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?

Malevolent Mind Manipulation

Listened to two back-to-back podcast episodes this afternoon that complemented each other surprising well.

The first was an episode of Marc Maron’s WTF with my boy Douglass Rushkoff. (Note: Marc Hummel does not have ownership over or personal relationship with aforementioned media theorist.)

He talked about media theory-y things and his new book Present Shock, which I have written about previously. The duo also touched on Obama’s recent announcement {npr}:

This week President Obama announced his BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, which the White House describes as “a bold new research effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind.”

Rushkoff placed the announcement as evidence that we now think that the human mind can be mined and controlled, which leads to what Maron called “impulse control”—the potential for advertisers to tweak our every want and desire based on sophisticated computer models.

Then I listened to a This American Life episode about gambling and Blackjack inparticular. The last story in that episode featured a story of a woman who sued a casino after she gambled away her one-million-dollar inheritance. It turned out that the casino was indeed manipulating her by offering lavish perks in exchange for her business (which is just their standard operating procedure). Her case was settled out of court.

Thought those two episodes offered up an interesting juxtaposition between what could be and what is.

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.

Why I’m Getting Closer to Closing My Facebook Account

OK you know I probably won’t.

But this is gross:

Corporations may have more control over online speech today than the courts. Executives determine which videos, pictures and comments are permitted and what art is allowed. Their rules govern billions of posts across the globe each day.

“Our job is to manage the rules that determine what content is unacceptable on Facebook and also, obviously, what is acceptable,” [Facebook lawyer Judd] Hoffman says. His team determines what more than 1 billion people and businesses can and can’t say and do on Facebook. …

And Facebook bans copyright infringement and all sorts of speech that, in public, is protected by the First Amendment — things like nudity, hate speech, bullying and pornography.

From Facebook’s Online Speech Rules Keep Users On A Tight Leash {npr}.

And then there’s this bit from a recent Douglas Rushkoff interview {all things considered}:

In my life, it’s sort of the experience of being on Facebook and seeing everyone from my past suddenly back in my present, you know, and the inability to distinguish between people who may have been friends of mine in second grade and people who I’ve met just yesterday and people who are actually significant relationships. You know, that sense, that collapse of my whole life into one moment, where every ping, every vibration of my phone might just pull me out of whatever it is I’m doing into something else that seems somehow more pressing on the moment.

I won’t be closing my account any time soon, but I will be re-considering how I use the service. And I’ll try to use it less.

It comes down to something Rushkoff talks a lot about and that I want to try to do more of, and that’s being intentional about the media you consume. Whether it be Facebook or TV or blogs or books. The idea of not being a passive consumer and not taking things at face value.

More on Douglas Rushkoff and Facebook on this blog.