Desgn ·········

GOODBYE GOOGLE


Over the last few months, I've been systematically dismantling my relationship with most Google services.

I. WHY?! 

Two things:
1) A desire for data privacy (limiting data leeching).
2) A desire to support to companies that respect data privacy as a core principle.

Data is a major economic commodity; personal data is a valuable asset. Futurist and ex-tech nerd, Jaron Lanier, provides an engaging synopsis (and critique) of the current data economy here.

Legislation hasn't quite caught up with this reality yet. Apps and sites share messages, search history, purchase history, location history, and plenty more with 3rd parties, governments, and other businesses. There’s no oversight and barely any consent. I’m not comfortable with the stretched morals, sky-rocketing profit, and nefarious collection schemes that propel big tech's data harvest.

Are you curious to what extent your data has leaked out into the world? In the United States, we barely have the right to know. Slate columnist Jane C. Hu exposes this staggering reality in a recent article. It ends with this bone-chilling line:

“Any time you’re buying things online, using social media or food delivery apps, or even just browsing the web, just know that you’re adding to your permanent record.“

Targeted ads are one thing. Intrusive and harmful surveillance is worse. A worldwide network of goverment spying and survellience already exists, and local law enforcement agencies are partnering with tech companies to build databases on a local scale. Check out this article about doorbell cameras partnering with law enforcement, or learn about how ICE is using social media to hunt folks down here and here.


II. UHM, BUT WHY IS GOOGLE SO BAD? 

Google is the epitome of sacrificing convenience and cost for data privacy. Google has harvests our data and uses it against us in the form of ads, stacked search results, and product improvement. We have been tricked into “helping” Google improve by sacrificing our privacy because we fell for the old “we’re doing all of this for you” rhetoric from a billion-dollar, for-profit company with colorful branding.

What I find particularly egregious is that Google manipulates search results to promote its own products and give weight to some sociopolitcal ideologies over others. Google’s YouTube algorithms have been accused of distorting truth and undermining democracy.
So much for the internet’s role in the information democracy!

Google also scans the content of every single one of your emails to “personalize” your experience and make sure your latest flight is on your Google calendar. Maybe you like that? Maybe that leaves you wondering whether this for-profit company is really, seriously, pinky-promise, only doing this for our own good?

The UK has already put its foot down. The US is hastily trying to get its shoe out of its own, greedy ass. Don’t get me started on Facebook....


III. OK. OK. IT’S SOLUTION TIME! 

1) Start using a non-Google search engine! 
2) Start using a non-Chrome browser!
3) Leave Google’s evil empire one service at a time.  
4) Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) while browsing the internet.
5) Learn about cyber laws. Tell your representatives to vote for data privacy laws.

I am in a financial position to leave the unpaid Google ecosystem; so I have chosen to opt for services that I deem to be more respectful of my data privacy.  Here’s an overview: 


BROWSER
Most browsers track you. Constantly. Cookies, fingerprinting, trackers - all means of logging your every move and click. You are identified by your IP address (your computer’s online social security number). Chrome is constantly sharing your data and trying to link your account with 3rd parties. That means your activity, choices and purchases are logged in a myraid of places. This also means that you’re giving valuable information to companies for free, which will be used to increase revenue and hone advertising.  I use Firefox now with the Privacy Badger extension installed because I prefer to surf without all the data mining and tracking. All of this is free. No, Google maps doesn’t know which restaurant I looked up in the last hour on my Ipad, but that always felt pretty creepy anyway.

Another great option is the Brave browser, which automatically blocks all tracking. Safari, with the right adjustments to preferences, is actually not a bad option—it’s still miles beyond Chrome in priortizing your privacy. 

**VPN:  At home, I pay $3/mo to use a Virtual Private network, which obfuscates IP addresses. This means that my Internet Service Provider (ISP) can’t see which sites I’m visiting and makes it harder for sites to track my movement and habits. Some say that VPNs are part of a bigger bait-and-switch game, but I’m hedging my bets.  

SEARCH ENGINE
I use Duck Duck Go now. As mentioned above, the Google search engine experience is immoral and disingenuous.  

EMAIL
I use email every day so switching to a trustworthy provide for $3-$5 feels totally worth it.I picked Fastmail and set up some aliases to help sort my personal email from my 'sign-up' email, but check it all in the same place.  Other secure options include ProtonMail or Tutanota.  Yes, these services have convenient phone apps. If you are emailing super-sensitive information, they each include ways to activate end-to-end encryption if you're emailing with a non-secure account (like your Gmail hold-over friends). Fastmail is the not the MOST privacy-centric email service, but it has the right balance of convenience and security for me. 

CALENDAR
Nothing beats Google calendar, but I felt like I really needed to ditch this on principal. Luckily Fastmail accounts come with a highly-functional calendar tool. I love being able to check my calendar from the same app/ browser window.

NOTES
Even Evernote lacks in some fundamental security features. Fastmail provides a protected, basic note taking tool, which I use frequently. For longer-form content Cryptpad (collaborative docs) or Cryptee work well.

GOOGLE DRIVE
For collaborative document, Cryptpad (free) is an obvious substitute. I do find their spreadsheet function quite lacking, but they are ramping up their services everyday. For small businesses, side-hustles and organizations, Nextcloud or Owncloud are safer options.  Ultimately, there really is no replacing Google's suite of collaborative programs. Whatever you do, don't store sensitive information there!


PASSWORD MANAGER
Your number one security risk is the human tendancy to use the same password for everything. Get a password manager. If you’re really skeptical, keep your banking/financial logins separate. I like Bitwarden: simple to use, open-source, doesn’t send annoying marketing emails, and will even check to see if the password you’ve been using for everything since 2005 has been compromised. And for the love of popcorn don’t be lazy and let your browser save login or credit card information for you.
IV. WRAP UP 
If you want to do your own research and review and even MORE comprehensive list of alternatives, here’s a great site.
Privacytools.io has a great list of alternative services and advice as well. If you're using Google at least know that you can change some of the "data collection" settings in your Google account and, even "erase" the data that drives the personalized suggestions you get during your browser search and Youtube experience. I see this as a form of "customer privacy" appeasement, and not a long term solution, but here's a guide for that.


Thanks for reading (or skimming)!