Why not Google

After the Snowden revelations back in 2013, I started to re-evaluate my relationship with companies like Google. The amount of info they collect makes me nervous. Like Obama often said, I’m more worried about the incentives behind using customer data for advertising than I am government snooping.

But the amount of stuff revealed by Snowden made me re-assess my relationship with those companies, beyond just the prospect of government surveillance. Examine their motivations. (Rushkoff contributed to this as well.)

And if you can live without having a big part of your digital life in the hands of one company, why not?

Enter Marco Ament, whose post, Why not Google? sums up a lot of my feelings toward this. Specifically this part:

…The reason I choose to minimize Google’s access to me is that my balance of utility versus ethical comfort is different. Both companies do have flaws, but they’re different flaws, and I tolerate them differently:

—Apple is always arrogant, controlling, and inflexible, and sometimes stingy.
—Google is always creepy, entitled, and overreaching, and sometimes oblivious.
How you feel about these companies depends on how much utility you get out of their respective products and how much you care about their flaws.

Simply put, Apple’s benefits are usually worth their flaws to me, and Google’s usually aren’t.

I still use Google for some things (their biking directions are a really good resource when embarking on a new route).

But the web services I use are from different organizations. I’m spreading out my data, making it more difficult for a single company to get that detailed of a profile of me.

For search I use DuckDuckGo and I have my own email provider through my hosting domain. It’s not as convenient as Gmail, but I think the tradeoff is worth it. I do use a lot of Apple products, but I trust their “we honestly don’t care what’s in your iMessages” stance.

Maybe this is just an illusion of control. But it makes me feel better… so that’s all that matters?

Friday Link List

1. Google Under Fire for Data-Mining Student Emails {education week}

Oh, Google. Stop it. Now.

As part of a potentially explosive lawsuit making its way through federal court, the giant online-services provider Google has acknowledged scanning the contents of millions of email messages sent and received by student users of the company’s Apps for Education tool suite for schools.

2. Not-So-Private Meta Data {on the media}

Frightening rebuttal to the oft-repeated claim that “it’s just meta data; there’s not much one can learn from that”:

The NSA has defended its controversial surveillance program by arguing that it just collects metadata, and therefore doesn’t violate the privacy of individual Americans. But computer scientists at Stanford Security Lab have conducted their own simulation of the NSA’s program, and found the metadata to be inherently revealing. Bob speaks with Jonathan Mayer, one of the researchers on the project, about how much can be learned just from the numbers.

3. Winnebago Man {official}

Director Ben Steinbauer tracked down the “star” of the first viral video. What follows is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in awhile. Check out the trailer:

An Act of Privacy

I’ve been creeped out and generally dismayed about Google for quite awhile now. They shut down popular services. They limit your potential to see interesting things via filter bubbles.

They distract us from their real intent (and real profit engine) with self-driving cars and floating internet balloons {npr}.

It seems their desire to learn everything about us so they can sell that information back to advertisers is limitless.

Enter Google Mine {an unofficial google blog}, a new service that wants to know everything you own and want to own:

Google Mine lets you share your belongings with your friends and keep up to date with what your friends are sharing. It enables you to control which of your Google+ Circles you share an item with. It also lets you rate and review the items, upload photos of them and share updates on the Google+ Stream where your friends get to see and comment on them.

Via {daring fireball}.

Like I said, I’ve been skeptical about Google and their true intentions before. But the recent NSA leaks have accelerated my desire to limit my digital footprint, especially the one I leave behind with Google.

I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for search instead of Google for a few months now. It takes some getting used to, but I rarely switch over to Google to find what I’m looking for now. And apparently I’m not the only one: DuckDuckGo has been experiencing a surge in traffic {npr} since the controversial NSA program was revealed.

I moved all my mail from Gmail to my own server. I suppose the NSA can still track my emails, but it’ll be more difficult now. Besides, Gmail is free because Google benefits from the data it hosts. My data.

I don’t have much information on Facebook nor do I use the service very often, and I plan on keeping it that way.

Then there’s Apple. Yes, they were implicated in the recent NSA revelations. But check out their statement on the matter:

Apple has always placed a priority on protecting our customers’ personal data, and we don’t collect or maintain a mountain of personal details about our customers in the first place. There are certain categories of information which we do not provide to law enforcement or any other group because we choose not to retain it.

For example, conversations which take place over iMessage and FaceTime are protected by end-to-end encryption so no one but the sender and receiver can see or read them. Apple cannot decrypt that data. Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form.

Apple is a company that makes money from selling us cool new stuff. Google and Facebook make money from our information.

I’m much more comfortable with the former.

Democracy in a “Presentist Digital Landscape”

Great video from Douglas Rushkoff’s talk at the Personal Democracy Forum. Here’s a quotation from the end of the video:

The opportunity in a presentist digital landscape is a people-powered, real-time, local-biased, human-centric culture of activism. I think we’re on the brink of that. And if we are, then I’m much less worried about stories like [NSA wiretapping].

Let them read my friggin’ email. Because I’m going to belong to the real world.