image After – A large, searchable, online photo collection. And it’s free!
  • Open ClipArt – Searchable archive of user contributed clip art

Mobile

Tip: Steer clear of Android.. Google bundles all of its services into Android!

  • BlackBerry – A line of smartphones made by the company formerly known as Research in Motion. BlackBerrys are superb messaging phones, and the new BlackBerry 10 operating system features a sleek, modern tabbed browser that accurately displays web pages, along with many nifty applications for getting work done and getting around. The BlackBerry platform is known for quality apps over quantity of apps. No wonder, then, that app developers for BlackBerry make more money than developers for iOS or Android. BlackBerry 10 can also run most Android apps using a nifty runtime.
  • Windows Phone – Phones running Microsoft’s new mobile operating system have been around for a few years. The latest incarnation of Windows Phone is pretty slick, and its Metro interface was incorporated into Windows 8, its desktop cousin.

Browser

Tip: The following are excellent alternatives to Google Chrome. One other thing: Avoid browser toolbars (like Google Toolbar) at all costs. Every good modern browser has a built in search box anyway. Note that browsers which ship with operating systems (Internet Explorer, Safari, Konqueror/rekonq) are not included on this list.

  • Mozilla Firefox – Widely used, frequently updated, extensible, secure, and stable. Google Search is the default – be sure to change that!
  • Opera – Like Firefox, it’s cross platform. Google Search is the default – be sure to change that!
  • If you really like Chrome… and don’t want to stop using it… then try CoolNovo. It’s exactly like Chrome, except it has no Google trackers built into it!

Desktop Search

Email

Tip: The best of the following options is the first, Hushmail. If you signup, go for their Business plan… you get to use your own domain, which means you get a nice address (firstname@yourdomain.com) plus you can take your domain to another provider.

  • Hushmail.com – The world’s most secure free email service. They actually care about your privacy… email is encrypted!
  • FastMail – An Opera service. Liked by PC World and other technology reviewers.
  • GMX – Advanced. Savvy. Different. Join 13 million members for your free email account.
  • Shortmail – Messages are limited to five hundred characters to encourage brevity.
  • Inbox.com – Get a thirty gigabyte inbox
  • Rediffmail – Free, “unlimited” storage
  • BigString – Allows a user to easily send, recall, erase, self-destruct and modify an email after it has been sent. Be warned: the body of your emails will be images only. That’s how BigString makes it possible to “recall” an email – they delete the image that goes in the body of the message.

Blogging (Hosted)

Tip: When creating a blog, sign up with your own domain – that way it’s easy to change providers later if you wish, or move your blog to your own server and import it into a content management system.

  • WordPress.com – Jump in and start blogging without having to set anything up.
  • LiveJournal – SUP Fabrik’s popular network of personal blogs.
  • TypePad – Six Apart’s premier hosted blogging service.
  • Tumblr – A cool hosted microblogging and blogging platform. Signing up is ridiculously simple.

Feed Reading

Tip: To leave Google Reader, export your RSS feeds into an OPML file and import that file into one of these alternatives. Here’s how: In Google Reader, Click Settings (upper right corner) then click the Import/Export tab. Click the link that says Export your subscriptions as an OPML file. Save this file to your desktop. Once you’re set up with your new feed reader, use their importer to bring your feeds back.

  • Good Noows – Helps you discover and share the latest news on your favorite topics (No OPML import yet)
  • FeedShow – A fast and easy to use RSS feed reader
  • NewsBlur – A feed reader with intelligence.
  • Netvibes – Brings together your favorite media sources and online services
  • Feed on Feeds – Run an aggregator on your own web server
  • Tiny Tiny RSS – Yet another aggregator for your web server

Video

Tip: Surprisingly, there’s a lot of great video-sharing sites out there that rival YouTube in almost every respect

  • Vimeo – Popular alternative to YouTube
  • Veoh – All the Videos, TV Shows and Movies You Want to Watch. All In One Place.
  • Blip.tv: “We’ve got a great service for great shows. We leave you free to focus on creativity.”
  • Metacafe: Video entertainment, powered by you
  • Ustream – The best place to find live net broadcasting

Virtual Globe and Mapping

  • NASA World Wind – It’s totally free, open source, and just plain cool… (requires Windows)
  • Marble – Beautiful and works on every major operating system out there (Windows, Mac, Linux)
  • Microsoft Virtual Earth – The Bird’s Eye view in urban areas is fun. Online equivalent is Bing Maps.
  • Rand McNally – Yep, they have online maps.
  • Trails Topo Finder – Topographic maps. Some features require a subscription.

Chat and Instant Messaging

Tip: Use a Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) client. Google provides XMPP gateways to its service, so you can keep chatting with friends who haven’t wised up and decided to ditch Google Talk and/or Gmail. Once you’ve downloaded a client, you can sign up for a free screen name at jabber.org.

  • Pidgin – Probably the best XMPP client out there. Also supports AIM, MSN, and Yahoo.
  • Psi – Another cross platform XMPP client.
  • Gajim – Yet another cross platform XMPP client.
  • Adium -Excellent choice for Mac OS users.

Groups

Tip: For greater control and customization (and privacy) consider installing Mailman or Sympa in your own server environment.

  • FreeLists – Provides free mailing list hosting to lists whose topics are related to technology, science, medicine, etc.
  • Coollist – web-based system for anyone to easily create FREE mailing lists.
  • Topica – “The Leader in Email Discussion Lists””

Payment Processing

Tip: Webmasters and business owners, save yourselves a ton of trouble by avoiding services like Google Checkout and its equally bad rivals, PayPal and Amazon Payments. These services are NOT banks and make it very difficult to customize a shopping experience! The following are recommended merchant service providers and payment processors.

  • Dharma Merchant Services – Socially responsible merchant services provider. Cost effective, too!
  • Cardaccept – They’ve been helping businesses since 1993.
  • Vantage Card Services – Another good choice – they pride themselves on their BBB record.
  • Click and Pledge – Good if you don’t want to set up a merchant services account.
  • Stripe – Payments for developers. “You don’t need a merchant account or gateway. Stripe handles everything, including storing cards, subscriptions, and direct payouts to your bank account.”
  • Obopay – “Send money instantly to loved ones, pay cash to merchants, and receive money from others. No charge to receive money. Money transfer is easy, safe, and secure.”
  • Braintree – They simplify payments online for more than 2,000 businesses.
  • PayLeap – Goes wherever your business goes.
  • WePay – Accept credit cards, no merchant account or programming skills required.

Analytics

Tip: An even better option than any of these is to run a logfile analyzer on your own server, like AWStats or W3Perl, if your host allows you to do so. Steer clear of Urchin – it’s owned by Google.

  • StatCounter – A free yet reliable invisible web tracker, highly configurable hit counter.
  • GoStats – A reliable web stats traffic counter service since 1999
  • Clicky – Monitor, analyze, and react to your blog or web site’s traffic in real time.
  • Hitstats – Professional and free web tracker
  • Piwik – Open source JavaScript based analytics software that runs on your own server. Great replacement for Google’s spyware.

Productivity Applications

Tip: Looking to move office collaboration into the cloud? You’ll be pleased to know that Google Docs is not the only game in town.

  • Zoho – As one analyst puts it… “They’ve got more applications than Google…. The apps they have are richer”
  • ThinkFree – Another online suite that’s more secure and nimble than Google Docs
  • Ajax13 – Not quite as good as either Zoho or ThinkFree, but their products have some unique features.
  • Zimbra Collaborative Suite – An excellent choice if you want email + productivity apps all-in-one. Very configurable.
  • Office 365 – Microsoft’s online office suite. Be aware that all of the decent plans have a price tag.

Call Routing and Visual Voicemail

Tip: Why use Google Voice when there are better options available?

  • YouMail – Available as an app for BlackBerry and iPhone. Cell phone voicemail that saves you time.
  • Ribbit Mobile – Very similiar to YouMail. “Transform your phone.”

Learn how to block Google from invading your privacy within Firefox.