It was about 2013 that my friend Terrence Yang told me I should be using Google Calendar, because everybody was using Google Calendar. So I did. And he was right: almost everyone else was using it, as far as I could tell. There was a period between approximately 2015 and 2017 when I was getting Gcal invites from all sorts of different people. You could just about assume that everyone was, indeed, using Gcal, and were happy to receive Gcal invites. I sent quite a few myself. For several years I was very impressed by the convenience of Gcal. Weren’t we all?
But, as it became increasingly clear that Google simply doesn’t care about my privacy, I grew less excited about its convenience. The fact that I could easily send an invite to someone else who probably also uses Gcal no longer seems so impressive.
Now, maybe it’s just me, but in the last few years, the number of Gcal invites I received has dropped, and this is not been for lack of meetings. People just stopped sending me so many of them; I’ve frequently had to add meetings to my own calendar. But I found that it wasn’t that hard. I had forgotten that it is pretty easy to do it yourself, even if you don’t use Siri.
So, when I decided to lock down my cyber-life, I knew one thing I wanted to do was to stop using Gcal. Who really knows what Google does with this data? There were still people who sent me invites occasionally (I actually received one while writing this), but I didn’t care about that; I could add the meeting info myself, or maybe make use of the .ics files that come with automatic meeting invitations.
But I couldn’t just quit Gcal. It is a cloud-based service that makes it so easy to sync data across my devices; I need my phone and my laptop and my desktop to have all the same calendar data available all the time. But I decided I didn’t want that data in the cloud—or rather, not in the public cloud. A few weeks ago, I set up a NAS, i.e., my own private cloud. The NAS vendor makes awesome software, including calendar software. I knew it was only a matter of time before I switched from Gcal, drawing data from Google servers, to Synology Calendar, drawing data from my own private NAS.
Recently, I made the plunge. Here’s what I did.
- Exported all my data from Gcal. Not hard. The data is exported in the standard .ics format, which any calendar app should be able to use.
- Imported my data into Synology Calendar, stored locally on my own machine. The data doesn’t make any round trips to Synology servers, by the way. Why would it? It’s my own server!
- Set up CalDAV on the NAS. CalDAV (an extension of the WebDAV protocol) is a calendar data protocol. So basically what this means is that I enabled the NAS to act as a server for the calendar data, i.e., so it can be edited by all my devices, and maybe most importantly, by my phone. This was maybe the most technically difficult part, but still not hard.
- Set up the Apple Calendar app (which doesn’t send data to Apple, the privacy hounds on the privacy subreddit assured me; I checked) to get and send data from and to the NAS via the CalDAV protocol. In practical terms, this basically just meant putting in a server address, a username, and a password in the right places on my phone. Easy peasy.
- There was one person who depended on the fact that I was using Gcal, who made lots of appointments for me. I knew I was going to have to get her started using the NAS system. So I gave her detailed instructions (this took the longest out of everything), which must have been good because she had everything hooked up in 10 minutes.
- We did some testing to ensure that everything worked correctly on all devices, data was syncing, invites and alerts were being sent, etc.
- Finally, I deleted all my calendar data from Google servers. Yes, I stuck the knife in and twisted it in the heart of Gcal. So satisfying.
“But,” you say, “surely the new system surely can’t work as well as Gcal. You sacrifice convenience for privacy. I wouldn’t want to do that.”
Au contraire, dear reader, it works just as well as Gcal. I have pretty high standards and skills when it comes to software use. I’m quite happy with what I have. For one thing, I haven’t switched apps on my iPhone. (I looked for an open source calendar app for the iPhone that supports CalDAV; I couldn’t find one.) The data there looks and acts exactly the same as it did before.
Also, the Synology Calendar app for my browser is every bit as fully-functioned as Google’s calendar app. Yes, I can have multiple calendars, e.g., one for work and one for personal stuff. Yes, I can make and send invites, and when someone accepts an invitation, my calendar shows that (we checked this out). Yes, optional alert emails are available. Yes, the UX of the Synology Calendar browser app is absolutely fine—no worse than Google’s. In some ways, maybe better. Yes, get this, if I want Siri to make appointments for me, it will do so. (Of course, that means sending a sound file to Apple servers with private info about a meeting, which maybe I’d rather not do.)
So, are you jealous? My set-up does everything Gcal does, and it is 100% Google-free and runs on my own machines as well.
I know I’m privileged by having money, time, and technical sophistication to set up my own NAS to do this sort of thing. But you don’t have to be rich, and you don’t have to be a programmer or system administrator. For a NAS like I have, you just have to spend about as much money as you would on a new desktop, make configuring it your hobby for a while, and be a “power user,” which I’m guessing most of the readers of this blog are. Or you know some geek you could impose on, or maybe you could hire someone.
The point is, probably, you, too, could escape the clutches of Google (or at least Google Calendar).
Here are the Google products I once did but no longer depend on: Search, Chrome, Gmail, Docs (for my personal documents; colleagues still use this so I have no choice in their case), Drive, Maps, News, Analytics (yes, I finally removed all traces of Analytics from this blog), Translate, ReCaptcha—and now, Calendar.
My de-Googlification task list now has only two more entries, I reckon:
- Delete all my contacts/address book info. I could probably do that right now, but I want to make sure I do it right. Synology has yet another WebDAV tool that enables me to sync my contacts via my browser. I don’t want to delete my Google contacts until after I’ve set that up.
- Actually delete my gmail account. (I can do that without deleting my Google account.) I’m pretty sure there’s nothing stopping me from doing this now, apart from transferring my contact info.
The one Google product that I’m not sure I’ll be able to give up is YouTube. My channel has got almost 8000 followers and a lot of kids depend on that content. And I’m thinking of starting an interview series. Besides, insofar as my colleagues expect me to keep using Google Docs, I can’t simply delete the account for good. I’m still trying to persuade them to install a NAS.