Is it futile to un-Google?

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I was watching Citizenfour the other day so you may understand my confusion.

I can say that I am privacy aware. On a high level, I understand how things work. I use a different strong password for everything, I have a GPG key and I opt for using open source services that make security a priority.

However I still use services that are not so privacy centric. I use Facebook and nearly all Google Services (Search, Gmail, Drive, Photos, etc.). These two alone can show you everything about me.

According to Edward Snowden’s revelations everything is busted. Dropbox, Google, Apple.. You are not safe.

On the bright side, Snowden notes that the big software companies are doing steps in the right direction.

But let’s say I stop using services from these companies and find alternatives. Am I really doing anything except dealing with bad UX experiences and beta software?

Any time I email somebody who uses Gmail — and anytime they email me — Google has that email.

That was what Benjamin Mako Hill who maintains his own mail server realised and tried to estimate how much of his emails Google has. Here are his findings.

TL;DR; 51% of his email at the year of measurement had passed through Google’s servers. Just wow! This guy works so hard and spends so much money every year to avoid this and there he goes.

The only way i can think of to email other people and keep it private without blowing my head up, is if I use Protonmail which I think is awesome. But even then, starting a casual conversation demands that you have to teach the other person how to use the service. Also mobile is a pain and the web interface is not packing the 11 years of experience that Google has with Gmail (yes, proper shortcuts).

Email is one and probably the easiest thing of all to keep private. There are many other ways your privacy can be invaded.

Most chat services are not encrypted by default (however this is changing), there has been massive security breaches and big data dumps in the last years. Your phone tracks your position constantly for years and records your habits. Your browser sees what websites you visit and where you click, what you search, what you need and when. Wearables will track your biometrics and exercise habits. There has been proof of manufacturers putting malware on their laptops or phones. One can go insane in minutes thinking about it.

Many of the above can be turned off but for most people the default remains current. I suppose there are very few people who have turned their Android’s location history off and I am not one of them.

Why? The thing is that all these things make us more productive and they are very convenient. They provide the things we are most pumped about. Automation, collaboration and convenience. I can work on documents collaboratively with Google Docs and as I travel a lot I can easily work remotely with Dropbox and Drive. Using my location to tell me when I should leave accounting, transit time and traffic data to be on time for my next calendar event is awesome. Spotify analysing my music preferences and giving me something new to enjoy once a week is not that bad. There are many benefits in using these technologies to ignore them.

For regular folks, like me that want to make stuff and get work done, it is not an easy feat to do so with 100% privacy. To keep private you should spend a lot of time and work on it to setup and maintain the complicated systems. You have to change burner phones all the time and live like Harold from Person of Interest.

So we give up?

Absolutely not. But instead of getting down to build you own password manager because no one can be trusted and change online services every six months pursuing your tail, you can start by not doing EVERYTHING online.

Ironically most of my friends will argue that DOINGEVERYTHINGONLINE should be my nickname. They don’t see the need to keep stuff accessible from anywhere and that’s fine. For me having all the stuff I need accessible from any device and suffer minimum to zero dataloss in case of failure of my main machine is crucial. But it is not EVERYTHING. I do the following.

I evaluate privacy importance on my stuff. Long story short, if something must be seen by you and you only for whatever reason, don’t put it online (without encrypting it for good at least).

Realistically this is what you can do to use the internet today without becoming paranoid.

On the grand scale the only solution is for the law to be enforced appropriately. If we don’t have that the only thing we are doing is avoiding the unavoidable.

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9 thoughts on “Is it futile to un-Google?

  1. I don’t use any Google product. If you ask for the obvious: it’s Duckduckgo. But for all other things I’m not using Google products. I’m using OpenStreetmap. I’m using Firefox. I’m using LibreOffice. There is no dependency on Google at all. And I’m doing fine, thank you.

    If people like Google’s products, they can use them. I dislike the idea of giving up my privacy, so I don’t. It’s everyone’s joice. Perhaps Google convince me in the future to use some products of them. Who knows?

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  2. I dislike the way Google injects their politics into everything (especially regarding gay marriage). I tried to de-Google but found it impossible. The government needs to break them up. They are too big.

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  3. I recently un googled just fine. It was a swift decision, made after years of using every google product there is. All my pictures were on google photos, then moved them to google drive just to discover google created a mess of them all. All my music was on google music, bookmarks in chrome, email was gmail, social network was google plus, mobile was android – everything that google had as a product, I was using. I was using gmail since the first days it launced. Chrome? When it was still v1 beta. I was using Chrome Remote Desktop to connect to my work computer. I even have a chromebook that at some point was my main workhorse at home. I even developed online, using web IDEs such as codenvy, koding and cloud9. I resented all desktop applications and moved entirely in the google cloud.

    Until one day. For you see, at some point you have enough. I had enough of google messing with my photos, enough of google’s shitty browser, enough of it’s shitty services that seem to be made by a bunch of retarded kids thinking they are the world’s messiah. Google chrome has tens if not almost one hundred flags, options and parameters for debugging. You would expect those flags to become fully implemented features at some point. Nope, not in google chrome. They just seem forgotten experiments that some hyperactive OCD kids don’t care about anymore.

    You are in Dublin and search for Milano pizza restaurant? Good luck, as google maps will kindly point you to the next airport, to board the next plane to Italy. I mean come on, they gather SO much information about me, surely they should know I am just looking to grab a bite. No way. They think I am really interested in Italy. And google docs? It’s a plain joke. Yes, it has all the features I need – but have you tried writing a book in it? Yeah, I thought so – well you can’t. It starts to slow down past the 90 pages mark. Good luck from there.

    Anyway, it’s not impossible to un google once you get fed up. And yes, I must say I am not better than anybody hooked to the cloud – I still am. I am using Microsoft’s services now, perfectly integrated in windows 10. But anyway that’s not the point. If you want to stay away from google – you can. It’s even quite easy. You just need a different point of view.

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  4. Hey, what if I tell you I have designed an architecture to reduce that 51% to 0? A way to hide meta-data from servers and services in the middle or on both ends?

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  5. Rick: You’re conflating several issues. Do you think the government should break them up because they’re big, or because they “inject their politics” into their work?

    Do you only believe this because you disagree with their politics, or do you think large political companies like Chick-Fil-A, White Castle, and Waffle House should be broken up for promoting conservative positions, too?

    Google isn’t a terribly big company. If they’re big enough to warrant government intervention, then the government has a few hundred other companies to dismantle first.

    They’re not even terribly political, compared to other big companies. I hope you don’t use any Tylenol, Listerine, Pepcid, Imodium, Sudafed, Rolaids, Motrin, Benadryl, etc., because J&J is running a national TV commercial right now featuring a gay couple.

    Lots of people have de-Googled. If you can’t, it just means they provide services that you value.

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  6. I only partially Google things up (DuckDuckGo’s convenient “g!”), block ads, support companies that do not rely on tracking to advertise you—as in “advertise you as product to other companies”, and as “track your profile to target ads to you”. It’s all doable.

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  7. I’m roughly in your same situation: I need to have “everything important” online to avoid issues (I had multiple hdd failures in 2 years, we talk about 6 hdds failures, so I am unlucky indeed, considering I use roughly only 2 hdd).

    That being said, disable history on search for me it’s not an option, I’m a software developer and when I search for “Ruby” my first result must be about the programming language, not about some JEWELRY, result which I get when I’m on Incognito mode (same goes for all programming languages with all the weirdest names).

    When I think about what’s DANGEROUS to be post online, I can think about the following:
    – Political preferences (this is probably the main one), someone might not hire you because of your political preferences (it might be good not be hired by such person though)
    – Photos of your partner “not-suitable-for-work”
    – Sex preferences (and unfortunately I must specify, this is specifically NOT for straight people, usually)
    – Which porn website you visit (use another browser! Firefox should be installed for that reason only!!!)
    – What you were doing at a specific time of the day (work-related, you might not want to show you were not working while you should have!)

    I see a common pattern around this though, it’s “social related”. If google knows I love programming, I love videogames, and such, it’s not really a problem… Actually I prefer that they show me ads related to this stuff than “picture of XXX naked” here and there (and believe me, it does that only because a specific italian-TV-related woman pictures were found, and since I’m italian, it was showing me that related ads, argh!).

    So for me the main thing you might not want to use it’s a social network. The second big (bigger) problem, you might not want gps tracking capabilities and history, which is something extremely helpful, I need that because google maps app is not great with “favourite locations”.

    Sure, you should skip using google search if you want to avoid any tracking of time-related activities and this is another problem and I have no idea how to solve it, given how good is google search.

    My emails are work related or friends related (quite uncommon, mostly work related), the work related ones aren’t a problem at all even if they are tracked (and if I have to keep something secret, believe me, I’ll use an encrypted email, won’t trust ANY service).

    The friends related aren’t a problem UNLESS they are leaked (a security issue) and made available to all the internet. They are private, you might want to write a lovely email for your wife but you don’t want your friends to read that and discover that you are an extremely romantic guy!!! (or they might discover your partner-intimate-nickname).
    I’m not sure if you can SUE the company in this case, maybe, because of disclosure of private data?
    But writing a romantic email and ENCRYPTING IT somewhat defeats the “romantic side”…

    I would love other suggestions about “what you should keep private”

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  8. Google must not be trusted. They have betrayed our trust far too many times. To make things worse, a lot of they’re employees are extremely arrogant.

    There are very good alternatives for most Google services, so not reason to continue sacrificing you’re privacy.

    I will consider using Google products again when they fire Eric Schmidt.

    Disclaimer: I work for Google.

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