Remember the days when Google was selling itself, quite successfully, under the “do no evil” banner? Well, it worked on me; I was hooked, and it took (and is still taking) a huge effort to disconnect myself from the prying conglomerate. Not that one can ever truly disconnect from Google nowadays.
But still, Google has some interesting products up its sleeve, and for a brief while I was tempted. This is the story of how I learnt my lesson.
I suspect you’re familiar with this problem I was trying to solve with Google's help:
(you stay somewhere that’s not your house) + (you’re short on entertainment) = (not that great a feeling about staying away from your house)Say, you’re staying at a hotel. How do you keep yourself busy once the dust is settled? Don’t tell me you do so with a TV. That’s so 20th century!
I used to entertain myself with a book. Then we’ve evolved to have additional options like laptops and now smartphones and tablets. One problem still remains with those: a small screen. Wouldn’t it be nice to tap on the reseource that’s already there, the hotel’s large TV, but use it to your advantage and play your own stuff?
That’s what I had in mind when I stepped in to my local OfficeWorks and bought myself a Google Chromecast. Sure, Google is invasive and all, but how bad can it be when Google clearly state one can switch off the Chromecast reporting? That privacy option is available, but only after the initial setup (read: only after Google learns what your wifi password is). Sort of a fair trade, I thought: As it happens, I can easily create a wifi network to play my own contents with, and by sticking the Chrome into the hotel TV’s HDMI input (note not all hotels let you do that!) I can watch my own stuff.
I thought this meant problem solved.
Setting up the Chromecast at home seemed to be a breeze. The Chromecast generates its own wifi network, to which I connected using my iPad/iPhone and the Chromecast app. It then asks you to select your own wifi network and provide its password, after which it uses your Internet connection to update its firmware. So far so good (assuming you’re happy with Google familiarising itself, and by proxy the NSA, with your wifi password).
Trouble started when I sought to replace the home wifi network with the one created by my portable wifi router. The problem is simple: that portable wifi that I take with me to hotels does not have an Internet connection; it’s just there to share stuff between different devices (camera, tablets etc). But, and here comes the bugbear: the Chromecast will simply not work without an Internet connection, even though it does not need the Internet in order to work!
In other words, Google may give up on its ability to know what it is that you are doing with your Chromecast through the privacy settings it offers, but it will not give up on its ability to know who you are, where you are (through your IP address), and when you are using your Chromecast. And let’s face it, the concession on the “what” department isn’t that much of a concession anyway given that Google is likely to know what you’re watching anyway (as in the case of you using its Chrome browser).
Which is to say: The Google Chromecast may be a lovely, useful, device to use; but first and foremost, it is just another one of many devices for Google's surveillance brand.
Personally, regardless of the spying elephant in the room, the Chromecast thus became completely useless to me: given the architecture of my travelling gadgets, I do not have an Internet connection to supply the Chromecast with. Hotel wifi cannot be trusted anyway, because it would usually block Chromecasts, and even if I have my own mobile Internet I’d hate to use it on account of Google gobbling up too much of my allowance.
Thus I ended up returning the Chromecast to OfficeWorks the day after I had bought it. To give credit to OfficeWorks, they gave me my money back without a shred of trouble. Very nice of them!