I finally started my last “de-googling” step: switching from Gmail to using my own domain (dwayne.xyz) with a paid mail provider. I decided to go with Fastmail.
As you can probably tell from my other posts, I’m really not a fan of the tech industry these days. I have a problem with the level of surveillance capitalism we’re dealing with and how easy it is to passively hand over a lot of data to these companies without even realizing it.
Google is in the news a lot over the years for being one of the biggest examples of it (along with Facebook obviously). If you want to check out a documentary that explains some of the problem, check out The Social Dilemma on Netflix1.
I also just really don’t like the idea of depending on these companies for services that have a huge effect on my life that can disappear for any reason. I recently came across an article about getting locked out of your Google account, and it mentions a Google employee whose husband was locked out of his account and they were still unable to resolve it.2
So over the past few (5? 10??) years, I’ve been slowly making moves to reduce my own reliance on some of the more problematic companies. It’s why I made a push to self host stuff on this server when possible.
Google Services I Already Dropped
Basics - I’ve already been in the Apple ecosystem for a long time3, so it was already easy to use the Apple alternatives to Google stuff (photos, contacts, notes, calendar, file storage, etc). Of course, I have my criticisms of Apple, but I believe they have less of an incentive to participate in surveillance for money since they chose to stick with a decent business strategy: charging consumers for the products they want.
Chrome - I don’t even install Chrome anymore. I use Safari, then Firefox, then Brave for development4 and general usage.
Search - I’ve already set all my browser search defaults to DuckDuckGo a while back, so I don’t start my searches with Google Search. But DuckDuckGo is definitely not as good at technical/code searches for me. I end up putting
!g in my search queries to have it send me over to Google like… a lot. Eventually I’ll find a search engine that works a little better.
RSS/News - People bring up Google Reader a lot when talking about RSS. I used to use it before switching to Twitter for my RSS replacement a while back. But at some point after that I realized relying on Twitter was also a terrible idea, so I started using RSS again, but through Feedly. Then even more recently I installed a self hosted instance of Miniflux to replace that. (See what articles I’m reading here.)
Maps - Apple Maps really isn’t that bad. (Disclaimer: I worked on the Apple Maps team for a year.)
Password Management and 2FA - I don’t use any browsers for saving my credentials. I don’t use Google Authenticator either. I use 1Password for all of it, including OTP.
YouTube - Yeah I don’t know what to do about this one. I have serious fucking issues with the things they choose to either remove or leave up on the website. I believe YouTube is responsible pushing a lot of people towards very hateful/harmful/racist content and normalizing a lot of terrible shit. There is also like… decades of content there that you’ll never see anywhere else. This one just bothers me.
Analytics - I would never use Google Analytics (I use a self hosted instance of Fathom for analytics) and I don’t use any kind of Google (or Facebook) libraries/services for the website.
Google Meet - This isn’t really specific to Google (since Zoom really took off), but part of the reason I’m building WebRTC video chat into this website is so I don’t have to depend on or trust either Google Meet or Zoom to video chat and/or share my screen with any of my contacts.
Gmail to Fastmail
All of that said, I’ve still been using a Gmail account since around 2007. That’s 13 years of my email being scanned for keywords and my correspondence flowing in and out of the servers of a data collection company.
I already knew I had to get off it eventually. But considering how long I’ve used it, I figured switching would be too much of a hassle.
But after reading some of the stories of people losing their Google accounts, and thinking about next steps with my business and this website, I figured now was the time to go through it and get rid of my last Google dependency.
I can finally use this domain (dwayne.xyz) for my email addresses and set up some aliases and organize my communication a little more. Also, if I need to switch off of Fastmail at any point, I can just change DNS settings and I don’t have to go through the switching process again.
Also, theoretically, paying for the service means I’m not the product and my messages aren’t being scanned to serve me ads5. And I can actually expect real support when I need it.
I read some reviews of the popular paid email providers and there’s usually a discussion about privacy and the jurisdiction the company/servers reside in. Fastmail is an Australian company with servers in New York and Amsterdam. And they don’t offer end to end encryption like some of the others (ProtonMail usually comes up).
That’s significant to some. It’s acceptable for me right now for a few reasons.
- I’m a US citizen and I live in NYC. My web and database servers are in a datacenter here in the city. Using an email provider with servers in New York and connections to the US government doesn’t really change my situation at all.
- I already don’t really consider email secure6, so encryption isn’t a big part of the decision for me.
- I mentioned being able to switch providers by changing my DNS settings. It feels like I can do a little experimentation with them right now.
So here’s the order I did things in:
- Signed up for Fastmail and specified using this domain (dwayne.xyz) from the start. When I logged in I went to the Domain settings and followed the instructions to edit my DNS settings at DigitalOcean.
- Created a few aliases including one that’s specifically for emails that I forward from Gmail. (I created firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com for this website, and other aliases for other things.)
- Turned on email forwarding in Gmail. I set it to forward to the alias I mentioned in the last step.
- Ran the “Import from Google” process inside Fastmail (82,889 messages imported!).
- Removed the Google account from all my devices and added the Fastmail/dwayne.xyz account.
- Started the eventual process of changing the email addresses at all the sites I use to the new one. 1Password makes this not so bad. And since I have email forwarding on there’s no rush. Whenever I notice the old email address being used somewhere I’ll change it.
So now with this setup:
- I still have all my emails, labels, and contacts.
- I won’t miss any emails that are sent to the old address.
- I can turn off emails from the old address from either side by either turning off forwarding from inside Gmail or rejecting emails going to the forwarding alias from inside Fastmail.
- I can switch from Fastmail to another provider without switching email addresses again (after all the account setup, data import, and configuration stuff of course).
- I already changed a lot of my accounts to use the new address. All email coming into the new address avoids Gmail and scanning.
- If Google decides they don’t like my account anymore and disables it, it’ll be a slight inconvenience (I’ll just have to update my accounts faster) instead of a major life issue.
Have you been thinking about dropping Gmail? It might not be as hard as you think. For me, signing up for the account, configuring everything, and doing the data import all took maybe 2 or 3 hours. I’m still in the process of updating my accounts, but changing email addresses every once in a while is easy enough.
Overall this was all easier and quicker than I thought it would be and I really do feel more at ease about my digital life than I used to. Definitely worth it (so far).
There were a lot of complaints about it. I thought it was pretty good for a documentary. ↩︎
I was actually just thinking recently that cross browser development has felt a lot easier lately with some consolidation around browser engines and good implementations of Flexbox/CSS Grid. Anybody feel the same way? ↩︎
That’s their promise at least. I have to put my trust in somebody… but it’s a little easier to do when I’m paying. ↩︎
I was looking into end to end encrypted email solutions, and it really just seems like a huge hassle for everyone involved. ProtonMail doesn’t support POP/IMAP without a separate app that handles encryption/decryption. And PGP is notorious for being difficult to use consistently with your contacts. ↩︎