Imagine There’s No Google

…it’s really hard to do.  I’ve been faithfully using Google services for years now, and watching their products leapfrog the stagnant competition in one arena after another.  Giddily adopting these services wasn’t so much a choice as a logical extension of the satisfaction I derived from their search- the mail service that offered gigabytes while others offered megabytes, the map software that let you see the God’s-eye view of your house,  the free photo management software that had cute animations and could read raw files – they all worked in concert to give one the impression that Google was a brilliant and benevolent force that had come to free us from the tyranny of inferior and expensive software.

All it really cost was being exposed to some textual ads- nothing about your erectile dysfunction or breast size, just ads that were contextually based on the contents of your email.  The lesson to the privacy-minded was quite simple – don’t write about anything that you wouldn’t want to see an ad for.

This strategy served me well for years – I didn’t mind giving Google some information.  My personal data and interests were meted out across several Google services, many of them recent acquisitions that at first barely fit in the stable of existing Google services.

Things started to go awry one day last Fall.  I was using Google Books on my Android phone, while listening to Google Music  (a truly marvelous accomplishment of technology), when it occurred to me that Google knew my location, what I was reading, what I was listening to, who was e-mailing me, what they were saying, and collecting recordings of my voice through Google Voice search.

Perhaps it’s just an excess of vanity, but it bothered me that Google had taken such a keen interest in my life.  No friends or family know all of these details of my life; and even I am scarcely aware of all of them all at once.  Yet I gladly surrender them to a company that I know only in the most superficial way- through the products that they market to me.

Even this uncomfortable arrangement might have lasted, were it not for the recent change in Google’s privacy policy – now, data I generate on any Google service is aggregated to provide me with the best possible experience.

There is something intensely disturbing about this; though it’s difficult to articulate exactly what I find so unpleasant about this policy.  Put succinctly, I don’t want to have to censure myself on an ongoing basis.  If I mention in a Gchat that I almost shit my pants when a car tried to run my motorcycle off the road, am I going to see contextual ads in other services for diapers and leather chaps?

Its a more gentle version of the Thought Police- I watch what I say, lest my words and actions be interpreted incorrectly by Google’s algorithms.

Suffice it to say, this thought quickly killed my Google boner.

Thus, in honor and in spite of Google’s new policy, I am migrating most of the Google services I use for personal needs to self-hosted or competitor products.  The list looks like this:

  • Email – self hosted through Dreamhost
  • Docs, Calendar, Music –, also on my Dreamhost server
  • Pictures – Gallery 2 on Dreamhost
  • RSS Reader – FOSS android reader (non-cloud based)
  • Maps – Bing Maps
  • Search – Duck Duck Go (it’s not pretty, but I’m trying to get used to it)
  • Chrome – Firefox

Search has definitely been the hardest – my band-aid solution has been to use my browser in Private Mode while searching with Google, to avoid any messy cookie-mixups.

This is just the first step – next I have to convince everyone else with Gmail accounts to do the same 🙂



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