Chris Wiegman Chris Wiegman

The Real Cost of Leaving Google Behind

Lately I’ve been working on and writing about leaving big tech, mostly Google, behind. For me it has been a rewarding project that has rekindled my interest in tech in general yet most people I talk to about it generally ask about it as they’re either horrified that I would do such a thing in the first place or are not able to do the same themselves.

I won’t speak much here as to the “horrified” part. Privacy and ethics in tech are one of the most important issues facing our society today. As more and more people wake up to that I do believe we’ll see far less people that are horrified by leaving Google and far more that are horrified by the prospect of having to use it. Time will tell. This post is about the latter. Simply put, leaving big tech, whether Google, Facebook, Apple or others is simply not an option for far too many people. There is a lot of talk in tech as of late about privilege and, I fully admit, my ability to leave these mostly behind is a result of my own privilege. I do not deny that. As a result, I do think it’s fair that I breakdown the monetary costs of what I’ve replaced Google with so far.

Of course, monetary costs aren’t the only costs involved with such a project in this day and age. I have a master’s degree in computer science and have been around tech, in one form or another, my whole life. That education and experience is another privilege not afforded to many. While it is my sincere desire to help others achieve their own tech goals, the length I’ve gone to to escape just Google (something I still haven’t been able to do completely) is simply not something I could expect everyone to be able to to.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I do want to address the direct monetary costs of my escape from Google, so far. When I set out I had the hope of not increasing my monthly bills. So far, I’m actually ahead on that front although not without sacrifices. In some cases, particularly with TV, I simply didn’t bother replacing a Google service with something that wasn’t already there. Taking that into account, I’m well ahead. Other than that, though, it’s mostly a wash. Here’s the breakdown:

Costs of using Google

  • Youtube TV: $45/month (not including Netflix and others as they haven’t changed)
  • Google Music: $19.98/month (G Suite accounts aren’t eligible for family plans)
  • G Suite: $5/month
  • Google Fi: $45/month
  • Google Domains: ~$12/month (price considering number of domains I’m keeping)
  • Google Drive Storage: $9.99/month (price for 1TB on my G Suite account)
  • Total: ~$136.97/month

Costs of services outside of Google

  • Spotify: $14.99/month
  • Digital Ocean Server: ~$6/month (includes Nextcloud and Wallabag hosting)
  • Hover: $14/month (average cost of remaining domains)
  • Google Fi: $45/month
  • Total: ~$79.99/month

At first glance this sounds like a savings of $56.98/month. Great huh? Well, there are a few things I’ve had to make one-time purchases of as well to get further away from Google. Here’s a breakdown of those:

Hardware costs to leave Google

  • Synology DS918+ with two 4TB drives: $718.46
  • Asus Zenbook 13: $899_1
  • UniFi Networking setup: $450.09_2
  • Sonos Play speakers: ~$700
  • Total: ~$2767.55

1 the Asus runs Ubuntu 18.04 and replaces a $180 Chromebook I had bought in January that I replaced more because it couldn’t even handle the WordPress editor than because it was Google. That said, I did “de-google” it so I’ve listed it here.

2 Includes an 8-port switch, their hardware firewall (USG), a controller and a single wireless access point.

Assuming all this hardware lasts 4 years (on average) that’s another ~$58 a month. Yes, I could further break that down with what I would replace if I was on Google hardware including routers, speakers, etc but I think this makes the point.

De-Googling isn’t cheap

The point of this all is, De-Googling isn’t cheap even before one considers the knowledge and experience required to do so. Given this, how then do those of us who want to promote privacy and open-source ever hope to compete?

I wish I had the answers to this. I look at the work Laura Kalbag and Aral Balkan are doing and see hope but their own struggles help illustrate just how much is required to escape the status quo in our modern society.

For years, even with my own emphasis on privacy and security, it seemed like too much of a task for myself to even get to this point. I spent the last two years telling myself “at least my data is only in Google and not multiple services I don’t trust.” Moving that data to safer sources just wasn’t in the cards.

All that said, if alternatives are going to prosper in the future they require investment. For me that has meant putting my own privilege to use and practicing what I preach while also supporting the work of folks like Laura and Aral. That, along with continuing to teach on the subject, are, I believe, how I can best import the benefits of my privilege to help others with their own tech.