Saturday, 28 January 2012

Pulling the Facebook on Us

Statement Shirt 

In case you haven't heard about it yet, Google is going to change its privacy policy on us as of 1 March. The change would have them run the same privacy policy across all their services, which would allow them to keep track of anything you're doing while logged in to Google and thus better target ads at you. Because, in case you didn't realize it, Google makes its money from targeted ads, and the more it knows about you the better product - you - it has to sell to its advertisers.
Assuming you are a user of Google's services (and let's face it, if you use the Internet then you almost certainly are), I warmly recommend you do your research to determine what effect this change of policy will have on you. I can point you at a very factual FAQ that the Washington Post wrote on the matter (here), but there are plenty of other guides on the web of one quality or another (like this one from Gizmodo).
Personally, I am taking this policy change very seriously. The way I see it, we are in the midst of a fight for Internet dominance between Google and Facebook, with Google currently running in panic mode (anyone mention Google+?). I consider the implications harsh, because I do not want huge conglomerates to maintain a database of everything I do on the web: such a database would be a pretty good mirror of everything I do in life, and I value my privacy. My privacy is mine to give away at will, not Google's to take away.
You may argue, not without merit, that we should have seen this coming. Why else would Google let us enjoy services like Gmail (and lest we forget how groundbreaking Gmail was upon its release)? To that I will answer that while I may have been naive, I did listen to Google's "do no harm" mantra at the same time and I did think they might be different to the rest. Well, now it has become clear they aren't.
Obviously, as this blog that you're reading is a Google run one, I am a heavy user of Google's services. Only recently did my confidence with Google receive a boost when I started using their two way account verification, which meant my Google cloud data became significantly more secure. Now, however, I am forced to start thinking of leaving Google behind.
How does one leave Google behind? Not that easy, I agree. Gizmodo published a guide here, which I consider not too bad. I will add to Gizmodo and say that WordPress is more than a better alternative to Google's Blogger/Blogspot (the platform on which this blog is currently running). I will also add that as far as free web email services are concerned, I would recommend GMX as the best alternative to Gmail by virtue of the fact its privacy policies explicitly state they do not read your messages. Sure, the GMX web page is full of ads, but if you're using an email client like Thunderbird on a PC or your smartphone's email client then that won't affect you in the least.
Oh, and as for the matter of me and a future Android phone? It seems as if Apple's chances of me sticking with its iPhone are going to rise significantly. Just think of the wealth of information you are providing Google just by having a smartphone of theirs on you, a phone that has to be logged in to your Google account in order to work. For a start, they know your whereabouts.
So yes, I do intend to start ridding myself of Google, but being the lazy person that I am I do not see this happening all that quickly. Google, it is obvious to say, has trapped me in its comforting lair of web services. I therefore intend to start with the utilization of a simple solution to the problem: use two separate browsers. Luckily for me, I like two browsers almost as much, Chrome and Firefox. I will therefore use one of them for my Google account and the other for everything else (with Google logged out). Google will still be able to collect a lot of my information but not as much; over time, I will strive to unshackle myself further from this giant, and now loomingly evil, octopus.

Image by Smeerch, Creative Commons license


Moshe Reuveni said...

EFF published an article that does a good job explaining the implications of Google's new policy, as well as some ways of dealing with them (I'll pat myself on the shoulder and say they're not too different to the ones I have suggested):

Moshe Reuveni said...

Roger Clarke has the following to say with regards to the EFF analysis mentioned in the previous comment (allow me to copy and paste from an EFA distributed email):

EFF's Rainey Reitman has written far more clearly than I ever manage.

But he's missed the likelihood that Google Docs data may now be
available for Google's ad-targeting purposes as well.

And he's missed the fact that the changes have retrospective effect
on all of the data gifted to Google via use of at least Search and
YouTube, ever (and quite possibly all Google Docs content, ever, as

And he's missed the fact that all of each person's data-trails is
available to Google for ad-targeting to other people as well, not
just the person themselves.

And he's missed the fact that we may all have missed a great many
other changes, because Google has failed to provide a 'differences
document', and it's extremely difficult to analyse 2 documents
against 70.

And he's missed the fact that Google has asserted that it can make
any change it wants, any time it likes, and needs give no notice in
advance, and needs give notice only by means of a note somewhere on
its web-site.

In other words, any undertaking that Google ever gives you is
completely worthless, because it can and will be reneged on.

APF's fuller analysis of the problems is here, and is in front of the