Own your digital identity

If your primary personal email is on Gmail – you are trapped! Google has you locked-in, and you can’t even see it. Understand this – you don’t even own your digital identity. That’s right – your email, contacts, calendar, documents, phone calls, messages, even cloud storage (drive), maps, your search history, GPS movements, Hangout calls, and even your photos – it all belongs to Google. And I’m not even talking about privacy, I’m talking about control. That’s why I’m leaving Gmail, after 10 long years.

What do you mean “I don’t own my Gmail”?!

Consider this – one morning you wake up and realize that your free Gmail account just got suspended or deleted, for whatever reason, and now you are locked out. Be honest – how bad would it hurt? And there’s no point in “calling or emailing Google to complain”.

Most people I talked to, including IT professionals, are shocked to learn that this can even happen (and yes, it can happen, and it will keep happening), but what’s maybe even worse is – they are not ready to deal with this. Let’s see just how deep the “Google integration” is for a typical user:

  • Your email is gone, including all contacts and archived conversations
  • Your calendar and reminders – gone
  • gDocs / gDrive ? All gone.
  • You are logged in to Chrome (to sync your bookmarks & passwords, as well as browsing history and commonly used URLs) – gone.
  • Google Play store and all the apps/games you have purchased – gone
  • Youtube subscriptions, playlists, and watch-history – not yours anymore
  • Google-Wallet, with your stored credit cards? Poof.
  • and the list goes on and on

Change your Email

Changing email is annoying, granted, but it hurts even more if you are switching after you get suspended/locked out. You can still continue using “Gmail” as a part of the G-Suite if you are not concerned about privacy, but you need to switch to an email & domain name you control, and then you’re just paying Google $5/month to manage your email. See the difference? You are letting them provide paid service for you, VS them letting you use their services for free. And if/when the time comes – you can gracefully leave Gmail and remain in control of your email and digital identity.

Here’s how to transition your email:

  1. buy a domain name ($10/year). I’d recommend buying combination of yourLastName.com or something that won’t change anytime soon
  2. if you want to continue using Google services, setup new “business account” with G-Suite ; alternatively – you can use other paid email services;
  3. setup your domain to use Gmail (or another email service); it takes only few clicks
  4. setup automatic forwarding from your old @gmail.com email to your new joe@schmoe.com email
  5. bonus tip: in your new email inbox, make sure to label/subfolder everything that comes through your old Gmail into a separate box, and switch all accounts/services/newsletters over time, until there is nothing coming in from your old Gmail anymore; this is surprisingly easy method of weeding out the use of your old email

 

Make sure you are not Google-dependent

Remember, the plan is to be ready to get cut-off from Google and their services, at any time, for any reason. That means you really shouldn’t marry Google services.

  • don’t buy your domain name from Google; use Namecheap.com or Name.com or any other provider (anything except GoDaddy is okay)
  • don’t port your phone number over to Google-Voice; as cool and convenient as it is, you could lose your phone number and 2FA access with it
  • avoid using Chromebooks; as amazing and as affordable Chromebooks are, you are giving in and marrying the whole “Google ecosystem”;
  • don’t store browser passwords in Chrome (hopefully you have switched to a password manager already)

 

Backup regularly

Regardless what services and providers you use, Gmail or anything else, you need to make sure to backup everything often (weekly or monthly).

If you are using G-Suite, you can backup everything easily (including your Gmail, Contacts, Calendar, etc):

  1. Go to your Google account page and find the section to “Download your data
  2. After you have downloaded your archives, just back them up on your computer / off-site storage and you’re fine

 

Ready to leave Gmail?

I hope this article made you more aware of just how deep Google integration is in our daily lives, and the fact that we don’t even control our own Gmail accounts. That’s why I’m slowly migrating away from Google and Gmail, and although I’m not done yet, I’m on the right track, and I’ll keep writing about my experience. Next step for me is ditching my smartphone.

Once I “unplugged” from Google, so to speak, I felt like Neo waking up from the Matrix, and seeing not just myself, but everyone around me stuck in this illusion of control and ownership. And once awake, in hindsight – I felt foolish for not realizing earlier just how dependent I was on Google.

What about you? Are you ready to follow the white rabbit and wake up? Or will you take the blue pill?