Managing My Data: How I Replaced Google for about $6

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Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Believe it or not, with a little savvy and a little free time, it’s not that difficult to take back your data. Eliminate the fear of your favorite services shutting down. Rid yourself or the worry that your private data is being used without your consent. Make sure your data less visible to prying eyes. Google is touting a free 15G of storage space on their servers for free. This set up provides unlimited space and unlimited transfer for pennies a day! You can take control of your data in one weekend for little more than the cost of an overpriced soy-mocha-chino-frappe-chai-latte.

The Project

In this series of posts I will demonstrate how I replaced my favorite Google (and related) services in a hosted environment with open source software.

Services replaced so far:

Next Up

  • Picasa -> ???

The Spark

One the sites I visit most and the most used mobile app on my Android is Google Reader. Needless to say I was quite bummed about the news to deprecate Reader. Like so many others, I have a number of well categorized feeds that I check daily. It became my personalized newspaper feeding me the news that I wanted (with better grammar than Facebook). Now Reader is on its way out and I needed an alternative. There are a number of viable options to replace Reader, but they all rely on me moving my data to another service. What happens when they decide to deprecate their service? Do I really want to shuffle my data around year after year?

The Zen of Independence

Leo Babauta writes a blog called “Zenhabits” (which I highly recommend to everyone) where he writes about the simpler things in life. A breath of fresh air in this chaotic tech driven world. I came across his post “How I Became (Mostly) Google-free in About a Day” just before I read the Reader announcement. My lemming brain pondered, “Why on earth would anyone ever want to move away from Google?” In the article, Leo talks about finding alternatives to Google products and getting away from the advertising, the commercialization and ownership/privacy concerns.

Who is Secure?

Not a month goes by anymore without report of user data being compromised in some fashion. Whether it’s a service changing their EULA to allow rights to distribute your content without approval or a company whose database gets hacked to expose your passwords to the world, data security is a big problem. With our private data distributed on so many public sites, services, devices and applications, it’s no wonder things get leaked from time to time. It’s actually surprising it doesn’t happen more often.

Where is my data now? Where will it be tomorrow?

This started the wheels turning. How much do I rely on Google? How much of my data do they have? How many pictures do I have on Instagram? What personal data is on floating around on Facebook? What data do other services track? Which of my personal details are out there to be leaked to the world? How reliant am I on these services which I don’t control? What if Google or Facebook were to disappear tomorrow without warning? What data would I lose? Questions spawned questions. The fact that I had no solid answers meant that have not taken control of my data. The security of my digital identity deserves my attention. The reality is that any data stored online is at risk. But there are things you and I can do to reduce our chances of becoming a victim.

Security through Obscurity

This is a common statement in software development. “Security through obscurity” refers to making something so difficult to find and disseminate that it’s unavailable or unworthy of a hacker’s time to access. A phrase my developers are used to hearing is “leaving the family safe on the front lawn”. The safe may have a great locking mechanism, but if it’s visible to everyone, the temptation is there. For our example, the security starts by moving away from the high profile high user services such as Google, Dropbox, Facebook, etc. and over to a less visible private hosting solution with a dedicated domain. This isn’t security per se, but the fact that we’re not a part of the massive herd, target makes us a less visible target.

The Maker in Me

I took into account the viability of products that I don’t control, the cost of ownership, and the security of my data, and things started adding up. Then I saw the article “How to Build Your Own Syncing RSS Reader with Tiny Tiny RSS and Kick Google Reader to the Curb” article on Lifehacker and my path was clear. Not only was I going to find alternatives to my favorite Google products, but I was going to control them myself! This puts the fate of my data squarely into the hands of my hosting company and me. It’s a fun little side project and learning experience if nothing else.

Disclaimer

I have no grievances with Google past the deprecating of Reader. I still love my Android, Chrome is my primary browser, and I’m on the verge of picking up a Chromebook for the family. Google is a great company that has revolutionized its industry. They continue to pioneer new technology and push this industry past its limits with repeated success. It’s with that same adventurous spirit that I chose this project. Not because I needed to do it, but because I wanted to see what it would take.

 

Let’s Get Started

Before we get started, we need a place to host our software services. If you plan on hosting these from a server you control, skip the following section. If you need hosting, I’ve put down a few things that influenced my search as well as my setup.

Managing My Data: Hosting