February 20, 2024

Escaping the Google Monopoly

Pardon the melodramatic title. Google Business Workspace — or G-Suite, as it might be called in some places (?) — is the golden standard of online business. Want a sweet, custom email with your business name? Pay Google a tiny monthly fee, and it’s all yours, along with a pile of other tools you may or may not ever use. However, after being a customer for years and being moderately satisfied with this service, I received this email in January 2024 which prompted this post:

“Important: The pricing for your Google Workspace Business subscription will increase beginning in one month.”

Why ditch Google?

1 → Raising prices for no reason

The urgent email contained no indication of why my plan was increasing in price, only when it would happen. Sure, you could pin it on inflation, “new features,” or some other unforeseen factor. But most likely, it’s just run-of-the-mill corporate greed that will never be satiated — prices will continue to rise.

2 → They hold your data hostage

Want to stop paying the behemoth and try something different? No problem! Except they instantly delete all of your data when you cancel your Google Workspace subscription. That’s not hyperbole: They make it very clear when you go to cancel that you must back things up if you want to keep it. Otherwise, it’s going to the pixel-incinerator. Which leads to…

3 → Locked in to keep paying forever

This is the big one. If everything gets deleted when you cancel, then you have two options: Accept obliteration or continue to pay forever (even if the price continues to rise). Oh, and it’s impossible to downgrade a Business account to a Personal account. This is platform lock-in on an unprecedented level.

4 → A track record of untrustworthiness

Google has an almost comical reputation for killing off its own projects. One of the latest, and possibly most painful for many web designers, was Google Domains — the beautiful safe haven with a clean and easy-to-use interface for buying and managing domains. They haphazardly announced the acquisition by Squarespace and no longer allowed for new domain sales. I freaking loved Google Domains, so this was a real gut punch… and reminded me that they are gluttons for user punishment via destroying things on a dime.

Okay… but is it really that bad?

If you're a normal, sane person who isn't bothered by small monthly fees or enjoys being comfortably nestled into the welcoming embrace of a mega-corporation… then read no further. Honestly, if the tools you're using work for you, don't change a thing and ignore my ramblings. But for me — and surely lots of other solopreneurs that depend on tools and systems like these to make a living — these red flags don't sit right. I'm fundamentally opposed to anything that eliminates the user's right to choose what's best for them, and Google certainly falls into this camp.

So, what happened?

In February 2024, I decided to backup everything with Google Takeout, unsubscribe from Google Business Workspace, and delete my business Google account. I still have a personal Google account, which I use primarily for YouTube and the occasional Sheets or Drive invite from a client or customer… but I'm currently about as Google-free as one can be, without being foolish. I wish I could be fully free, but… this is an acceptable compromise. So, with all of this in mind, here’s how I ditched Google.

Gmail  →  Apple iCloud+

I actually made this change in November 2021 (Read: 27 monthly G-Suite payments ago) when I upgraded to iCloud+ after Apple announced a new set of features and pricing. Essentially, this feature allows you to use a custom domain on your built-in Apple ID email, making it possible to have separate “business” and “personal” emails within one membership.

Now, I run a one-man business, and I intend to keep it that way. If I needed multiple emails with the same domain, I’m not sure if this method would work… but it’s worth looking into, especially given the price and connectivity to the rest of the Apple ecosystem!

Another consideration is losing the Gmail client to view messages. I've never liked viewing email in the browser, so I'd already been using Apple Mail as my main email tool for years. But, if you don't like the standard mail setup (pretty messy and annoying to use IMO) then consider following Manu's guide to a "Minimal Email Client" and make Apple Mail work for you.

Ultra-minimal Apple Mail in dark mode.

Ultra-minimal Apple Mail in dark mode.

Google Domains →  Cloudflare

There are a TON of places to buy and manage domains online. I landed on Cloudflare after a brief exploration. Here are the others I was considering:

Contradictory to many reasons why I choose tools… I actually really appreciate Cloudflare's complexity. They offer so many other things than just hosting domains, and this level of control and nuance actually gives me more confidence that things are safe, secure, and working properly — unlike many other domain hosts that do the bare minimum.

NOTE: The setup process was a little confusing at first, having to set up your “site” with custom name servers — and then being able to finally transfer the domain. Cloudflare could definitely make this clearer and more intuitive, but it was fine after I figured out what they wanted from me.

Google Sheets  →  Rows

My primary use for Sheets is a bit niche: It’s the “warehouse” for copies of my Squarespace templates. It sounds insane to think of template websites as physical things that need to be “stored”, but Squarespace has some funky limitations that require some creativity to allow for automation to deliver them instantly to customers after purchase. I’ll save that rant for another post.

Similarly to domains, there are a ton of options for tools that let you make simple spreadsheets and connect them to Make or Zapier. I ultimately landed on Rows (after trying Notion and Airtable) for two main reasons: Super easy integration with Make and a super generous free plan. Many others required an outrageous starter plan ($59/mo for spreadsheets?!) or had wonky integrations that didn’t line up with how I’d set it up with Google Sheets. So far, Rows has been stable, easy to use, and reliable enough to run an online business from.

My simple Squarespace "inventory" spreadsheet in Rows.

My simple Squarespace "inventory" spreadsheet in Rows.

Google Drive  → SSDs + iCloud

I used to be a photographer and, after that, a videographer — so having massive online storage to backup and interface with clients was crucial. But now, I build websites… which require nearly no storage at all.

I have a single 1TB Solid State Drive (SSD) that stays plugged into my Mac Mini at all times, acting as a secondary and more portable version of any and all assets I might possibly need. On top of this, there’s the 2TB Apple iCloud+ plan for just $10/mo… which is *chefs kiss* — a total steal for the amount of storage and other features included. My wife and I share the plan, and even with both our personal data AND business stuff safely and instantaneously uploaded to the cloud, it’s nowhere close to being at capacity. They even offer 6TB and 12TB options if you have a data-hungry profession or lifestyle.

I’ve dabbled with Dropbox in the past, and I know many people who have some choice words about their ethics, pricing, and way to doing business, but… if Apple isn’t you jam, you may consider Dropbox or Box.

iCloud+ pricing is an incredible deal.

iCloud+ pricing is an incredible deal.

Google Photos  →  SSD’s + iCloud

I take a LOT of photos on my phone and never ever delete them (again, ex-photographer). I never really visited Google Photos or made it a real part of my normal experience, but I still had my photos backed up there, just in case. But, iCloud Photos does exactly the same, and more!

I also got the Google Takeout export of all of the Photos I had uploaded and store them on the primary SSD, again, just in case. Probably at least 70% are throw-away-able and wouldn’t really be missed, but… even while practicing healthy minimalism, I find having a “digital scrapbook” of normal, everyday moments to be endearing and fun to look back on. 

Chrome Passwords  →  Apple Keychain

Using Google Takeout (their backup tool), I was able to export all of my Google Chrome passwords — since, yes, your Chrome profile will also be deleted when you unsubscribe (insane). I’m currently using the Arc browser by The Browser Company as my “daily driver” on the internet, so passwords get stored there. I still haven’t imported the file Google spit out, mostly because I was already logged into many of the common places I visit, but… the need will surely arise soon enough.

I’m a bit weird in that I use Arc on my desktop for everyday use, test websites in Chrome, make mobile screenshots in Opera, and browse on mobile on Safari. They each have their uses. I really wish there was a way to select Apple Keychain everywhere you can input a password on your machine (or phone), and not have to faff around with remembering or saving passwords in multiple places. Maybe Apple will figure it out soon.

UPDATE (2/25/24): I'm now using this Chrome extension in Arc to sync Apple Passwords! It's got a terrible rating in the Chrome store (probably from software updates over the years), but so far it's working flawlessly in OS Sonoma on Mac — so well that I just exported all of my Chrome passwords, imported into Apple, and deleted them for good on Arc. Fingers crossed!

Google Docs (Templates) →  Protected site pages

Another Squarespace template quirk is that I can’t just push new updates to new or old template sites — it has to be done manually. Previously, I just had a Google Doc for each template’s CSS that I’d update periodically and give access to any customer experiencing issues or update-related problems. My new method is slightly more annoying, but overall much more brand-able and effective: I’ve made hidden, password-protected pages for each of these docs on my website. Now, the code is in the correct viewing environment (in a code block, not a word doc)!

Password-protected code block on the Studio Mesa site.

Password-protected code block on the Studio Mesa site.

Google Docs (General)  →  Apple Notes

Apple Notes is my freaking jam. I use it for absolutely everything: Writing this post, making to-do lists, drafting emails, working through thoughts, and everything else. I never really had much of a business use for Google Docs, other than to receive a list of website revisions from a client or something. Using my personal email, I could still do this, but… I’d much rather just get an email instead.

YouTube  →  Brand Account (Personal)

The fact that Google owns YouTube is just… so annoying. To reiterate what I said at the start: Cancelling my Google Workspace subscription means deleting EVERYTHING, including my YouTube watch history, subscriptions, Premium membership, and unlisted videos from travels.

I’m not sure when I did this, but… my YouTube account is apparently a brand account instead of a personal one — which, knowing Google, probably has a slew of limitations and quirks I’m not aware of. This meant that I could just transfer the account ownership to my personal Google account with basically no issues. I also made a backup of all the unlisted videos in case anything happened. All things considered, starting over with YouTube wouldn’t have been the worst, but I’m glad my years of history and algorithm biases could be preserved.

Special case: Google Authenticator

If you use Google Authenticator for 2-factor authentication in apps, this is an important one to adjust before jumping ship. You could switch to a different tool altogether, but the simplest path — which I didn't realize was an option until messing with the app — is to simply "Use without a Google account". In other words, the authentication is linked to your device instead of your Google account. Which has pros and cons, but… ultimately is a worthwhile tradeoff in this scenario.

UPDATE (2/25/24): My internet design pal, Anton Sten, informed me that you can actually do 2FA codes directly inside Apple Passwords! You just have to set each of them up manually within the Passwords window, scan the QR code the website prompts with, and it'll auto-fill it when you need to log in. Sayonara, Google Authenticator app on my iPhone!

So… should you ditch Google, too?

Honestly, probably not. It was a ton of effort, requiring lots of tedious tasks, in a relatively high-risk transition that could have negatively affected my business if things hadn't worked properly (or something important got deleted). For most people, paying $14/mo isn't the end of the world for a suite of tools that can help you make money online (even if it's not being utilized fully).

However — if you resonate with this journey and want to also leave Google, more power to you! Any brand that tries this hard to keep you locked into their ecosystem does not deserve your business. I'm personally compelled to tidy up and optimize as much of my life (digital and physical) as possible to make room for the things that I actually want, and if that's something you want as well, this journey could be transformative.

Things to consider

  • If you're already invested in the Apple ecosystem, making the transition is much easier. iCloud is incredible as an everyday system.

  • Make ABSOLUTELY SURE that you backed up, downloaded, or switched everything you need to a new system or app.

  • Having a personal Google account as a backup seems helpful. Even if you don't intend to use it for any business activities, it's good to have.

  • Hitting the "Close account" button is very scary. But, if you're prepared accordingly, there's nothing to be afraid of! You got this!

Aaron Rolston © 2099

Aaron Rolston © 2099