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Privacy

Fed up? Alternatives to Google for search, email, messaging and more

Think for a minute about what Google doesn’t know about you. Its search engine dominates the competition and it runs apps and services that know what you’re watching, where you’re going and what you’re interested in online.

All this data might make you stop and think, “Huh, is there a good alternative?” Solid options exist for all the major software and systems if you know where to look. Tap or click for free alternatives to expensive Photoshop and Microsoft Office.

If you’re tired of being tracked and sharing your entire digital life with one company, or maybe you want more options, switching away from Google is easier than it sounds. Let’s start with finding a search site other than Google.

How to search like Google

DuckDuckGo

Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo’s entire gimmick is its lack of user tracking, as well as a company policy of no targeted ads or relevant results based on your search history.

On the one hand, this means your results will be less tailored to your specific needs and interests. On the other hand, these organic results may help you find things that the Google algorithm might otherwise bury.

StartPage

StartPage calls itself “the world’s most private search engine.” The Netherlands-based company recognizes that when it comes to search, it’s hard to beat Google. That’s why they use the power of Google without passing along user tracking.

StartPage pays Google for the use of its search algorithm but strips out the tracking and advertising that usually comes along with it. You get a Google-like experience, along with the promise that your data will never be stored, tracked, or sold.

Ecosia

Ecosia takes an entirely different approach. It’s a traditional search engine, ads and all, but the money raised is used to make the world a greener place. When you search on Ecosia, you’re helping to plant trees all around the world.

A nice bonus if you’re privacy-conscious: Ecosia doesn’t sell your data, searches are encrypted, and search data is anonymized within a week. They do collect “a small amount of data” by default, but you can opt-out.

Dogpile

While Google uses an algorithm to sort through billions of webpages, Dogpile instead fetches results from the major search engines. Google, Yahoo, Bing, and the rest have their ways of sorting through results, and Dogpile analyzes them all to help you find what you’re seeking.

Kiddle

If you have little ones at home, consider Kiddle. It’s not affiliated with Google, but Google Safe Search powers it.

The visual search engine promises a safe web environment for kids, with big thumbnail images and bigger text for easy reading. The first few results of any given search are pages specifically written for children and approved by Kiddle editors. The next few results are safe but may not be explicitly written for little ones.

Kiddle has some fun extras like a 700,000 article encyclopedia with searchable topics ranging from the sciences to the arts. The search engine doesn’t collect any personally identifiable information, and its logs are deleted every 24 hours. There are ads, though.

Wolfram Alpha

Think of Wolfram Alpha as a genius in your browser. You type something you want to know or calculate, and it goes to work finding you an expert-level answer. How? A combination of algorithms, AI tech, and an extensive database.

This site isn’t the place to go if you want to find a plumber or restaurant reviews. But if you need an answer to a math problem, want trustworthy information on world history or events, or need to do personal finance or household math, give it a shot.

Qwant

This Paris-based search engine uses search results from Bing. Based in the EU, QWant doesn’t collect your data or use tracking cookies. Like Google, it offers search shortcuts that let you search for results from a specific website.

Make sure to be specific when you’re searching for places nearby. Since it’s focused on privacy, QWant won’t track your geolocation, so you may have to type in your location when looking for restaurants.

Swisscows

This Swiss-based search engine wants to make the internet safer. It’s a great option if you have children since Swisscows automatically filters out harmful content. Plus, there’s no way to turn that setting off, so you don’t have to worry about tech-savvy kids finding ways around the protective filter.

Instead of working with a cloud or a third party, Swisscows has its own servers. It has its own data center in the Swiss Alps, “the safest bunker in Europe.” Plus, you’ll browse like never before with its semantic map. Swisscows has a tile-like map that acts as a filter. When you type in a word, you get a map with related words.

Click on the words and you’re taken to the specific results you need. Cool, huh?

How to browse like Chrome

The default options for Macs and PCs, Safari and Edge, are solid choices — and use up much less of your computer’s resources than Chrome. If you’re looking for different features, Firefox and Tor are solid contenders.

Mozilla Firefox

Firefox predates Chrome — but this browser is no dinosaur. Firefox’s active developer community frequently releases new updates and add-ons. Firefox automatically blocks third-party cookies by default and automatically notifies you if you visit a website that’s been hit by a data breach.

You’ll also find many of the same add-ons that make Chrome so robust. Firefox uses less CPU than Chrome typically does and is capable of loading some websites faster to boot.

It’s a good option that combines security and privacy with speed, but expect a bit of a learning curve with a new layout and buttons. Once you get past that, it’s smooth sailing.

Tor browser

Designed as an “encrypted browser,” Tor uses special coding to keep your browsing habits secret from prying eyes and advertisers. It’s so reliable, in fact, that people living in authoritarian states have used it to break through censorship by installing the browser on USB drives.

Tor automatically runs a feature on every page it visits called “NoScript,” which disables things like ads, banners and autoplay videos. This decreases load time and memory usage significantly, but be warned — it can also cause sites not to load properly.

Tor routes your internet traffic through anonymous servers in different parts of the world, making it difficult for ad trackers, search engines and even governments to know you are and what you’re up to. Just don’t expect every website out there to play nice with your browser.

Looking for other options? Tap or click here to see a full comparison of the most popular browsers.

How to message like Gmail

Gmail keeps track of things like buying habits, which can make switching to a new mail service seem worthwhile. These alternatives are easy to pick up and master and lack many of the privacy drawbacks found in Google’s mail client.

Email getting you down? Tap or click for five inbox hacks, including ways to banish tracking and junk mail.

Mailfence

Mailfence is an encrypted email service with a variety of unique security features. Users have the ability to add digital signatures to their messages, which guarantees that your emails are from you to your recipients.

Mailfence also offers a suite of document tools like G Suite’s Docs and Sheets, along with a calendar and access to third-party mail services so you can create email addresses using your own domain. It’s a great option for small business owners and ordinary users alike.

Protonmail

Protonmail is a popular option for users seeking absolute privacy. The company is based in Switzerland, a nation famous for its privacy standards, and its servers are literally buried underground.

Unlike most email services, Protonmail doesn’t require any personal info to set up your account. If anyone were hypothetically able to compromise your info, they wouldn’t be able to glean any personal information other than what you’re sending in messages.

There’s a limited free version and a more robust paid version, and you can use the service for your website’s domain. The company boasts that even they — the developers — can’t read your emails.

Signal

Signal is an independent non-profit that aims to create a totally secure, encrypted cross-platform messaging app. It’s got state-of-the-art end-to-end encryption. Signal promises no ads and no trackers, ever.

Signal has all the familiar features of whatever messaging app you’re probably using right now, from text to voice messages to photos and videos, as well as audio and video calling. Simply download the app, open it up, and sign in to continue your conversations from where they last left off.

Add that on top of its price, free, and you can start to see why Signal is the go-to messaging app for the privacy-minded. You can get Signal on everything from Windows to macOS to Linux as well as iOS and Android.

How to watch videos without YouTube

YouTube is another tool Google uses to build a digital ad profile for its users. As good as it would be to move to an alternative, none of the most popular options really match the quality of what YouTube has to offer.

That’s why these alternatives either work hand-in-hand with YouTube itself or have features that provide something YouTube does not.

Hooktube

Designed for faster load times and less impact on your browser, you can use Hooktube to search and browse videos just like you would on YouTube itself without ever visiting the Google-owned site.

You can watch YouTube links that other people send you by simply changing “youtube.com” in the URL to “hooktube.com.”

We’d recommend visiting the site this way most of the time. Hooktube’s “Trending videos” section can sometimes promote questionable content like conspiracy theories and fake news. The metric is based on shares rather than any kind of moderation. Tap or click here to see the most common coronavirus myths debunked.

Vimeo

Vimeo is a longtime competitor to YouTube, and despite never surpassing it, it still holds its own. 

It boasts 280 million viewers per month, along with a much lighter server load that makes uploading videos easier. If you have long-form videos or self-made movies you want to share, it’s a perfect place to host them.

Vimeo allows for higher-quality videos than YouTube does, too. Independent filmmakers even use the platform to host movies for online distribution.

How to navigate without Google Maps

Google Maps is so big that many third-party mapping apps actually pull map data from it. That said, if you’re using an alternative that doesn’t share your data with Google, they aren’t going to see your movement and activity.

What you use instead depends on which operating system you use.

Apple Maps

When Apple and Google Maps split up, it was a major controversy. Apple Maps comes standard on every iOS device and it now has more robust features than ever.

Apple Maps emphasizes user privacy by not tracking your searches beyond your device. DuckDuckGo actually utilizes Apple Maps for its own mapping program. You’ll have access to Apple Maps by default if you’re using an iPhone or Mac, but Android and PC users can access Apple Maps via DuckDuckGo.

HERE WeGo

A lightweight and powerful mapping client, HERE WeGo users give it high marks for its commitment to privacy and speed.

This application offers versions for nearly every platform, including iOS, Android, PC and Mac. HERE WeGo loads directions and maps a bit quicker than Google’s option but won’t run quite as fast as Apple Maps on Mac systems.

Google may dominate the web, but it’s far from your only option. You can switch to some of these alternatives and rest easy, knowing all your internet and privacy needs are covered.

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