Tags: google, habit, privacy, quitting, tracking
With my current move towards using totally free (as in speech) software, joining the FSF (Free Software Foundation), and all the things that are driving these decisions, I find myself questioning my use of Google.
Now, before people write me off as an anti-Google nut-bar, let me clarify my position. I do not think that Google is evil or trying to take over the world. I do think that Google has become a behemoth and despite the wonderful ethos of it’s founders it is now a publicly traded company and that means answerable to the shareholders and thus the bottom line. People shouldn’t fool themselves. Google is profit driven, not peace and goodwill driven. I have watched as their privacy policies on new services have become increasingly invasive. I have seen them use their very successful model of offering “Free” services to get a large user base that they can mine. I have watched as they add ever more services to broaden the scope and breadth of their data mining capabilities.
Due to the above I, like others, have become increasingly concerned about the concentration of data. Consider if you will, what Google can learn about a person using their services:
- What you Read → Google Books, Google news, Google Reader, Google Scholar, Google Groups
- Who you talk to → Google Talk, Google Groups, Gmail, Okurt, Google sites, Google Docs
- What you say,write,create → Blogger.com, YouTube.com, Google Sites, Google Groups, Google Talk
- Where you spend you money → Google finances, Google checkout, Google product Search.
- What you are interested in → Google search, Google Alerts, Google Bookmarks, Google WebHistory
As you can see from the list above Google could quickly build a fairly complete dossier on anyone using their services. Add to this the fact that the above list doesn’t take into account Google tracking and analytic services (which operate on thousands of non-Google sites) which I am sure benefit from people that use a Google account and fail to logout before they go browsing the web.
If a person sat and really thought about it they might well end up feeling a little paranoid and they might be right to feel that way.
As for me, I do not think that Google has any vested interest in me other than trying to get advertising in front of me (good luck guys ). I have long ago blocked google adsense, google-analytics, and other google tracking and advertising systems that google runs. I use Scroogle or ixQuick for my searches to keep my privacy. On the rare occasions I watched YouTube videos I did so without going to the YouTube site when possible. I was working to protect my privacy.
But then I slipped and got a gmail account just to “check it out” at first. It became my main account over time. (it really is one of the nicest webmails out there). I rationalized that since I used POP access and regularly completely flushed the account, that I wasn’t giving away too much. None of the “Free” webmails are truly free. They all advertise and I suspect that most track and collect information on the people using them.
The problem was that Gmail was my gateway service, to get it I had to set up a Google account and that led to me using other Google services. I soon found myself using Google Reader. I have 2 laptops and it was nice to be able to read my morning headlines from either. Then I found myself using Google talk. Not a lot. Just as the service that my Microblog updates flowed in through… But you can see the trend starting.
Luckily due to this recent push in my life to be “Free” as in speech and due to my normally abnormal (for this day and age) attachment to my privacy, I woke up and realized “Egad”. Here I am just giving my information away. It is truly interesting to see how “just checking out Gmail” had started to turn into giving away all my privacy.
Now, due to who and how I am I’d never have used all of Google’s services. The thought of using Google Docs is anathema to me. I’ve been around since the early days of the Internet so I prefer to actually read the Usenet (Google Groups is mostly just a front-end for the Usenet) directly. And other services just don’t appeal to me. Where they got me, and in truth might have continued to pull me in further is with new services (Gmail was new when I signed up). I’m sure that when Wave comes out the “techie” part of me will want to go and check it out. This time however I think the “sorry, no, that’s my privacy we’re talking about..” side will win.
I have now taken steps to correct my slip. I’m quickly phasing out Gmail. I’ll phase out Google Talk also. I have moved my RSS feeds off of Google reader and into a feed reader on my laptops. I’ve moved my Microblog updates to come in on my Jabber account thus depriving Google of that stream of information. It feels good. I’m well on my way to kicking the Google habit. My goal is to be 100% Google free before the end of the year. I hope to nuke my Google account in less then 3 month. (I have to make sure I didn’t miss changing my e-mail some place so that nothing breaks on me).
I’d like to challenge others to try and do the same. I know that many people will not feel inclined to completely remove Google from their lives.. But take a few moments and think about just how much information you’re streaming through Google. Then think about how you can go about reducing that. Perhaps start by dropping the services that feel like they are giving away too much personal information first and go from there.
I’ll write more on this journey as it evolves, It will be interesting to try to be 100% Google free.
Another great article about why you might want to be Google Free can be found here