My De-Googling Journey 01 - IM and Gmail
I'm not reclusive at all. Just private.
— Don DeLillo
So, here we go, it's time to start our de-Googling adventure. As I said, it's not gonna be easy but we'll get through the whole process in no time. But first, let me tell you that I'm in no way affiliated with any of the tools and services suggested here nor I'm saying they're the best ones available. They're the ones that worked for me and, hopefully, they'll work for you too.
I decided that it would be a good idea to start with instant messaging and Gmail. We all know how e-mail and IM are integral parts of our lives and I understand that you are probably relying important aspects of your life on these tools for a long time, but changing habits take a little bit of effort and sacrifice.
We have to be honest with each other, Google may excel at a lot of things, but instant messaging is not one of them, at least not until now. The company has tried several times to take on more popular IM apps such as WhatsApp but no luck so far. Some of their retired services are Google Talk, Google Allo and Google Hangouts (which is scheduled to be discontinued later this year).
Anyway, let's briefly talk about their current efforts and establish some privacy-respecting alternatives for each of them:
- Google Messages: Messages is powered by the Rich Communication Services (RCS) technology and Google is trying to replace traditional SMS text message with it. Messages resembles Apple iMessage and has the ability to send messages over Wi-Fi or mobile data.
- Google Duo: Duo started out as just a video chat app but less than a year later audio-only calls were also made available. The video calls have support for up to eight people.
- Google Meet: Meet is a more enterprise-friendly video conference app which can support up to 250 people depending on your G Suite subscription.
We all know that the most used IM apps do not belong to Google, but keep in mind that the suggestions below also work for such apps. Well, let's bring up the alternatives, shall we?
- Messages → XMPP/Jabber: The XMPP protocol was actually at the core of the retired Google Talk, it's a decentralized technology for real-time communication including instant messaging. There is no official client for you to install, but there are dozens of clients that you can choose from and install in any desktop or mobile operating system. I've been using Pix-Art Messenger on my phone.
- Messages → Matrix: Matrix is another open and decentralized protocol for instant messaging. It was chosen by the French government and by the people at Mozilla as their secure messenger app. There is no official client as well but the most used is Riot.im.
- Duo → Jami: Jami is a peer-to-peer (P2P) messaging app with support to audio and video calls. Being P2P means that the connection is established straight between the users, there is no server in the middle, so you can add as many people to your call as your internet connection can handle. Also, Jami is ad-free, end-to-end encrypted, cross-platform and free as in freedom and as in free beer.
- Meet → Jitsi: Jitsi is a free, decentralized and end-to-end encrypted video conference app. Since it's decentralized, the limit of people in the call depends on the server you're in.
EDIT (Apr 26th, 2020): Wiktor Kwapisiewicz on Mastodon noted that some XMPP/Jabber clients, such as Conversations, will support end-to-end encrypted audio and video calls, making them awesome alternatives to Google Duo. For a great experience, though, the server should be STUN- and TURN-compliant.
In any decentralized network, you can communicate with anyone from any server regardless of the server you're registered in unless the one you picked has a specific restriction imposed by its administrator. By the way, feel free to say hi to me on either Matrix or XMPP/Jabber.
Let me start by saying the following:
You do NOT need a Gmail account to create a Google account!
Hopefully, you're not gonna need a Google account at all, but in a situation where you see yourself forced to create one, keep in mind you can use any e-mail address you want.
E-mail is probably one of the oldest examples of decentralization and is most likely one of the main ways of communicating, especially at work. What I mean by decentralization is, for example, if you have a Gmail account, you can talk to people not only from the same server (Gmail) but also from other servers (Outlook, Yahoo! and etc). E-mail, as XMPP/Jabber and Matrix, is not controlled by a single entity, their servers communicate with each other by "speaking" the same protocol.
Nevertheless, Gmail has a history of snooping on users' e-mails for target advertising, a "feature" that even Microsoft exploited back in the day to attract Gmail users to its own e-mail service, Outlook, even though Microsoft will break into your account if they deem necessary.
We've talked about e-mail itself and some peculiarities from Gmail, we even brought Microsoft Outlook to the mix, now it's time for the alternative. The one I'm using and I recommend is Tutanota.
Tutanota is an ad-free, encrypted and secure e-mail (which also offers an encrypted calendar, but we'll get to that in the next days when I post about calendars). Tutanota not only is free as in freedom but it also offers a free account; premium subscriptions are available for individual and businesses as well.
They also promise a state of the art compression algorithm, for all plans, that should make all not end-to-end encrypted e-mails 5 to 10 times smaller, giving you virtual free storage up to 10 GB.
So, unless you want to self-host your e-mail, Tutanota is a good alternative to help you break free from Gmail. It doesn't collect (and consequently doesn't share) any of your personal information, it offers end-to-end encryption and respects your privacy!
All is going well so far
We've managed to make our first step, one of the hardest: chat and e-mail; probably the two main ways of communicating online. Up until this point, the process has been easier than I was expecting.
The next replacements are already on the pipeline and I should be publishing them in the next few days. Keep an eye out, we still have quite a bit to cover... one step at a time.
Are you a Tutanota user or using any of the messaging alternatives? Have you tried some of them but decided to go back? I'd be happy to read about your experience.