Google. It’s become such a part of our lives. Certainly for those of us who are not Apple users. I don’t really have anything against apple exactly. I even ditched my android device for a little over a year and went to an iPhone. It wasn’t terrible, but I just liked the android experience better. So I switched back, in a big way, to a Pixel 4 XL about a year ago. That’s not this post though. Or, not exactly.
If you’re here for a how-to on getting Google out of your life, you may be in the wrong place. We’re going to start with some background on me, and why I’m doing this, and then we’ll talk about a few select services that I’m trying to at protect my data from, and what I’m doing about them.
Privacy, and self-hosting
Bear with me for a short story. Many folks who’ve known me for long enough, and know of my techie side, will remember that not too long ago I was very opposed to cloud services. Especially the “free” ones. I didn’t like the idea that buying movies and music online no longer delivered me a disc. I didn’t like the idea of putting my files, photos, and personal data on someone else’s computer. They gave me this sinking feeling that at any moment those others could change course, and leave me in a lurch. I don’t love that I have crates full of DVD’s in my attic, but dammit, if I want to watch Braveheart (the first DVD I ever purchased) I know I can do up there and dig out the dvd, and watch it. Can I go see that on Netflix? No, I can’t (I just went and looked). Even worse, my fear was, what if I bought that movie on a streaming service, and that service eventually closed up shop? Many people ignore that possibility, or maybe it’s just not important to them?
Well, because of this fear of mine, and the privacy concerns related to it, I spent a long time doing everything I could on self-hosted hardware. Not just cloud boxes I controlled myself, but literally, machines in my basement. I ran mail, dns, firewall, web, document hosting, media hosting, everything I could reasonably do in house, I did, and all of it on free open source software. Most of it on machines I’d cobbled together, or inherited from the place I worked. My power bill was $300 a month, and things grew until I was to the point where I was actually running a side-business, The Other Guys Hosting LLC, from my basement. We had a few customers, a half a dozen or so machines. Then, it all got to be too much. I was starting to get a bit stressed at the day-job, and that carried over to a real lack of interest in my side projects at home. The side business? Man, my stomach sunk when I thought about it. Then my business partner got sick, real sick, sick with a capital C, if you get my reference. That was the tipping point.
It was all just too much
See, what started as a hobby became a job. When I loved my day job (which of course was very similar to the hobby) it was a joy to come home and work on some of the same technologies at home. My family benefited from my expertise, and I got enjoyment out of it. Then it started bringing in extra money! Win! When I was less than happy in the day job though, and starting to feel burn out… It got to the point where I didn’t want to work on anything at home. When the router needed to be reset it was a damn chore, when Plex went down I wanted to just power it off and forget about it, but I couldn’t everyone at home was counting on me to bring my little pony to the living room tv, and keep the mail flowing, and the internet connection up. I’d had enough. The power bill, the extra work, and the uncertainty of managing the business alone if things went badly for my business partner. I made a plan, and executed.
In 2017 or so, I made a plan for every service I had running at home, and moved it to something managed by someone else. My ClearOS linux router? became a Google Wifi. My mail? Moved to Zoho (a free email hosting solution), Photo storage went to Google Photos, and my servers and DNS became Digital Ocean assets. What about the business? Well, my business partner and I made the tough (well.. not so tough considering his health) decision to shut it down. We gave all of our customers time to move, I took point on the whole thing, and helped every one of them get moved safely to other providers. I even carted a physical server for one customer to another small hosting company who, as far as I know, still hosts them to this day. By the end of 2017 all but my Plex server was shut down.
What’s it all mean?
So what does all this have to do with Google? Well. I’ll say that deep down, as I was moving all my data to Google, and dealing with the devil I once fought, it all felt wrong, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. Moving everything took some of the strain off, but it didn’t fix the real problem. The day job. I just wasn’t happy there anymore. Well, if you’ve been paying attention to my articles, or if you listen to the podcast you’ll know how that panned out. Eventually I left where I was, and moved to Red Hat, and out of strict OPS and into a less stressful role. That’s almost a year ago now, though it’s hard to believe. Now that I’m not so burned out, and my day to day role is a little less hands on technical, I have to say, I’m really starting to regret not having systems to tinker on anymore! The dislike I had for cloud services is slowly creeping back in, and then.. then.. Google did it. They hurt me.
Anyone who’s familiar with Google, and their ecosystem, knows that they have the attention span of a squirrel with ADD
Anyone who’s familiar with Google, and their ecosystem, knows that they have the attention span of a squirrel with ADD. They spin up a new service, people buy in, and they eventually lose interest and want to replace it with something “better”, or not, and just don’t want to run it anymore. Folks are still angry about Google reader. Remember Google+? Well, eventually we all get hurt by Google, and it finally happened to me, twice, in a short span. First with the the Google Nest E Thermostat. I’d finally started investing in smart thermostats, and the Nest E was the one that fit my budget. I bought two of them, and was working on buying more (my house has need of 5!) when google decided, without warning, to drop the Nest E from their lineup, and replace it with another (admittedly, cheaper) thermostat. So fine, I looked at this other thermostat, and it seemed like an equivalent replacement. With one caveat. The Nest E is controlled by the Nest app… This new thermostat is controlled in the Google Home app. Sounds like nothing, but really it is a big deal! The whole point was so I’d have a unified interface to my heating and cooling! I don’t want to have to use one app for half my house, and another for the rest!
Then, as I’m planning what to do about that, they hit me again, this time right in the gut. See, for a while Google had been telling us Google Play Music users (which was an awesome music service BTW, if you’re reading this, Google), that Google Play Music (GPM) was being replaced with Youtube Music (YTM). GPM was more like a music library online, with things like stations and mixes added on. YTM is more like the opposite. It’s like Google tried to clone Spotify. They did an OK job, but I was a GPM subscriber because I didn’t really love Spotify’s approach! But, what choice did I have? I eventually moved over to YTM because GPM was going away. I switched all of our google assistants in the house to YTM, and off we went. Everything seemed fine, I was getting used to YTM, and then the day came. The day they finally cut off GPM. My daughter came to me, and says, every time she asks her Google Mini speaker to play music, it tells her that her account isn’t allowed to watch Youtube videos. Well no duh, she’s not asking for a video, she wants music! She’s got an account on our family plan with Google, she’s entitled to all the GPM she can consume, same as I was. Except now on YTM.. well.. she’s a minor. Under 13, and Youtube has gotten into a mountain of shit over COPPA. So under 13? Youtube isn’t for you! And apparently, that includes YTM.
I went to the Google support forums (after unsuccessfully trying to get help from Google directly, what a flippin joke), and got a very helpful answer that I should check this and that, and get back to them. I did that, and have heard nothing since. Several other GPM users have joined into my thread with the same problem. Apparently YTM is simply forbidden for kids under 13. No kids app, no filter, nothing, just, NO MUSIC FOR YOU! So yea, we’re a spotify family now.
So, that wasn’t such a short story
So, I know I said this would be a short story, and I just went on with an entire post about JUST the back story.. Looks like we’re in for a 2, or maybe 3 or more parter here! So here’s what you can expect next! How am I de-coupling some of my services from Google? Which ones am I keeping with them, and why? And even how am I designing the services that I’m switching to? Because you know some of them are going to be self hosted!
Be sure to check in next time to learn how Google Takeout can “help” you download all of your photo content from Google Photos (and other services for that matter).