Life Without Google

Wednesday, February 1st 2012 ·

(1 comment)

I switched from MetaCrawler search to Google search back in the late nineties, and I've never looked back. Google is teh best!!1 Right?

I've felt the same slight bit of apprehension as the rest of you when thinking about just how much of my information Google controls, but I've generally just rationalized things: everybody uses GMail, YouTube, and Picasa, so I'm not really doing anything that everyone else isn't doing. Right?

I thought about things again recently when I was reading SOPA-related articles, including this one in which the MPAA refers to Google as an opponent who controls that platform, the platform being The Internet. Does Google really control the internet? Not really. Not technically. But to a lot of people and from many perspectives, they do.

Even the recent Google privacy policy announcement didn't really bother me. Not that much. Not until I read the following in Google's privacy policy FAQ:

What if I don’t want to use Google under the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service?
If you continue to use Google services after March 1, you’ll be doing so under the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. If you’d prefer to close your Google Account, you can follow the instructions in our help center. We remain committed to data liberation, so if you want to take your information elsewhere you can.

First off, I've got to say that it's awesome that Google is giving users the freedom to take their data and leave. By making it easy for users to export data and close an account, Google is going above and beyond what most companies in their place would do, and that - to me - is Google following their famous "don't be evil" rule.

That said, when I read that closing my Google account was the alternative to accepting the new privacy policy, I found it more than a bit intimidating. Close my Google account? Great Odin's raven! I can't!

Leaving Google

Let's look at the steps I'd have to take to close my account if Google ever decided that they were supporting SOPA, advocating casual murder, or something equally heinous. Firstly, I'd have detach my various email accounts from GMail. That's actually the easy part. I've tried hard throughout the years to use the email accounts rather than the account, so it would only be a matter of removing the email forwarders and finding a new mail client. Still, there are quite a few places that have the @gmail email address, and google's services require it. I'd have to keep hold of the account for a while, making sure to respond to anyone who emailed me there to let them know to use one of my other email addresses instead.

Next up, my Google Plus account. I really do like Google Plus, and I've got a number of friends there that abhor Facebook with an unholy vehemence. For serious. For the most part, I get better intelligent debate from the Google Plus crowd than I do on any other social network. But if push came to shove, I've still got Twitter and Facebook. It'd be tough, but I could let Google Plus go.

I have a lot of pictures on Google Plus and Picasa, but Google makes it relatively easy to export them, so I could back them up at home or on another of the web's ubiquitous cloud photo services. There's YouTube as well for many of my videos. I'm not sure if they let you download your YouTube videos - I'll need to check on that.

I use the Google cache a lot for bypassing my work firewall when I need to read programming articles on Wordpress, which is blocked as "social networking", but I suppose I could get by without it. There have to be other search engines with cached pages available, right?

There are a lot of other things permanently tied to my google account as well: my blogspot comments and my login to StackOverflow for starters. I can let those go too, but what a pain.

Oh no. Google Reader. How could I stop using Google Reader? Upon checking, I've got 98 subscriptions to rss feeds in Google Reader, and since 10/31/06 I've read 67,679 items. Granted, many of those "reads" may have been just clicks to bring up the text for a second, but I use Google Reader a lot. It's how I keep up with Boing Boing, Joystiq, and The Secret Lair. It's where I get a lot of my news. I guess I could find another rss reader, but I do really like Reader.

Let's see, what else? I don't use GChat that much, and I can retrieve my Google Docs and back those up elsewhere. Chrome is my favorite browser, and I'm pretty sure I can configure it to use another search engine - I'm fairly sure that I won't need an associated Google account there. Ooh, maps. Google maps would be hard to stop using. I could do it though. I know that there are other similar services, and I've heard some good things about the Waze and Skobbler apps.

Anthony and Cleopatra! My phone! Android phones are always signed into Google. The integration is seamless. I'm not sure if I'd be able to continue using an Android phone if I wanted to quit Google entirely. Maybe Cyanogenmod would allow me to better break with Google; I don't know. The whole Android thing is a deal-breaker. I really don't want to go over to iPhone; I'm too invested in the customizability of the Android platform.

So yeah, as it turns out I cannot leave Google. And that reliance on them makes me very uncomfortable. So I'm going to be making an effort to at least detach myself a bit. I'm going to try to stop using Google's search engine. This will deny them a large portion of the personal information they've been getting from me. They'll still have access to my email through gmail, but using another search provider can have other benefits as well.

The Search Bubble

By now, you've likely heard of the search bubble and how your search results can be effectively filtered by customizing them to what the search engine thinks are the most appropriate results for you. If you haven't heard about the phenomenon, do some reading. Watch the TED talk linked from the above search bubble page.

I've decided to try a non-Google search engine. I've changed the engine associated with my browser to DuckDuckGo and installed the DuckDuckGo Android app. The engine works well and doesn't hold onto my searches. Maybe I'm still addicted to Google, but at least this is a small step towards reducing my reliance.

Comments on Life Without Google
Comment Friday, February 10th 2012 by xinpheld
There is a fine line between 'seamless integration' and 'eggs all in one basket'. I have no idea where that line is. [sent from Android phone]
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