In-Depth Guide to De-Googling: Delete Google, Gmail, YouTube accounts
Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to another VPN-Review guide!
Though our website is mainly dedicated to reviewing and comparing various and best VPN services, we realize that virtual private network technologies are just one asset, albeit a very important one, of Internet privacy and security.
So in our today’s guide, I’ll tell you about another topic: deleting your Google accounts and finding alternatives to Google services.
But wait, you’re probably saying, why would anyone do that?
Well, you’re about to find out in the very next section of this guide.
If you feel like you know the basics already and want to get into the juicy bits, just use this quick navigation menu to skip ahead to whatever chapter you want:
Cutting oneself off from Google and its many services completely or partially is a known online privacy measure some people choose to take. It is commonly referred to as de-googling oneself.
The main reason for doing it is, as I’ve mentioned before, privacy. How is abandoning Google services such as Google Photos or Maps going to help with privacy? Let’s delve into it.
Google is a large corporation, as you undoubtedly know, and large corporations need to make a lot of money to keep functioning (i.e., paying their employees and maintaining their infrastructures). Moreover, they need to make even more money to keep their investors happy with their returns.
And as you also know, anybody can use Google services such as Gmail or Drive for free. Sure, there are paid versions of some products like the business version of Gmail that has certain expanded functionality such as more storage space, custom email addresses, tech support, etc. But these are just a drop in the ocean compared to the seemingly free services that Google provides.
So how does Google get any revenue with such a business model?
You might have heard an old adage: If you don’t pay for the product, you are the product. And it does hold some water both generally and in Google’s specific case.
If you’ve been keeping track of our website, you already know that such an abundance of personal info about you being stored by anybody isn’t good for your privacy. That’s why VPN services that are considered the best (such as CyberGhost VPN, for instance) do not keep user logs – to provide privacy and confidentiality.
But Google isn’t like that. It needs to keep tabs on its billions of users to run its business.
Many methods are used for data collection:
This information is used to serve users ads specifically targeting them based on their search history and browsing habits. So, for example, if you have searched for heating systems several times, you can expect to see some ads trying to sell you, you guessed it, heating systems.
Now, Google says it only does it with users’ content. However, there are claims that suggest otherwise. It’s easy to see why advertisers would be eager to pay Google for such information about so many of its users: with it, they can deliver relevant ads to people who are more likely to click them.
Of course, as you probably know, even if you opt in receiving targeted ads, they aren’t always actually relevant to what you want. Sometimes, they offer you stuff you’ve already bought, and sometimes, they are downright bizarre and leave you wondering what made Google suggest them to you.
But that’s not it! Google needs to track you even to perform some of its functions. To use the example of Google Maps, when you use it to see how dense the traffic is in your area, it needs to calculate it somehow. And one of the ways it does it is by tracking how many people there are in the area with a Google Maps app on their smartphones.
Though such use of your private data (which details where you are at a given moment) seems benign, it does hit close to home for those people who care about their privacy. Even if Google is 100% honest about not using this information for any shady purpose, there still remains a chance of a data breach that lands this information into the hands of hackers.
With this in mind, it’s not exactly incomprehensible why some people choose to de-google their lives. Privacy is an important but, sadly, declining thing and to get at least some of it back is an understandable desire.
De-googling is a growing trend in the Internet community despite how large Google still remains. It hasn’t started yesterday, though: the subreddit dedicated to it turned two years old recently, for example.
So, are you creeped out by Google’s watchful eye? Do you think you might prefer to get some of your privacy back, thank you very much? Don’t you want Google to profit off of you? Then keep reading, and I’ll tell you how you can do that.
How to quit Google services and best alternatives to them (anonymous search engines, secure email providers, etc.)
In this chapter, I will tell you about the best ways to quit using some of the most popular services provided by Google as well as about the best alternatives that respect the confidentiality of your personal information more than Google does.
What you need to keep in mind about de-googling is that it is not a strictly binary process in which you either use everything made or provided by Google or don’t. There are a lot of intermediate values here and even if you stop using one or two of these services, you will increase your privacy by quite a bit.
Let’s get going!
Google Chrome is by far the most popular web browser of our time: as of July 2019, it had more than 55% of the market share with the runner-up, Safari, holding just 12.5%. And, to give the credit where credit is due, its popularity is understandable: Chrome is fast and quite convenient to use.
However, it comes with certain privacy concerns just like pretty much everything that Google makes. For example, a recent outrage was caused by it logging you in automatically. So how do you neutralize Chrome?
Well, it’s rather easy. You just need to delete all the information that the browser keeps about you. To do that, you need to:
1. Head to your Chrome settings by clicking the triple dot icon in the upper right corner of the browser and then choosing the Settings heading:
2. Then, go to the Privacy and Security tab and right at the bottom of it, you will find the Clear browsing data option. Click it.
(Alternatively, you can just type in “clear” in the search bar at the top, and it will take you to the desired directory).
3. Now head to the Advanced tab, pick “All time” in the drop-down menu above, tick every box, and press the Clear data button. The process will start. Don’t panic – it does take some time if you have a lot of stuff to delete. Just use that time to pour yourself a cup of coffee and ponder on your Internet privacy, because it will soon be improved.
Just to be safe, you might also delete Chrome entirely after you clear your browsing data. It’s done from the Apps & features menu in the Windows settings.
Well, now you need a secure web browser. It’s time to launch your default one such as Microsoft Edge. Of course, you can use it if you want to but I’m going to tell you about another alternative.
My private Internet browser of choice is Firefox. Here’s how you can get it:
1. Head on to the corresponding page of the Mozilla website and click the Download now button:
2. After the installer is downloaded, execute it. It will install automatically:
3. The browser will launch after the installation is complete.
Of course, your journey to private browsing only starts here. I recommend that you take a look at the Privacy Protections menu to configure what your settings should be:
Additionally, you should also visit Firefox Browser Add-Ons to get some extra privacy tools there. My personal favorite is the Multi-Account Containers add-on which allows you to limit cookie access to each tab. For instance, you can access two accounts on the same site from Firefox at the same time or keep social media websites (that are just as nosey as Google, if not more so) from tracking you on other sites.
On the account of it being mostly open-source, Firefox is the privacytools.io recommended browser. Its developer, Mozilla, is widely known as a privacy and security champion and is said to be launching its own VPN soon. It is called Firefox Private Network and is currently in beta.
We will see how it compares to the industry’s leaders such as NordVPN when it comes out but, knowing Mozilla, we are cautiously optimistic.
Before you get rid of your Gmail account, there are some things you should consider:
- Your old conversations, attachments included, will be lost unless you back them up in advance;
- People who only know you via email may not be able to reach out to you after you carry out your plan;
- You may lose your only way to connect to some people – again, if you don’t back your contacts up.
But if you have decided to cross this Rubicon, then this is how you proceed:
1. Go to Gmail and click the 3 by 3 dots grid icon in the upper right corner.
2. Then click the first icon in the drop-down menu. It shows either your initial or your avatar:
3. You’ll be taken to your general Google account. There, on the left, find and press on the Data and personalization tab:
4. In the next menu, scroll down to the Download, delete or make a plan for your data subsection. The last option under it is what you need:
5. As you are deleting a service, click the Delete a service button:
6. You will be prompted to sign in (even though you are already signed in – it’s just an extra security measure):
7. On the next page, you can download your data associated with this account:
8. Select all the data you wish to keep. In my case, it’s just mail but that’s because this is a throwaway account I set up for demonstration purposes only. Likely, you are going to have more information you may find useful later, so choose all you need:
9. When you’re done, scroll down and press Next step:
10. Then, you choose what archive format you want and how you wish to download it and press Create archive:
11. When the archive is ready, you press Download. Please note that if you’re exporting a lot of data, creating an archive can take a long time.
12. Back to deleting your Gmail. Go back to Step 6 and this time, press the trash bin icon:
13. You’ll need another email address to access other Google services previously connected to the Gmail you’re deleting. It should not be a Google Mail address. Enter it and proceed:
14. You’ll be sent an email to the address you enter. Find it and follow the link in it:
15. Check the box and press Delete Gmail:
16. And you’re done! That’s how you delete a Gmail account permanently.
As for alternatives to Gmail, there are a few. The first one that comes to mind because of its privacy and security is ProtonMail. It is, so to speak, a sister service of ProtonVPN which we have reviewed here on VPN-Review.
It provides its customers with email service that allows exchanging encrypted messages between users of ProtonMail. However, it’s possible to protect your communications even with people using a different email provider but you will need to tell them a special password first so that they can access your messages.
Unlike Gmail, ProtonMail is not entirely free. Its free version is a bit limited and has only 500 Mb of storage, which may or may not be enough for your needs depending on how much mail you send and get. Gmail, for comparison’s sake, has 15 Gb.
In the picture below, you can see the details of ProtonMail’s pricing:
Another secure email provider I can recommend is Mailfence. The reason I like it is that it has a free plan just like ProtonMail. However, you can also upgrade your storage capacity and other features by buying a paid version:
Mailfence implements end-to-end encryption and allows some great customization of your security options, such as choosing which emails you want to encrypt and which ones you don’t.
The search engine is the most well-known service provided by Google. At the same time, it’s the service that collects the most information about you based on what you search for.
Officially, it’s done to personalize the search results you get and it’s true. However, such personalization, we believe, is taken to extremes and leads to a so-called “filter bubble” when you’re only shown results that conform to your existing opinions as Google understands them.
So what is the best uncensored search engine for privacy?
While different cybersecurity experts have different views, most, including privacytools.io agree that the following two are the best:
- DuckDuckGo. This search engine provides all its users with the same results. It doesn’t track you and you can opt out of it showing you ads. DDG can be set up as the default search engine in many browsers such as Firefox, Opera, and even Google Chrome as well as Chromium-based web browsers (Brave, etc.). Besides, you can make it default on iOS (8 and higher) and Android (users of which should also check our list of the best VPNs for Android). Is duckduckgo safe? Absolutely!
- Searx. It’s a metasearch engine as it aggregates results of multiple other SEs. Unlike Google, it gives you direct links to result pages and not redirections that it can track. Another positive is that it’s open-source.
As convenient and large as YouTube is, quitting it is an important step to improve your privacy. And right now is a great time to do it: the updated Terms of service, effective from December 10, 2019, give YouTube an ability to terminate any account it deems “no longer commercially viable”.
To delete your YouTube account, you will need to:
1. Go to YouTube and click the icon with your avatar in the upper right of the screen:
2. Go to Settings:
3. At the bottom of the left column, you will see the Advanced settings menu. Go to it:
4. At the bottom of that page, you’ll find the option you need:
5. After you enter your password just like you would do when removing your Gmail, you’ll be taken to this page where you can either hide or delete your YouTube channel:
6. In the drop-down menu, check the box and press the Delete button:
7. You’ll see this message asking you to confirm your decision once more by entering your email address:
8. Then, all you have to do is wait:
Of course, you may continue using YouTube not signed in. However, maybe you take de-googling extremely seriously and don’t want to use anything by Google not to give it more information to analyze and train its AI algorithms on. What should you do in that case?
Of course, it’s harder to find an alternative to YouTube than to Google Search or Gmail. Maintaining a large website that hosts millions of videos is very expensive due to bandwidth costs.
However, there are some platforms like YouTube such as Dailymotion, Vimeo, and Twitch, but they’re not exactly like YouTube. Twitch, for example, is largely dedicated to online streaming and gaming. Vimeo requires a paid subscription to upload more than 500 Mb per week or more than 5 Gb in total. But most importantly for some people, many video creators prefer YouTube to other similar sites and are unlikely to move.
However, there are ways to watch YouTube videos without going to YouTube.
One such way is called FreeTubeApp. It’s an app for desktops that allows you to watch YouTube content without going to the site itself and prevents Google from tracking you and showing you ads. It also supports and recommends using Tor or a VPN with it to hide your IP.
However, the speed with Tor may not be optimal, so using a VPN service is the best way to balance privacy and performance. While we haven’t tested FreeTubeApp extensively (yet!), VPNs for Kodi should work best with it.
In case you don’t believe in half measures, here’s how you can delete your Google account entirely in one fell swoop. This isn’t something I recommend doing because it can potentially lead to some missing important data and is generally harder to pull off psychologically due to the Google-withdrawal being stronger.
But if that’s what you desire, here’s how you do it:
- First, locate your Google account by going to this page.
- Proceed to the Data and personalization menu.
- Find the Download, delete or make a plan for your data tab (it’s closer to the bottom of the page):
I really recommend that you download your data first. It will allow you to keep a hold on your Hangouts, bookmarks, search history, and more if you ever need them again.
- If you are ready, press Delete a service or your account. From this menu, you can delete some of your services or your entire account. Choose account deletion, verify that it’s you by entering your password and/or other identifying information, and confirm your decision.
From personal experience and from following the topic of de-googling extensively for the past few years, I can assure you that deleting your Google accounts can be quite a complicated task. Not only do you have to deal with readjusting your habits after you switch to a different service but also it can cause certain issues with your friends, family, and acquaintances.
It’s often difficult to convince other people to join you in your efforts. And if your Mom sends you messages from her Gmail address, you can be certain that Google will learn a lot from it even if you use a secure email provider. Moreover, the chances are that you’ll have to use at least some Google services for work or education.
However, improving your privacy even a little is important. While Google will still have a lot of ways to track you, by following at least some steps from this guide, you’ll make your 2020 a lot more secure!