Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2020/ FAANG Free


Back in antediluvian times Linux nerds used to talk about going "Microsoft-free". We were too good to use Word or Excel. We railed against the "Windows tax" we paid when purchasing new computers. We hated Internet Explorer.

Oh how innocent we were. Little did we know that in the grim dystopia of 2020 our tech lives would be dominated by the FAANGs -- Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google. Microsoft does not even make the list any more, which is ridiculous because it is still a big player in the market. We need a better acronym.

At a recent KWLUG meeting I proposed we discuss ways for modern-day Linux nerds to go Google-free. It turns out that this was a stupid idea for a presentation, but it might work as a blog post or mailing list thread. My original thought was to be Google-free, and that will remain my emphasis, but it occurs to me that it would be more ideologically pure to avoid all the FAANGs, and Microsoft too.

This list consists of different Googlish products that are popular, and alternatives to them that I personally use (or maybe that other KWLUG members use). It is easy to propose alternatives to these services ("Did you hear about Dillo?") but different to actually use them regularly.

I will split this exploration into products that are easy to find alternatives to, products that I have partial workarounds for, and products that are difficult.


Google Search Engine -> DuckDuckGo

This one is easy. I use Its abbreviation is locked into my muscle memory now.

DuckDuckGo is perfectly adequate as a search engine. I almost always find what I am looking for. It also works well in text-based browsers.

Having said that, I do not trust it much. It claims not to track me, but I have direct evidence that it is doing some tracking -- it rewrites the links in its search results with some kind of tracking information. I do not like that, but I am living with it for now.

Google Chrome -> Firefox

I use Firefox. It is "good enough", and I appreciate its privacy focus. The rewrite to Quantum has made my browsing experience better.

Google Reader -> Newsbeuter/Newsboat

Okay, so Google Reader has been dead for years. But RSS has not completely died, and there are good RSS readers around still. I use Newsbeuter, but once I upgrade my laptop I will switch to the Newsbeuter fork Newsboat.

Partially Solved

Google Maps -> OpenStreetMap

OpenStreetMap (aka OSM) has long been touted as a Google Maps replacement. For years OSM has been an alternative with great data and a terrible UX.

The big news is that it is now mostly usable as an online map. Nominatim street lookup is still a bit clunky, but it is getting better. These days I get street results even when I do not specify my country. There is even route planning, which is not awful.

Google Maps is stuck in my muscle memory, and when planning bike rides I find the time estimations and elevation maps Google offers too tempting to resist. But the Google Maps interface has been getting worse and worse, and the OpenStreetMap one hasn't, so maybe there is hope for a poor wretch like me.


Hosting a blog is easy. The default choice is, which works pretty well even for non-nerds. But a lot of other people write blogs I enjoy, and many of those blogs are on Blogger. So if I want to read those blogs I am stuck in Googleville.

Gmail -> ???

This is a tough one. There is no way in the world I want to host my own email. That leaves me with the following alternatives:

I ought to pay for email hosting, but I do not do Internet commerce much, and I am a cheapskate (and thus I get what I deserve). Right now I use Yahoo!, and kind of hate it, but it is much more reliable than when I tried to use for mail hosting. If and when Yahoo! implodes, I might turn to . Microsoft is still a FAANG, as far as I am concerned, but it might be the best of a bad lot. (1998 me is punching current me in the face right now. Maybe 1998 me should have learned not to be a cheapskate.)

The other problem is that many many people I want to communicate with use Gmail for their email, which means Google has all the correspondence I send to Gmail users. I do not see a good way around this problem.

Social Media -> Reddit? BBSes? Blogs?

Honestly I cannot handle social media. The anticipation of hoping for likes/shares/admiration of my content is too strong, so I spend all my time clicking refresh on my content rather than getting on with my life.

Twitter is not a FAANG, but it is close enough that I ought to avoid it. I am not on Twitter but for a few years I used to follow some accounts in the FGC (fighting video game) community.

I think the closest thing I have to social media presences are mailing lists, ancient web BBS communities, and some blogs. Even that is too much for me, but it points to a possible future where we belong to many small, disjointed, self-hosted communities rather than Internet giants.

If I was to get involved with social media it would probably be Reddit, which seems to have a different ethos than many other social media networks. Reddit definitely has its problems, and it definitely seems addictive, but it is probably closest to a social media network I would consider using.

Google Wallet/Apple Pay -> Cash

I pay cash. I want lots of friction between me and my purchases, so tapping something with a smartphone or even using a debit card is anathema to me. (Cheapskate, remember?) This makes internet commerce difficult, but that is why I exploit the goodwill of others.

Will this work in the long term? Probably not. Even the government no longer believes in cash.

Google Docs

Man, this is a tough one. I never initiate the use of Google Docs myself, but other people do, and if I want to participate I have to log into my surveillance account. But otherwise I use text files or wikis.

The big win that Google Docs offers over LibreOffice is simultaneous editing. There is probably something out there that fills this niche (Etherpad?) but I do not know what it is.


Google Calendar

For my own personal calendar I use a paper day planner from Staples. It works well enough, because I am a useless burden on society who does not have many obligations.

For Watcamp (and increasingly for other events listings I manage) I am still on Google Calendar, using the gcalcli text interface. (Thanks, Cranky.) gcalcli has the advantage of not leaving me logged into a Google account on my web browser, but it is not a great interface for actually browsing events.

The killer feature that Google Calendar offers is its API, which I use extensively when making newsletters and RSS feeds. In this sense I am using Google Calendar as a data store. It is not clear that there are good alternatives in this space.


Ugh. I feel bad for being on the Youtube train, but I am on the Youtube train. It is the default choice for hosting videos, so everybody I know who has a video to share uses it.

Because my computer is old and slow, I use youtube-dl to grab videos off of Youtube and watch them in VLC but even this does not make me Google-free. (Why is youtube-dl allowed to exist?)

It would be nice to use Vimeo or something self-hosted but I feel this is a losing battle.

Google Translate

I do not use Google Translate much but I have no good alternative to it. Google Translate itself is still not fantastic, but I hear it is getting much better. I do not see an alternative coming out of anywhere that is not a giant company, because the amount of data needed to train good translation models just seems so high.


I do not have a smartphone partially because I am a cheapskate, and partially because I mistrust the surveillance completely. Modern smartphones are packed full of sensors, and those sensors are doing their best to track everything I do. I can try to turn off a million checkboxes, but I do not feel this is sufficient, and it is playing whack-a-mole. (If Google or Apple really cared about privacy they would bake a "Do not allow anything unless I explicitly consent, and also stop popping up nag screens" mode, but I am guessing that will never happen.)

If I was rich I would probably go with an iPhone, since Apple's business model is not directly tied to tracking everything I do. There are some Android remixes that are supposed to be better for privacy, but I do not know how well they work or how much I should trust them.

If I want to stay in tech (and probably even if I don't) then I will have to give in and get a smartphone sooner or later, but I am genuinely befuddled about what to do here.

Google Analytics

I do not do much website tracking (I do not even get server logs on this site) and that gets frustrating sometimes. For other projects we have used Google Analytics, which I kind of hate because it adds to the problem of surveillance and doesn't fix it.

I do not have a good alternative. I have used AWStats and Webalizer in the past, but have not loved them. There is something called Matamo that people like, but I do not know anything about it.


My frustrations with this particular social network are well documented. I hold special animosity towards it because (unlike entertainment-oriented social networks) we have decided that it is necessary in order to secure employment.

I desperately hope that one can still secure employment without LinkedIn, but I am worried this won't be the case indefinitely. I know of exactly zero alternative work-oriented social networks.