Facebook, Google, Amazon and other big tech companies all have a chokehold on the industry and our lives, but fear not. I have right here many alternatives to the privacy-violating services that you need to shake. (Psst! If you want to get the most information on this stuff, click all the links.)
Google Search – DuckDuckGo or Startpage
- DuckDuckGo is a private search engine, which is built around not storing your personal information or search results. They are big privacy advocates and have donated to numerous non-profit projects to benefit the internet. They also have custom theming, so you can change the colors to whatever you want, including a dark mode, so you don’t burn out your retina. This is what I personally use for all my searching needs.
- Startpage acts as a proxy for Google searching. You get to have the convenience and quality of searching Google, without the violations of privacy. Google still gets all the searches, but as far as Google knows, they’re all coming through one entity: Startpage. So none of your searches can be traced back to you. Here’s a quote from their home page: “You can’t beat Google when it comes to online search. So we’re paying them to use their brilliant search results in order to remove all trackers and logs. The result: The world’s best and most private search engine. Only now you can search without ads following you around, recommending products you’ve already bought. And no more data mining by companies with dubious intentions. We want you to dance like nobody’s watching and search like nobody’s watching.” They’re also based in the Netherlands, who are known for their excellent European privacy and security laws. They too have a dark mode. No retina combustion here either. Although I use DuckDuckGo, if DDG isn’t working or I need better search results, I turn to Startpage.
Gmail – ProtonMail or Tutanota
- ProtonMail is an email service that comes with free, encrypted emails. Encryption is when your emails are encoded, so nobody except you and the recipient can read them. Think of it like this: You have a box and you put your emails inside that box. The lock on that box is the encryption, and you and the person you sent the email to are the only people who hold the keys to the lock. They also offer custom theming. Yay for custom theming! If you’re worried about how they make money, they also have a paid plan with more features. So paid members subsidize the free ones.They also have a few whistleblowers and muckrakers using them, and they showed up in Mr. Robot, a TV show about a hacker. So that’s cool. ProtonMail is based in Switzerland, which also has good privacy laws.
- Tutanota is very similar to ProtonMail, but they’re based in Germany. They’re a good alternative if for whatever reason you don’t want to use ProtonMail.
Google Chrome – Firefox
Firefox is an open source web browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation, who have been around since 2003. Firefox is a web browser built around privacy, security and usability. It has tons of great features. It’s very easy to customize, it’s fast, the mascot is a fox, it has great tab management (better than Chrome in my opinion), and it’s very secure. Mozilla offers a bug bounty program, that pays $3,00-7,500 to any people who are able to find vulnerabilities in the code. The Mozilla foundation also makes frequent donations to charities, and advocates for an open and happy web, so you can feel nice and cozy inside for supporting them.
Reddit – Tildes
I don’t know how many people here use Reddit, but for the people who do, you might be getting fed up with Reddit. The community can be really toxic, and Reddit can be plagued with a lot of low quality posts. If you want something more high quality, you can try Tildes.net. Tildes is focused on high quality and respectful discussion, which can be a breath of fresh air. Right now it’s invite only, so you’ll need a code to sign up. If it sounds interesting to you, send me an email.
More Advanced Alternatives – Here be dragons, you have been warned
Twitter/Facebook/Instagram – Mastodon
Facebook sucks; really sucks, and what many people don’t know is that Facebook owns Instagram as well. Twitter has its fair share of problems as well. So if you’re looking for an alternative and don’t mind a tiny bit of extra work, then Mastodon is a good alternative. Mastodon is a federated, microblogging platform. That probably sounds like Greek to you, so I’ll break it down. Microblogging just means you can make short posts, like on Twitter. Now on to the federated part. Mastodon is federated, which means instead of one huge tech company (i.e. Twitter) owning and running it, it’s made up of a bunch of different instances. This allows Mastodon to be decentralized, every instance owner gets to make their own rules and decides what the theme of the instance is. The cool thing is, all of the instances can talk to each other. So your post on your own instance gets posted to the rest of Mastodon, so anyone can see it, no matter what instance they registered with. You can think of it like the United States government. The federal government is all of Mastodon, and the instances are like states, all the states get to have their own rules, but they are all part of the United States. It’s not a perfect analogy though, because in this case the federal government isn’t really a government, it’s just Mastodon as a whole. If that still sounds really confusing, but you really want to just try it out, join mastodon.social. That’s the instance that’s run by the guy who first started Mastodon, and is more like Twitter because it’s seen as a general purpose instance. You could also watch this video, which I think explains it pretty well.
YouTube – PeerTube
Now, hopefully you can wrap your head around the whole federation thing, because PeerTube is another one of those things. It acts as a federated alternative to YouTube. Many people have been getting angry about what YouTube is doing. It’s rampant with terrible ads, click-bait, and just generally *ahem* poor moderation. If you hate all that stuff (or even mildly dislike it), you might want to try PeerTube. You can like, dislike, subscribe and all that stuff, just like on YouTube, but it’s federated and generally better quality. Another cool thing about PeerTube is the fact that you can follow people on PeerTube with your Mastodon account. That’s because PeerTube and Mastodon both run on a protocol called ActivityPub, which allows them to communicate. I must warn you though, it’s still in beta, so some things can take some getting used to. Here’s a good article that can help you get up and running on PeerTube.
Facebook Messenger/iMessage/WhatsApp – Matrix
Matrix is an open source messaging protocol with voice, video and text chat. Being a protocol, Matrix allows people to use any client (software used for accessing Matrix) they want, as long as it supports the Matrix protocol. This is in contrast to something like Facebook Messenger, where you can only use the official app to access it, and Facebook locks down the protocol so only they have access to it. To join, you just have to go to https://matrix.to/#/#matrix:matrix.org, and follow the instructions on the page. Then you just use a client to connect. I recommend using the client made by the makers of Matrix, Riot. Riot has a very sleek interface, similar interface to Discord (if you’ve used that) and they have a version for every operating system; there’s even a web version if you don’t want to download a program. Matrix is developed by the Matrix.org Foundation, which is a non-profit based in the UK.