How to ditch Google for more privacy and fewer ads

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Google's search engine, browser, and other products present a Faustian bargain: In exchange for excellent, free Google services your data is used for advertising. And for some it's getting to be too much.

If you've decided that keeping all your eggs in one online basket is unwise, there are viable alternatives. Some are arguably not as full-featured as what Google has. But using your email without ads or knowing that performing a web search won't result in a ton of related advertisements may be enough to encourage you to go on a Google-free diet.

Replace Google Search with DuckDuckGo

The first step is often the hardest, and such is the case with ditching Google search. The number two search engine in the United States is Bing, but if you're concerned about privacy, jumping from Google to Microsoft may not get you far. Fortunately there is DuckDuckGo, whose privacy policy is simple: it does not collect or share any private information.

duckduckgo DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is a privacy-focused search engine that does not track user data.

Much of the way DuckDuckGo looks and functions reminds me of the early days of Google search, when the startup from Mountain View was cutting through the clutter of sites like AltaVista. It recently underwent a redesign and now has search for specific categories like images, local, weather, recipes, and others. It also now performs an autosuggest.

Whereas Google will adjust what you see based on location and various other factors, The DuckDuckGo search results you get from California are supposed to be the same as someone searching from New Jersey. It's interesting to see how the results turn out when not tied to a specific account. You can also use a "bang" command to search a specific site. For example, if you wanted to find a particular image on Pinterest you would type, "!Pinterest" in the search bar, along with what you're trying to find. 

DuckDuckGo's search results come from its own crawler (named DuckDuckBot, of course) and over 100 different sources, such as Yandex, Wolfram Alpha, and Bing. You can also take the search engine mobile with its apps for iOS and Android.

Replace Chrome with Firefox

For the best browser alternative, go with Mozilla's Firefox. The non-profit company is a pretty strong advocate for user privacy

firefox Greenbot

Firefox is a very capable web browser with a greater focus on user privacy.

Firefox has led much of the innovation around the web, such as tabbed browsing and extensions. Its interface is very minimalistic, and it's borrowed the concept of putting the tabs on top of the address bar from Chrome, so it should feel familiar.

Google is the default search engine in Firefox, but you can easily change it to DuckDuckGo. Just head to the search home page, and you'll be prompted to add it to the search bar with one click. 

Another strength of Firefox is its mobile browser on Android (there's even a beta version if you want to try out new features before they go mainstream). Firefox Sync enables you to keep your bookmarks, browsing history, passwords, and other data across desktop and mobile versions. 

Replace Gmail with FastMail

FastMail is a great-looking and fast-performing alternative to Gmail. If you are concerned about the NSA or law enforcement snooping on your correspondence, take solace in the fact FastMail is located in Australia and has a fairly stringent privacy policy.

fastmail FastMail

FastMail offers a clean, minimalist inbox with several tiers of storage offerings.

FastMail has many of the same features as Gmail, including conversation view and message archiving. There's a dedicated support page for importing messages from your old email provider. This can take awhile if you have multiple gigabytes of old messages, but the payoff is having all your email in one place that's free of Google's advertising software.

Of course, this ad-free perk comes with a price. The Enhanced plan—$40 per year for 15GB of storage across mail, contacts, and calendars—probably meets most needs, but pricing ranges from 250MB for $10 per year up to $120 per year for 60GB of email storage.

FastMail has a ridiculously large number of domains, so the odds are pretty high you can score Such is no longer the case with Gmail, as such combinations were taken by those who scored a beta invite when Gmail launched or were just faster to jump on board (I'm looking at you, owner of

For mobile support FastMail uses IMAP, so it'll work fine with the stock mail app on iOS,  Android, and various third-party clients. 

Replace Google Drive with Zoho Docs

Zoho Docs is's online office suite, which includes word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs. Like Google Drive, this collaboration tool makes it easy to share files and folders, track document changes, and get feedback in real time.There are also desktop apps for Windows and Mac, so you can sync your content to the desktop and work offline. 

zoho writer Zoho Docs

Write inside your web browser—just like with Google Docs.

As with Google's productivity apps, you can export documents to Microsoft Office and other formats. You can also import Dropbox files into Zoho Docs. 

You get 1GB of storage for free, though that may not last long if it becomes your core productivity suite. The standard plan of 250GB of storage is $5 per month ($48 per year if you pay it at once). Tiered plans go all the way up to 2TB for those with larger storage needs.  

Like the other companies on this list, Zoho has spelled out its privacy policy, so you can be assured it plays nice with your data.

The cost of switching

Despite Google's broad reach, you really can get away from its services, but it will cost you—some of these, and most other, replacement services require you to pony up some cash. But the upside is you can be sure your user data isn't being mishandled, and if you care about your privacy, that's a better bargain.

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