Back to Fluid Thinking
‘Google, I Just Can’t Quit You’: Could You Divorce Google?
I like starting a post with a bold statement, so here is one; I like Google. I use Gmail, Google+, Chrome and obviously their search engine. As an SEO, I work with Google for more-or-less 40 hours a week so I kind of have a forced fondness for it too. I have an Android phone, and I like it. I can even name more than five of their employees.
The official line was that this would allow Google to tailor search results better and target advertising more effectively, but a lot of experts concluded this was a pretty good way for Google to compile comprehensive profiles of its users and unite them under your Google account name. Basically, Google knows who you are and what you’ve done. A lot of people didn’t like it, including the people who run Europe.
On the whole though, the mass Google exodus didn’t come and some of the reasons for this can be found in this quite frankly impressive manifesto by Tom Henderson on his excruciating separation with Google. Ever wondered what it would take to remove Google entirely from your life? Then look no further than these four pages of pure dedication – we aren’t just talking switching to Bing and deleting your Gmail account here, we’re talking phone-rooting to remove Google from an Android phone, deleting Supercookies (which sound delicious) and editing hosts files. It’s quite endearing that after all that, the thing Tom misses most is watching videos on YouTube.
Tom makes some valid points about privacy policies on page 3, although the examples are quite extreme; I doubt searching for information about HIV would lead to you being labelled undesirable. The whole exercise has to be admired for its dedication too, but overall I think the effort involved in quitting Google outweighs any particular fears for privacy.
That sounds a bit of a nonchalant conclusion, but I think we need to move beyond the idea that companies collecting and using our private data is entirely a bad thing. As sad as it may seem, the ideal of complete privacy is ultimately dead – to avoid sharing any private data would be to avoid using the internet entirely.
I do think the way Google implemented the change left a lot to be desired and the ins-and-outs of how and whom our data would be shared with should be made a little bit clearer, but in real terms, the changes haven’t affected me in the slightest. On a strictly paranoid level, the amount of data Google has does worry me, but it’s still not enough to make me vow off their products. I might regret saying this in a few years, but I can’t see a Big Brother society with Google as the eternal leader emerging anytime soon just because I use YouTube.
I think it’s important to remember why Google are in the position to collect so much data about us too; they’re damn good at what they do. Personally, quitting Google would mean losing a lot of services that genuinely make my life easier such as Gmail and Chrome. I wouldn’t miss Google+ too much, but that’s because I’ve got more personal reasons to use other social media – it’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It would also mean reverting back to a particularly embarrassing Hotmail address I made when I was 12.
If you are worried about the amount of data Google collects about you, there are precautions you can take to limit it; search while logged out, manage your privacy settings in the Google Dashboard or use one of the many privacy suites out there to block tracking.
In that BBC article I linked to earlier, two of the experts who tried to quit both failed – one, in concrete evidence for the adage that absence makes the heart go fonder, actually loves Google more than ever. Our very own Ben did a great post on Google’s Account Activity feature; it’s well worth checking that out to see just how much you rely on Google and how difficult it would be to replace.
Maybe I’m just too complacent, but I will continue to use Google products as I do now and not just because I have to for work (but maybe a little because quitting Google entirely looks incredibly difficult). Do you think you could swear off Google for good? Do their privacy policies make you nervous? Let us know in the comments.