It’s not me, it’s you…
Technically part one for me would have been moving to DuckDuckGo and trying to rely a little less on Google for services like maps and cloud storage, but this was the big one for me. An email account — well, actually several accounts spread across Google’s business suites, really — I’d had since the very early days of Gmail.
Earlier this month, after several years, I made the decision to remove hundreds of notes, business details, album details and lyrics and general information from Evernote over privacy concerns and my annoyances with the company limiting the amount of devices that Evernote could be installed on with their free subscription. I was unwilling to pay $120 a year for a bunch of text files simply so that they wouldn’t consistently be stored in a server by a company that has a history of surrendering data to authorities (not that I had anything to hide) and a company that would extensively delay removing your personal information from their systems when users requested.
It was difficult and I found it really hard to replace it, downloading several alternatives and reading through pages and pages of privacy policies. Eventually I went with Microsoft’s OneNote. I’m not 100% converted but for now it will do. It’s worth pointing out that many services do not support migration from Evernote as Evernote allegedly makes it very difficult to leave painlessly.
In 2004 I moved from Hotmail to Gmail – which at the time was an invite-only service – and I loved the storage, spam filtering and overall use up until today. I realised that moving from Evernote was a bad idea, if I was to stick with Google. Several times over the past few years I have noticed that Google would ban me for periods of up to 24 hours due to my usage of enemy companies. For example, when adding Gmail accounts to both my desktop and laptop computers Thunderbird or Outlook mail clients, I would be smashed with security notices on all of my devices and then despite assuring my account was safe; I would still be locked out. This was bad for personal and business reasons as you can imagine. I was an avid user of G suite and Google’s business platforms for over a decade and whilst I enjoyed the “security” of such features, it was wrong to be shut out of my accounts – especially when I was paying for them. I also was caught out using “untrusted” authenticator applications on my Android devices. Microsoft Authenticator and Bitwarden would both lock me out. When I raised this with Google, they suggested that it wouldn’t happen if I removed the Google accounts from those authenticators and opted for Google’s versions instead.
Edward Snowden revealed a lot of information that many refused to take seriously – either by ignorance, lack of research or “It’s okay if I have nothing to hide” mentality. Gmail monitors your content, email messages and combines that information with what they find in the rest of your linked Google Accounts. Even Fitbit is owned by Google now with very little information provided on how that could affect your personal data stored on the Fitbit servers. Google produces a profile about you: what you are doing, what you look for on the web, what you’re watching, who you’re speaking to etc. and then uses this information to advertise to you and share this among their partners.
I knew of this for many years – it’s what most “free” services do to maintain their free status, but it has certainly gotten worse over the past 5 years and it was quite scary to even find that using a password I had on my account several years ago was still stored and triggered a security notice that I couldn’t use the password as it had previously been used.
I’ve previously complained about how Google’s automated (and sometimes non-automated) systems have blocked my music on YouTube from MY OWN profiles due to copyright complaints – some of which even stating my music was owned by companies like Warner Brothers and BMG – and I have also found that using Google Drive storage to send tracks to friends and music associates has also landed me in trouble. Music I have written, published and maintained 100% ownership of. When raising this with Google, I have been given generic responses and been told that there was nothing I could do but they would look into it. At one point I even received a copyright strike against my YouTube account – one that took months to get rid of!
I can’t TRULY escape Google as I have several Android devices and required connections to the company but I swallowed the dread and decided to begin “DeGoogling” after reading this GitHub repository and considering the unlimited data retention Google had over my thousands of personal emails.
I don’t see myself moving from YouTube and many of the services Google offer just yet, which is part of why Google is so successful at being difficult to move away from but removing information like contacts, calendars and emails is probably the biggest step.
I personally chose Outlook after reviewing several different mailbox/calendar/contact services – even thinking of just running my own mail server or converting to using my business account emails. So why Microsoft? Surely they’re hardly better than Google for privacy? Well I do agree that they’re not exactly perfect – but they have been getting better. Their acquisition of GitHub and slow adoptions of Open-source contributions have proven that over the years after the bungles with Microsoft’s insane telemetry and data collection techniques when Windows 10 launched. In 2017 they pushed to change their image with a better source of what they were storing on their users.
I am in no way suggesting that you too should pick a Microsoft service, but you’ll find with the “Cutting Google out of your life” list that I mentioned before, there are many secure alternatives that can do a better job and keep you safer in the process. There’s a good list here on how to keep Microsoft out of your personal life too.
Some things to get you started if you’re navigating away from Gmail –and Google in general—:
- You can grab an archive of all your data through Google’s Takeout service.
- You can easily keep your Gmail address and have any emails from it forward to your new email by setting up Email Forwarding as described here.
- You can set up an autoresponder to let people know that you have a new email address (and even let them know that you’ll still get the email they sent as it’ll forward on)
- AlternativeTo is a really cool website that gives you various other applications, sites and services you can use with an active community giving their views on Pros and Cons of each.
Here’s how my process went:
- Created a new email address @outlook.com (I actually already had a Microsoft account, but Outlook lets you have a bunch of different aliases)
- Set Gmail to forward any incoming emails to the new address
- Installed Outlook on desktop, added Gmail account to Outlook Desktop.
- Downloaded all emails from Gmail (because I wanted to have them all in my @outlook.com email account – if you just want to store them all on your computer, you can use Google Takeout)
- Exported Mailbox to .PST file
- Imported Mailbox .PST file to the @outlook.com email and synced to keep all emails from @gmail.com
- Exported Google Calendar and Contacts and Imported via Outlook web interface (it’s worth noting that Google Contacts will export to a CSV file that it claims is for migrating to Outlook, but I had several issues with said file. When exporting to a standard CSV, however, I had less issues)
- Set up all of my Filters and Labels (Outlook calls them “rules” and “categories”) that I had on Gmail again (as far as I know, Outlook will only migrate the folders, but will not set up any filters you’ve created before)
- Replaced Gmail and Contacts (sync) with Bluemail which uses ActiveSync
- Installed Outlook for its calendar and calendar widgets which operate in almost the exact same way that the pre-installed Google Calendar application does.
- Cleared the cache and data of the Gmail and Calendar applications (and while I was there I denied the app its required permissions)
So what next? Well I use Firefox with a bunch of handy extensions such as uBlock, DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials and EFF Privacy Badger but I occasionally have to resort to Google Chrome for various reasons, so that can be next to get the boot.
The most irritating part will obviously be going through all of my accounts and changing the email address from my Gmail to my Outlook – but it’s satisfying to know that the shift wasn’t as difficult as I thought. I would recommend at least an afternoon to do it if you’re migrating like I did and attempting to maintain all of your data in your new account.
Overall, the divorce was something I feel I should have done a while ago. Sorry Google, but unless you take a good look at yourself and care a little more for the privacy of your loyal users, I can’t see folk concerned like I was sticking around for much longer regardless of the monopoly you have.
I successfully managed to keep all of the emails from my business accounts (that were running through Gsuite) by using Google Takeout then importing the .mbox files into Thunderbird and using the add-on ImportExportTools to export all of the emails as .eml files. This way I could simply drag them all to the new accounts! Roughly 39000 emails are now backed up as well as available in my accounts!