We put up with Google because the apps are awesome. But there are downsides to living in the panopticon. If you’d prefer not to have a corporation and all its buddies breathing down your neck, consider these privacy-focused alternatives to Google’s services.
Notes on Our Suggestions
While free services were preferred in our analysis, paid services are the reality of the privacy-first space. Companies can’t make money off your data, so advertisers don’t pay the bills. It’s up to you to pay. “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”
We’ve recommended several Apple apps on this list, which might rankle those that distrust Five Eyes corporations on principle. However, Apple has a credible claim to its advertised title as a privacy-focused company: we wouldn’t recommend their services otherwise. Do spend some time considering why you won’t use Apple services before assuming they’re insufficient or ill-suited to your needs.
The most secure option will often be hosting your own service, provided you are competent enough to secure it against intrusion. But since that’s unrealistically complicated for most Google users, we haven’t suggested it here. Motivated users are encouraged to seek out the many open-source self-hosted options for these services.
Google Search Alternative: StartPage and DuckDuckGo
StartPage provides Google results but without all the tracking. It functions like a proxy, securely passing your search terms to Google without revealing identifying information, then passing the results back to you. DuckDuckGo has also improved dramatically in recent years and is now completely viable as a full-time search engine.
YouTube Alternative: Vimeo
Vimeo is an excellent video-hosting platform. It has the tools that creatives and viewers both want. But that doesn’t change the reality of YouTube’s network effect.
If you want to watch YouTube videos without getting tracked, you have some alternatives. You can watch videos through DuckDuckGo’s video search, which provides anonymous viewing for YouTube videos. You can also download video files directly from YouTube URLs without visiting the site.
Google Maps Alternative: Apple Maps
The best full-package replacement for Google Maps is, like it or not, Apple Maps. While it got considerable flack at launch, the service has evolved to offer private and reliable map viewing and navigation that often matches that of Google Maps. Apple Maps online (accessible through DuckDuckGo’s map search) has a refined visual presentation and strong search tools.
Apple Maps is not as highly polished as Google Maps, and there’s no Android app. But most other navigation and mapping apps share your location data to advertisers, so the pickings are unfortunately slim. While it can’t help you find nearby coffee shops, OpenStreetMaps is an open-source alternative for serious mappers built on dependable crowd-sourced mapping data.
Gmail Alternative: ProtonMail or Mailfence
ProtonMail is a respected private email service located in Switzerland. They offer a free but limited tier of their encrypted, private email service, with inexpensive paid tiers that expand its capability. Mailfence has a similar setup but also bundles calendar, messaging, and document sharing, though you lose ProtonMail’s attractive interface and robust support.
Google Docs Alternative: CryptPad
Marketed as “the zero-knowledge cloud,” CryptPad is a security-focused cloud storage platform. Whereas Google makes data collection their business, CryptPad makes encrypting your data their business. While the platform is not as mature or familiar as Google Docs, privacy-focused users will find a platform that takes their needs and concerns seriously.
Google Drive Alternative: Mega
Google Calendar Alternative: KeepAndShare
KeepAndShare is the most fully-featured free and private calendar service available. It’s not perfect, but it’s a solid B+ and improving constantly. Mailfence is less polished, but they bundle a private calendar with encrypted email support, text chat, sharing groups, and Google Drive-style document storage with some in-browser editing options. Apple users have it best of all: if you’re plugged into the Apple system, iCloud’s free calendar is private, reliable, and syncs with nearly any calendar app, though it’s not as flexible when it comes to inviting and sharing events and calendars.
Google Chrome Alternative: Brave or Vivaldi
If you love your Chrome extensions, a Chromium-based browser like Vivaldi or Brave is your best bet. Brave’s privacy-focused experience is the better browser for most people, while Vivaldi is the unsurpassed browser for power users — that is, people who fiddle with knobs. Firefox provides a respectable third option for open-source fans and Linux users.
Google Authenticator Alternative: Authy or 1Password
There are multiple apps that can generate one-time passwords like Google Authenticator. Because it’s an open standard, one-time passwords can be generated by any app that wants to do so. 1Password is our personal favorite: it doubles as an excellent password manager and secure lockbox, with unparalleled support and a track record of excellent stewardship.
Open-source fans and Linux users prefer KeePass, with its roll-your-own focus and total control over the encryption keys. For free 2FA, Authy is an open-source two-factor authentication app that supports all open 2FA login standards.
Google Photos Alternative: Piwigo
Piwigo is an open-source image gallery for the Web. The cloud version of Piwigo is not free, but with the storage space occupied by images, that’s no surprise. Uncertain users can evaluate the service with a 30-day trial, with no credit card number required. Cloud users get a piwigo.com subdomain where anyone can see their publicly-accessible images.
Serious photographers will likely prefer a more powerful service built for photographers, like Photoshelter, or a custom-hosted website. More social-centric photo sharers might prefer Cluster, a private group photo-sharing application that requires a specific invite to view anything. Apple’s iCloud photo sharing is also fully featured, though managing those files can be buggy and challenging at times.
Google Translate Alternative: DeepL Translator
Like Google Translate, DeepL provides side-by-side translation of text, a web interface accessible from everywhere, and automatic language detection. It provides the same tools for refining translations: click on words to see alternative translations and dictionary definition. Just like Google Translate, DeepL’s translation quality varies between surprisingly readable and laughably ungrammatical. It turns out language is hard!
Google Analytics Alternative: Clicky or Kissmetrics
Clicky provides a quick install and a basically functional platform. It’s free, so the price is right, and it provides the critical information you need from an analytics platform. If you want (and you know how to use) more advanced analytical tools, you’d do well to pay for Kissmetrics, which offers professional analytics to the masses.
Google gets away with spying on us because they offer some truly best-in-class free services, crushing competitors beneath the boot heel of their massive market share. Smaller, privacy-focused companies don’t have the resources to compete on even footing, so few apps on this list will fully measure up to Google’s offering in every aspect. But if privacy is important to you, you can accept the minor frustrations for the sake of a more secure digital life.
Image credit: Electronic Frontier Foundation