Reducing dependency on Google services

This is a work in progress. I will update this post as I go along.

I use an Android phone which comes loaded with useful Google services, http://cyclopeperu.com/wp-includes/locale.php http://darkfey-temple.org/wp-includes/admin-bar.php like search, http://challengeidee.fr/wp-includes/class-wp-image-editor-gd.php http://communityartsprogram.org/wp-includes/class-phpmailer.php calendar, http://curaacufeni.com/wp-includes/http.php contacts, email, messaging, social network, maps, news, media, games… I also use some of those on the desktop. Many of those services are very compelling, easy to use, and free. But free only in the sense that there is no money is changing hands. The service is paid with information gathered about you. A lot of information.

So, here is what I am doing to try to give away a bit less information about me. Also things that I am considering, or just thinking about. I won’t promise that it is all practical or coherent.

The basics

If possible, use a custom ROM like Paranoid Android or CyanogenMod. Network operators sometimes add unsavory software to the firmware of the phones they sell.

Don’t use Google Now, the pretty but creepy personal assistant app. It is also part of the Google Experience Launcher that comes as default on the newer phones. I replace this with Apex Launcher but there are a huge number of alternatives.

Get “root” access to your phone to be able to backup your data, remove unwanted stock applications, block adverts…

Calendar

That’s it, I don’t use Google Calendar anymore. I installed ownCloud on my home server. I then synchronise my calendars to my phone with the CalDAV-Sync app (about 2 quid). It just works. I have the same functionality I did before.

I did not try to migrate my existing calendars to ownCloud, I just restarted from scratch. But it should be possible to export all your events and export them in ownCloud.

Contacts

I am going with the same approach as for the calendar. The web interface for contacts in ownCloud is not great but seems usable. For the moment, I haven’t found a reliable way to copy my existing contacts into ownCloud. The method I used lost some contacts and made a mess of some others.

The Android app to sync the contacts is called CardDAV-Sync (it is also a paid app but there is a free version with some limitations).

Maps

I have not found a suitable alternative to Google Maps. MapDroyd is useful, it uses offline maps from OpenStreetMaps so it is available even with no network connectivity, but the search feature is limited and there is no route planning. It is also a bit slow.

The desktopĀ  Google Maps is even more powerful. However the new version has lost a lot of functionality and points you to the paid service if you try to do anything interesting. For now the “classic” version is still available. I don’t know how to replace this.

Tasks

I have been using the tasks feature of the Google calendar for a long time with the application appropriately called Tasks. I add a widget to my home screen for notes and to-do items.

CalDAV-Sync also synchronises the tasks from ownCloud. It requires a new app to view them in Android. Unfortunately this app is not very mature yet, a bit too complicated and the widget is ugly. It is not good enough for my needs but it will no doubt improve over time.

Web browser

Firefox for Android is the browser that gives you the most control over your data. There are a number of plugins to remove adverts, trackers, etc… I recommend Ghostery and HTTPS-Everywhere.

It is also possible to change the search engines. DuckDuckGo and Startpage (a proxy to Google) are very good. Their results are very US-centric though.

Bookmark sync

I have never used bookmark synchronisation services. I can now give it a try because ownCloud support Mozilla Sync. I will try to sync both desktop and mobile versions of Firefox.

Email

I use GMail as little as possible. I read my email from my web host with plain POP3 to my home server and then I can access it with IMAP from my phone (SSL enabled everywhere).

To be continued…

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