A week ago, on my Google Mail account, I had an email archive dating back to late 2004. A week ago, on my Google Photos account, I had an archive of photos some from as far back as the 1950s, but in large numbers starting also about 2004.

Right now on Gmail I have emails going back to [checks notes] February 16, and on Google Photos I have [checks notes again] one photo.

I used to like Google but Google used to not be evil. There still are some Google things I don’t want to do without — their web search is badly compromised these days but it’s arguably better than Bing (not that that’s high praise), and I really like Google Sheets, better than Libre Calc. Google Maps I mostly like better than the alternatives. And YouTube is the only game in town for video that will be seen by more than 15 people. But I no longer feel good at all about having two decades of email and photos online, and especially in the hands of a company like Google (or Microsoft, or Apple, or Meta, or X, or Wordpress, or…).

In fact I’m not thrilled with having Google handle my email at all any more.

20 years ago I got my Gmail address and have used it ever since. For some time I had the domain name richholmes.net and was using richhholmes@richhholmes.net for my public facing address (through Gmail). Then I abandoned that. Mainly, I think, because the thought I’d had was I didn’t want to have to change addresses yet again if Gmail went under, but after some time that seemed very unlikely, and there seemed no point in paying for the domain and hosting if I could blog on Wordpress and do email on Gmail for nothing.

Well… I’ve swung back in my thinking.

Some months ago I checked and richholmes.net wasn’t available (though holmes.rich is! For only $2975!) so I bought richholmes.xyz for web hosting. I haven’t been using it for email, but now I’m working on that.

First of all I went to https://takeout.google.com/ and exported 20 years’ worth of email to an 8 GB .mbox file. I can work with that in Thunderbird. I’m not very enthusiastic about using Thunderbird as my main email client, but I have it set up to synch with Gmail using Imap, and it’s OK for accessing my old emails. So then I deleted my Gmail archives, up through about two weeks ago.

Then I opened a Proton Mail account. Proton’s been getting some good press lately as a privacy-centric alternative to Gmail. I used a free account for a few days, with my Gmail account set up to forward to Proton. Yesterday I upgraded to a paid account — which you kind of have to do for anything more than really basic email use.

I also paid Dreamhost, which hosts my website, to add email to the cheapest shared hosting plan.

Somewhere in there I discovered I’d set up my camera to add my Gmail address to the metadata in my photos. I went to work with exiftool to remove that.

Next step: Getting Proton Mail working with my richholmes.xyz address. That’s not a one click process at all. There’s a pretty good page outlining how to do it and pretty good prompts once you start the process. There’s a bunch of DNS records you need to create and I was a little confused about the CNAME ones — they said to use protonmail._domainkey for the host and I didn’t realize what was meant was protonmail._domainkey.richholmes.xyz until I filed a support ticket and got a helpful reply. I just now tested and it seems to be working, I can send and receive through Proton with my richholmes.xyz address.

I’ll test it out a little more and if all goes well I’ll start transitioning to using that as my primary email. Forever, this time.

As for Google Photos, wow, that was a process. I used Google Takeout to get all those photos onto my computer — all couple hundred GB of them. I had to offload some of my files onto USB sticks to make enough room. They all came through with dates equal to the takeout date, so I wrote a Python script to reset the modification date based on the original picture date in the accompanying .json files. Of course a lot of the photos were ones I already had on my computer, but a lot weren’t (I had my phone set up to back up all its photos to Google Photo, the bad shots as well as the good ones) and figuring out which to keep and which to discard was not trivial. I ended up scanning through for photo albums that needed to be kept; everything else in albums like ‘Photos from 2017’ I went ahead and deleted back to about 2010. Enough important photos from before then were present in Google Photos and not on my computer that I just kept almost all of the pre-2010 ones. I’m pretty confident I didn’t eliminate any photos I’ll really wish I hadn’t. If I did, well, I should have taken more care with them in the first place!

Then I started thinking about what pictures I wanted to keep online, and ended up deciding… there was only one. The one I use as a background in Gmail. (Which I’m transitioning away from using, remember?) I deleted everything else. Which Photos doesn’t make that easy; basically you have to mark a photo, scroll, shift-click another, choose delete, and repeat until all 10,000 or however many are gone. Altogether the process of downloading and deleting the photos took a couple of days.

20 years of email and photos no longer in the hands of Google, or online anywhere. I don’t intend to let 20 years of emails back up in Proton either. I’ve turned off photo backup on my phone. I’ve ditched Twitter in favor of Mastodon, ditched Wordpress in favor of my own static Hugo website, ditched Facebook in favor of nothing at all, put YouTube behind diode.zone in priority, and now put Gmail and Google Photos largely behind me in favor of Proton + my own domain email and nothing at all, respectively. Getting out from under big tech, it’s good.