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With The Recent Outrage To Google, Should You Consider Alternatives To Google Products? - 2020
Google had a rough week, experiencing widescale service outages that have led to major downtime for its users. For the most part, it does not seem to have taken Google very long to resolve the bulk of the problems; some lingering reports of disrupted services remain but Google has largely returned to fully operational status, which is no mean feat considering just how extensive their online digital operations span.
However, it is precisely this all-encompassing nature of Google’s services that has caused this recent spate of outages to serve as a profound and disquieting reminder of just how reliant the world is on the services provided by the tech giant.
Problems across the board
An exacerbating factor is no doubt the fact that an issue within Google’s digital infrastructure might not only cause isolated problems, but instead bring down numerous services across their ecosystem.
Google said the problem with last Tuesday’s outage was caused by a problem with their authentication system, which was itself caused by their automated storage quota management system going down, and thus blocking any service which required users to log in.
But this quickly took down Gmail, Google Drive, Google Maps, the Android Play Store, Youtube, and most other Google services.
Meanwhile, the following day saw many users experiencing problems with Gmail, particularly those who accessed it through third-party clients. Error messages abounded, and many emails bounced or simply vanished.
The other problem is that Google has an unbelievably large user base. Google Workspace (formerly G Suite), which comprises Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Meet, and Drive, has 2 billion users worldwide.
This means that while the outage took less than an hour to (mostly) resolve, it still had a significant impact on the world. Millions of workers could not send or receive company emails, or work on documents which were saved on Google Docs or Google Drive.
It's not just internet staples that went down. Many Google Home users also reported problems of a more alarmingly dystopian slant: lights at home could not be turned on and thermostats could not be controlled to turn up the heating.
It bears considering just how helpless we might all be one day if Google were to be permanently compromised.
Do we have alternatives to Google’s many services?
Unfortunately, the simple answer is no.
A more diplomatic answer might be: it depends.
On a superficial level, there are obviously other search engines apart from Google, or email service providers other than Gmail etc. For each individual service, there is an abundance of options by smaller third parties.
But for anything even approaching the level of integration and convenience of Google’s ecosystem, which weaves all its apps seamlessly into a multi-functional tapestry, we can only look to the other technological monoliths like Apple and Microsoft.
Still, is trading one ecosystem for another really any better?
If your concern is privacy, then perhaps yes. Few businesses rely so disproportionately on data collection as Google does. Apple rose to become the most valuable company in the world arguably off the back of high-quality hardware which delivered high margins. Microsoft‘s niche has increasingly become business productivity tools. It is easier for these companies to place greater value on privacy because they are less focused on making money from bypassing it.
But Google’s greed for data has pushed them to become so entrenched in almost all aspects of people’s lives in ways that no other company has matched. Its pervasiveness is what allows it to offer unparalleled convenience and integration. There is no realistic competitor to YouTube. Nor Google Maps, which doesn’t just provide directions and travel information; it also serves as a platform to services like Google My Business, featuring advanced information on locations and businesses. And transitioning between apps in Google Workspace is a uniquely convenient process that utterly transforms work, especially in an increasingly digitalised world. Using Google’s services is a Faustian pact, but there is a reason why the majority of the world has metaphorically sold their souls.
And ultimately, the problems inherent in a digital ecosystem would still be prevalent regardless of whether it is Google administering it or not. Microsoft experienced major downtime as well in the UK just a few days ago. No digital system is flawless, or impenetrable.
What are some possible alternatives anyway?
If you are truly a proponent of not putting all your eggs in one basket, even a highly useful and convenient one, here are some suggestions for the more commonly used services.
Another sign of Google’s dominance: most of the most popular web browsers out there are based on Google-sponsored open-source software Chromium. The obvious exceptions are Safari, which is a given for Apple Mac users, and Mozilla Firefox.
1. Iridium – Based on open source Chromium, Iridium offers numerous privacy and security enhancements over Chrome
2. Tor browser – A hardened and secured version of Firefox that runs on the Tor network by default.
Bing is an easy punchline for jokes. We’ve cracked one ourselves, sarcastically claiming it is the best option to Google something. But Microsoft pulled in more than US$7.6 billion from search advertising in 2019, which is less than a tenth of Google’s search revenue but still suggests it commands a lot of credibility.
A popular private search engine that is more privacy-focused is DuckDuckGo, which has a close partnership with Yahoo and generates search results from over 400 different sources.
1. SwissCows – A zero-tracking private search engine based in Switzerland, hosted on secure Swiss infrastructure.
2. YaCy – A decentralized, open source, peer-to-peer search engine
For business users, Microsoft’s Outlook.com would be popular, especially for its inclusion of Office 365.
An incredibly safe option would probably be Switzerland-based ProtonMail, which has positioned itself as one of the most secure email options in the world. Its extensive end-to-end email encryption comes at a price: if you forget your password and have to reset it, old emails will become unreadable. So watch over your access details with great care.
1. Mailbox.org – based in Germany; €1/mo with 30 day free trial
2. CounterMail – based in Sweden; $4.00/mo with 7 day free trial
3. Kolab Now – based in Switzerland; €4.41/mo with 30 day money-back guarantee
4. Thexyz – based in Canada; $1.95/mo with 30 day refund window
Lightning Calendar is an open-source option developed by Mozilla. It is compatible with Thunderbird, Mozilla’s email client, which does emulate the relationship between Gmail and Google Calendar. This is very useful for people who often put entries into their calendar from the emails they receive. Its interface is a little less user-friendly than Gmail though.
1. Etar, an open source, basic calendar option.
2. Fruux, an open source calendar with good features and support for many operating systems.
Drive (Cloud Storage)
OneDrive is Microsoft’s iteration of a cloud file storage system. It has its supporters, especially for its convenient integration with Office tools like PowerPoint, Word, and Excel. This makes it much easier for work collaboration.
Another popular cloud service is Dropbox, which supports many different operating systems. It does have an unfortunate history of poor security, however, although they have claimed their security is much improved now.
1. Tresorit – A user-friendly cloud storage option based in Switzerland.
2. ownCloud – An open source and self-hosted cloud platform developed in Germany.
3. Nextcloud – Nextcloud is also an open source, self-hosted file sharing and collaboration platform, based in Germany.
4. Sync – Based in Canada, Sync offers a secure, encrypted cloud storage solution for businesses and individuals.
5. Syncthing – Here we have a decentralized, open source, peer-to-peer cloud storage platform.
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