As you can imagine, the recent revelations about Google doing bad things with Safari (and now IE too) have driven me to question why we share so much data, though in a larger context. The New York Times recently published a spectacular article about data mining by retailers, for example: a teenager hadn’t yet confessed to her father that she’d gotten pregnant, and he discovered this upon seeing ads from Target for her based on purchases that might have seemed otherwise innocuous. I don’t believe that we’ve reached the end of the road for privacy intrusions, either. Google has a long history of accusations of evil. I’ve tried to make excuses, but once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and thrice is a conspiracy.
I’ll allow for power differentials here: despite the recent Path fiasco, that doesn’t look like a major issue because users can decide to avoid that network. Similarly, we can choose not to shop at Target or use a “loyalty card”, although residents in small-town areas may have limited choices. But Google pervades too much of the Internet for us to avoid it completely, especially for people like me who have loyally stuck with them for years now. Still, what if we try to reduce our “Googleprint”? As a side note, take a look at the excellently-named Data Liberation Front for moving data out of Google. This post focuses on what to use instead, but the DLF may help a lot of folks along the way.
We can start with some easy things. And fortunately (?), we Morlocks have additional options not open to the Eloi. (That’s part of the problem, I suppose, but fixing that lies way outside the scope of this post.) Even though dropping Google completely would incur a lot of pain, we can look at starting to make changes in important areas.
- Latitude just cannot continue to work for me. While I only rarely shared my check-ins publicly, I did use it quite a bit to track my location for later analysis. For now, I have suspended that project until I can figure out a better way to do it.
- Chrome has an obvious substitute in Firefox, albeit inferior in several ways. (Why should I have to choose nice-looking fonts in Linux over privacy? What decade is this?)
- Search has a number of competitors; DuckDuckGo has gotten a lot of attention lately. And I can stay logged out of Google for the times I do want to use it for searching, then use a private browsing window or even a dedicated alternate browser.
- Gmail requires effort: a price I will pay. I’ve used Google Apps to host mail for my private domain for years. My wife uses that interface directly, and my account just forwards over to my regular Gmail account, which I’ve had for nearly a decade now. I can move to an alternate hosting provider of some sort. Hushmail looks good at the moment, but I haven’t really started the research. Anti-spam measures seem to prevent me from hosting my mail completely, like via EC2 or similar. Apart from the really nice handling of “conversations” (threads), I don’t think I’d miss too much.
- Reader doesn’t have an exact analogue anymore with the demise of Bloglines, although I may still find one. However, I will try an alternate workflow here by combining Yahoo! Pipes and Paper.li to get something a little more modern and focused.
- Plus doesn’t really need an alternative, at least past Twitter. Despite my enthusiasm for it at first, lately that’s waned for different reasons. The gaming community over there has thrived and I’ve found lots of people with whom to discuss my hobby. But lately, I just haven’t played MMORPGs like I did, except for first month of SWTOR, and Mass Effect 3 doesn’t launch for a few more weeks. I might check in there again sometime, but it doesn’t really matter much. Twitter does a pretty decent job as a lightweight replacement, albeit with less deep discussion.
- Docs has a well-known competitor, Zoho, but a good wiki might fill most of my needs that Evernote can’t already handle. I don’t use this service nearly as often as I did in the past, and only spreadsheets still give me pause.
- OpenID providers exist all over the web. Even better, I can do that myself.
- Voice provides a real sticking point. I like the ability to manage my voice and SMS communications with such granularity. Skype doesn’t really do the same thing, and apparently other providers have spotty records. I might dump this one last.
- Android may have a competitor in iOS, but for me that’s not much of a choice. I don’t like Apple any more than I like Google, and owning thousands of dollars worth of Android systems provides a powerful reason not to switch immediately. I will continue to use this OS for now and watch this space in the future.
Action this day
In any case, I think I’ll start by looking for a new mail provider, as well as setting up a new reading workflow. Firefox will take some additional tweaking before I feel like it can handle the big-time, particularly on Windows where malware protection matters a great deal. Setting up an OpenID provider looks like a fun project all on its own anyway. Therefore, my current choices look like this:
- Latitude → nothing
- Chrome → Firefox
- Search → DuckDuckGo
- Gmail → Hushmail
- Reader → Pipes + Paper.li
- Plus → Twitter
- Docs → self-hosted wiki plus Evernote (or Zoho)
- OpenID → self-hosting
Voice and Android will remain as-is for now. But one key difference for the future: I’m willing to pay for services to avoid advertising, as well as to keep promising startups from tanking. In fact, I’d rather pay you an appropriate subscription fee than deal with incessant ads and loss of personal data. Call it the public radio model: I’ve had a membership to my local public radio station for years. I’ve kicked in money to community we sites when they needed it, and I’ve bought stuff from web comics to help them thrive. I happily do the same for service like Kanbanery that provide significant value to me.
I’ll post again in the future with lessons as I learn them, including services I may have forgotten this time around.