How to Keep Google From Owning Your Online Life

From The Wall Street Journal:

About 10 minutes after I decided to try temporarily removing Google from my life—an experiment I hoped would illuminate how much Alphabet’s giant dominates online existence—I messed it all up.

I spotted a video of Donald Glover, co-star of “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” giving a Millennium Falcon tour. Even on my most careful guard, I still clicked the red play button. A few seconds in, I realized I was watching YouTube—Google’s YouTube.

Google is so woven into the fabric of the internet it’s all but impossible to avoid. It’s where billions of users find, create and store important information, where they work and distract themselves from working. You can quit Facebook or take a Twitter break and barely notice, save for an increased sense of boredom in the Starbucks line. Google, you’d miss.

But even more than other companies offering free services, Google collects astounding amounts of data about you and uses it to sell ads. I’m happy with Google, because to date there haven’t been reports of catastrophic breaches or data-sharing scandals on the level of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica nightmare. If Google springs a leak, it could be disastrous.

. . . .

Quitting Google takes more than just typing “” I deleted 16 apps from my phone, from Gmail to Google Maps to Google Photos. I unplugged my Google Home, yanked the Chromecast from the back of my TV, and powered down my Chromebook. Luckily I don’t own a Nest thermostat, or this would have become a construction project.

I hadn’t realized before how my life had come to revolve around Google products. To replace them, I brought in an Amazon Echo and a Microsoft Surface Laptop. I used the Notion app and Dropbox Paper for notes and documents, and switched cord-cutting allegiance from YouTube TV to Sling. I deleted the Chrome browser from all my devices, and installed Firefox in its place.

Most Google services have straightforward replacements: Microsoft’s free Office Online for Docs and Sheets; Signal for Hangouts; Evernote for Keep; and Flipboard for Google News. In many cases you can download your Google data using its Takeout service, upload it to a new app—for instance, bringing email and calendars into Outlook—and hardly miss a beat. iPhone users who switch their search engine to Bing or DuckDuckGo and use Apple’s productivity apps seldom encounter Google.

. . . .

As Google products have taken over, they’ve also become more insular and closed. Google Search tries to answer your questions without ever taking you to another site. Gmail’s best security features are a hassle to use, except for other Gmail users. The Chrome browser is the worst offender: Some Google services, like Google Earth, work only in Chrome—though Google says it’s changing that.

. . . .

Chrome commands nearly 60% market share, according to analytics company Statcounter—over four times as large as second-place Safari. It has outsize influence over the future of the web. Companies such as Airbnb and Bank of America have directed users to Chrome for the “optimized” versions of their sites. If you use a Google product in another browser, Google frequently prompts you to download Chrome. (Google says it is dedicated to supporting other browsers.)

By almost any measure, Google collects more data than Facebook. I recommend doing a thorough audit of your My Activity page, which displays everything Google watches you do. You should also manage and delete data through Google’s privacy and security checkups.

On a recent day, Google tracked me in 468 different activities—many that had nothing to do with Google, except that I did them using a Chromebook, Android phone or Chrome browser.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

12 thoughts on “How to Keep Google From Owning Your Online Life”

  1. “You can quit Facebook or take a Twitter break …”

    Really? You can keep everyone you know from sharing and naming you and info about you on FB? Nope.

    There are even FB/G/Twit and 4 others I don’t know on this page. Unplugging the internet only blinds you – not them … 😉

  2. There’s this little thing called cookies. If the OP really wants to control who knows what, you ban cookies.

    • And super cookies and browser hooks which can follow where you go after leaving their site. (That’s how the same ad set follow you around.)

    • “Unfortunately, to continue reading the OP, you must subscribe.”

      Because ‘they’ want to own your life … 😉

  3. Cloudflare is one of the hidden data suckers, and hard to avoid, since many sites depend on them for backend services and simply fail without error messages if you block it.

    I don’t have anything in particular I feel the need to hide – search for “TRX” online and you’ll find me in threads about cars, guns, explosives, military history, and metalworking. And here and a few writer’s blogs.

    Otherwise… I go back before the Web, and I have *never* clicked on an ad. I make online purchases with a browser in a virtual machine. I have a router with a tweaked version of openWRT, a Pi Hole DNS server, extensively tweaked hosts and adblock files, and I keep an eye on my cookie file. I have no social media accounts, and block all their known hosts (including the dozens F-book uses) at the router. I make use of no cloud storage, no shared data stores, no web-based applications. That includes my printers, which are explicitly blocked from the internet, since newer HPs will try even if you tell them no…

    It’s not paranoia. I’m too impatient to put up with Tor and too cheap to subscribe to a VPN. It’s more like a cross between crankiness, keeping up my network chops, and a hobby…

  4. “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”

    If you’ve been around long enough, everything old is new again. It wasn’t so long ago that Microsoft was The Evil Empire. Internet Explorer commanded something like 80% of the browser market and people used to get their knickers in a twist over that.

    GMail is a convenient secondary email address to give out publicly. I can’t imagine spending a day or more to resubscribe to newsletters, create new logins, and change all the links on web pages, etc. just to avoid using GMail.

    He replaced Google Home with Amazon Echo? As if Amazon doesn’t also have your entire life stored on its servers, either directly or via its many AWS clients.

    And do without Facebook and Twitter? Twitter, maybe, but I often see news, traffic, and hot topics (like cockygate) on Twitter first. And good luck with keeping up with my relatives other than on Facebook. I never could get them to regularly respond to emails.

    I’d write more, but there’s a YouTube video I want to watch.

  5. And this entirely ignores the use of Google in a business context, where Google Analytics, UTM markups, and other tools are quite indispensible to anyone who actually uses the web for business, vs entertainment.

    • Exactly.
      The proper question isn’t how much data a company collects from you but rather what do *you* get out of it.

      ZdNet has a reminder here:

      Our data is currency. Yes, you can hoard it and deny it to everyone. But that’s only possible if you give up on all online activity. Otherwise you *will* be leaving traces everywhere. (Even Darknet criminals get tracked and eventually identified. Open Internet? No chance.)

      The proper questions we need to ask is:

      – what data is collected?
      – why is it collected?
      – what do they do with it?

      You can try it with any big tech company and most non-tech conpanies. Supermarkets collect your data through loyalty cards, no? Banks, Credit Card companies, anybody who asks you to sign up for newletters. 🙂

      And, of course, the most important question of all: What do “you* get out of the transaction?

      Facebook is in (really, really minor) trouble because they make money but users get very little value in return.

      Amazon collects way more data but few complain because they use it to sell them products they need or just like. There is clear and direct benefit you can quantify.

      The same rules apply to Apple, Microsoft, and yes, Google. They all collect reams and reams of data. At least as much as Facebook. Most use it to sell ads. They also use it to find and fix bugs, make the products we use better, create new products we will be using next year.

      You can’t avoid all online data collection. It’s a hopeless task. Just make sure the outfits you deal with give you a proper return on your data currency.

      As always: TANSTAAFL!

  6. One simple thing you can do is to use two browsers. Chrome for google apps (and maybe facebook), and firefox or IE or whatever for everything else. In the “everything else” browser you make sure you are not logged in to any persistent web service.

    • Heh, I use firefox to check my gmail – that way it isn’t trying to tie every other tab to my gmail account like chrome wants to do.

      (and being a coward, I won’t use IE for anything other than downloading firefox or chrome … 😉 )

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