Kicking the Google habit: how?
May 8, 2007 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Giving up Google: can you suggest alternatives?

I've decided to give up Google. No more Gmail, no more (tracked) web searches, no more calendar, no more iGoogle, no more maps... I'll miss them all but, frankly, I'm very concerned that Google knows too much about me (see here for my inspiration). I find Google's privacy policy pages fluffy, at best.

What I want is to distribute my web activities across several services and am trying to find replacements of the same quality. The main thing I need is a good web-based email service. It's essential this doesn't include tags/adverts at the end of each email I send. I'll happily pay a fee for this if necessary.

But here's the kicker: I need all this to be compatible with Safari. A surprising number of free email services aren't (Yahoo! Mail Beta, My view is that if the developers can't be bothered to test against Safari, then I can't be bothered to use their service. Quid pro quo.

What I need to find, in order of importance:

* Web-based email service (sent emails should be ad-free, pop3 not essential)
* Web search (although I can still use Google anonymously, I guess, provided I wipe its cookies)
* Mapping/route-finding service (I live in the UK)
* Calendar service (some kind of alert system would be cool)
* Image search
* News headline aggregation
* Usenet search (maybe Google has that one sewn-up)
posted by humblepigeon to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
First off, you can eliminate google's ability to track you by just deleting its tracking cookie or setting Firefox to delete it per session. Not sure if Safari has this function, but you can always periodically delete it. You can still use google as a search engine then, but they will data-mine the crap out your email and other services.

You also have the option of using a paid-for anonymous proxy. Or better yet the free Tor. Actually Tor may solve *all* your problems.

The only web based email I know of with no ads is one you pay for, usually by a web host. Free services will always pile on the ads, tracking pixels, etc.

Yahoo also has an image search, but just like google you'll have to delete their tracking cookie.

Usenet? Not sure, google under Tor or a proxy I guess.

I think if youre serious about privacy you just cant blame google (as guilty as they are). You really need to see the big picture. All those little 1x1 gif images from doubleclick or whomever. Various cookies. IP logging. The only way to get all these guys is to use Tor or a proxy and methodically clean out your cookies.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:48 AM on May 8, 2007

If you are willing to pay for it, I'd suggest registering a domain that comes with POP support. I used myself and it works well. I don't remember the cost for registration and POP support which means it was below my threshold of giving a damn. Namecheap will do this without requiring hosting.
posted by chairface at 7:48 AM on May 8, 2007

I've been on the lookout, but so far seen nothing comparable to gmail, at least in terms of a) threading all-in-one view, b) searching.
posted by bonaldi at 7:50 AM on May 8, 2007

Google definitely has usenet search all sewn up after they smartly purchashed dejanews.

AltaVista is still a good search engine, and has image seach, as does Microsoft's which has maps/images/news.
posted by zeoslap at 7:51 AM on May 8, 2007

Response by poster: First off, you can eliminate google's ability to track you by just deleting its tracking cookie or setting Firefox to delete it per session.

Thanks for the suggestion, but that isn't very practical.

I think I over-egged the pudding in my OP. I don't want 100% privacy here. I'm not a privacy freak. I don't mind some services tracking me, and have nothing against cookies.

I'm merely looking to stop Google databasing my life.
posted by humblepigeon at 7:52 AM on May 8, 2007

Also, google now owns Doubleclick so you should be blocking the ads that doubleclick serves. You are trackable by the ads you load. This is easy to do by blocking them in your hosts file. You'll also want to block googleads in your host file too. More info by checking out these pages.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:58 AM on May 8, 2007

Why not just use Google for mail, and other companies for other things? You seem concerned about Google knowing too much about you, but why is them knowing nothing about you the only answer?
posted by smackfu at 8:07 AM on May 8, 2007

(Note that there are lots of solutions to the various "RFP's" you put out. I'm including popular and personal favorites according to no particular order or critereon)

(some kind of alert system would be cool)
IMified will handle this for just about any/everything.

* Calendar service

* Mapping/route-finding service
Yahoo maps and Mapquest are the only ones I know of.

* Web search
If you have problems finding a search engine you're not using the Internet correctly. That said, probably your best options are Microsoft Live Search, Yahoo, and Amazon's A9

* News headline aggregation
Again, there are so many of these that probably knowing more about your needs is going to be necessary before I can make a sensible recommendation. Newsvine is popular one, or roll your own via, for instance Bloglines or Pageflakes.

* Web-based email service
Others have already covered this, it seems.

Ok, that's just some quick thoughts.
posted by ChasFile at 8:13 AM on May 8, 2007

Couple things to add:

Scroogle for searching.

As damn dirty ape pointed out, you want to block doubeclick ads as Google is now doubleclick. Also, Google knows where you are going by the ads served by adsense. Easiest way to avoid adsense, turn off javascript in your browser.

On my powerbook, I use Camino for my normal browsing and fire up Safari only when I need to use cookies or javascript. Camino is setup with CamiTools and has adblock, flashblock enabled while cookies and javascript are disabled and some other things set. While using two browsers may be a pain for you, I find it works very well.

I also have firefox loaded up with the torbutton and vidalia but i rarely use it mainly because the speed is pretty slow.
posted by chrisroberts at 8:14 AM on May 8, 2007

Does you ISP not offer webmail? I thought that was pretty-much a standard these days. At least among the larger ISPs.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:15 AM on May 8, 2007

cancel your DSL?
posted by thilmony at 8:26 AM on May 8, 2007

About your concerns about Google tracking your web history, you can stop Google from saving your browsing history by turning it off, or as Google prefers to put it, on "Pause." I "Paused" mine as soon as I heard about it.

Google Help

If you're visiting a web page or performing a search which you don't want stored in your web history, just click the "Web History" link from the Google Accounts page, then click the "Pause" link on the left side of the Web History page. Once you click "Pause," your web activity won't be kept in Web History or used to personalize your search results until you click "Resume."

If you'd like to sign out of Web History altogether, click the "Sign out" link at the top of the Google homepage. Note that you'll need to sign back in to your Google Account to have Web History begin storing your web activity again.

posted by bawanaal at 8:27 AM on May 8, 2007

If you have a fixed IP address, google still saves almost every page you visit (since most pages have either google ads or doubleclick ads). Throwing away your cookies or telling google not to *show* your history doesn't mean that they do not store it and are able to access it themselves.

I am not saying you should be paranoid about that, just warning about having a false sense of security/privacy.
posted by davar at 8:45 AM on May 8, 2007

With regards to privacy on Usenet, are you talking about Google archiving your posts? I believe you can still put "X-No-Archive: Yes" into the message field so that it expires from the usenet archives.

You can nuke old usenet posts by going here. You can even remove posts sent from one of your old inactive e-mail accounts, but you have to provide information about yourself and swear an oath. (Of course, you have to use Google to remove them, so do it before your hiatus starts.)
posted by parilous at 9:00 AM on May 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Update from the OP:

It feels like some people are missing the point here.

Firstly, just a reminder that this isn't about privacy. This is about having any one service provider (in this case Google) tracking me. But that service provider could be Microsoft or Yahoo, or anybody. That's why I want to distribute my patronage around various services. I don't care if all these services track me individually. However, unlike Google right now, they'll only see one small part of my life.

Let me give you a real-life example of why I'm concerned. When I went on vacation last year, Google knew everything about it.

1) It knew about my flights because the confirmations and even the boarding pass was emailed to my Gmail account. It knew flight numbers, airlines, departure times, and more.

2) It knew the exact details about where I was going because I'd used Google Maps to work out various routes. I'd even entered postcodes (zip codes) and house numbers.

3) It knew when I was going, because I'd entered the dates into the calendar, along with various planned events while there. I'd also entered some reminders into the calendar so that I didn't forget to buy things I needed before going. So it knew my likely activities (scuba diving, hiking etc). It could also learn this from my Froogle searches.

4) It knew what kind of facilities I'd likely make use of when I got there because I'd done a handful of Google searches looking for restaurants and pubs.

Do you see my concern here? I'm not a privacy freak, but I find Google's drive to know everything about me (and you!) very concerning. Sure, they offer the best web software around, but it comes at a high price. I guess there's no such thing as a free lunch. This particular lunch makes me feel rather sick, as much as I love the Gmail salad.

I'm not saying Google will use this information maliciously. But knowledge is power and it's just damned unhealthy one company having so much knowledge. I want to opt out. I suspect that I'm not the only one.
posted by humblepigeon at 9:33 AM on May 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

You could start using Google more - I use Google Maps so much that no one would be able to stalk me with the addresses I've put in. (I do actually need to locate the addresses, I'm not doing it just to change the data on me)
posted by yohko at 12:20 PM on May 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just saw this exact thing on the delicious rss feed...
posted by lovejones at 1:08 PM on May 8, 2007

"Having the information" is not the same as "knowing" (til the analytics are done, anyways). Google is the least of my worries; I'm much more worried about my financial data held by the various banks and companies we have to deal with (and the fact that they can lose data or have it stolen). And the fact that someone can intercept the constant stream of new charge-card applications that arrive in the mail, unsolicited and unwanted, that can be stolen and used. Or that it's still possible (in Ontario) for someone to fraudulently apply for a mortgage on my house, then abscond with the funds and I'm still liable.

Also, I hope the OP doesn't use Airmiles or some other rewards points program...

Anyways, enough worrying.

For email & usenet, hook up with small to medium-sized ISPs for your accounts. Not that expensive.

Search - AltaVista, Yahoo, Lexis-Nexus?

Mapping - MapQuest
posted by Artful Codger at 1:15 PM on May 8, 2007

People reeeeeeeally love Gmail around here so I find suggesting that it's not a gift from the sweet baby Jesus on high rankles a few feathers.

For maps, Mapquest. I like it better than Gmaps, actually -- it actually prints without looking like shit.

For email, I use my own domain and hosting. I would recommend this to anyone.

For calendaring, I went through this just a few months ago and here are a few I found: Yahoo,, Backpack, Calendarhub, , Airset, and I know there's another one I signed up to test but I can't think of it now. Also, I have heard really good things about AOL's calendar, believe it or not.

Image search: Yahoo and MS and do this. Also, Imagery. (FF only)
posted by loiseau at 3:45 PM on May 8, 2007

Oh! And 30boxes.
posted by loiseau at 3:47 PM on May 8, 2007

Also: Hipcal.

The best-reviewed ones are Hipcal, Airset, Kiko and AOL.
posted by loiseau at 3:58 PM on May 8, 2007

Best answer: Some great suggestions here, thanks.

I've decided to switch to Firefox and have installed the CustomizeGoogle extension, as suggested above, which has some privacy features that can help me fight back against Googlezilla. I'm upset about this because Firefox is buggy on OS X (what's with the little tick pixel to the right of the text entry cursor?), but I have to be pragmatic.

I'm also using Netvibes as my home page, which has widgets allowing access to all kinds of third party calendar/mapping/search services. It's like a less pretty version of iGoogle, which I was using before (I miss the little fox!). But it can only get better. It also lets me aggregate feeds pretty neatly.
posted by humblepigeon at 2:15 AM on May 9, 2007

Multimap and Streetmap are two useful UK mapping services.
posted by penguinliz at 6:59 AM on May 9, 2007

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