Google, is it Time to Break Up?

If there are two things that I would strongly identify as, they would be: an advocate for digital privacy and a Google addict. The latter causes great cognitive dissonance when attempting to execute the former. In light of the NSA surveillance scandal, the completion of a new data storage facility ahead of schedule, the revelation of an encrypted wiretapping system funded by the government and maintained by Sprint, and the fact that efforts to reign in the mass spying failed, I’ve been reevaluating my online habits.

I mentioned being a Google addict. Allow me to clarify. I have a burning love for Google. Though my love wasn’t immediate. From 14-16 I supported Ron Paul and listened to Alex Jones (I welcome your ridicule, it’s much deserved). At some point during my research into Google’s aggressive online behavior tracking, I stopped worrying and learned to love them. They’re a company that consistently develops great, useful products (a few failures exist, but that’s a later post).

How deep does my addiction run? I’ve been using Google since high school. I frequented Google labs a few times a week. I was gleeful when I got into the Google Voice beta – and chose my own custom phone number (that I use to this day). I was an early adopter of Google Docs (now Drive). I was a Wave (RIP) enthusiast, and after my brief stint with Orkut, I jumped on the Googe+ train. And that was high school. Since then I’ve purchased two Google Apps domains, linked all my email accounts into one über-address, acquired two Android powered devices, use Chrome daily, and opted into Google Now – a useful yet creepy real time information provider. Essentially, anything Google has thrown into the world, I’ve used or researched heavily.

Now, I can’t say I was surprised that Google and other companies were handing out our information to the government. No, I’ve opted into these programs knowing that Google mines my data, but the convenience offered drives a hard bargain.

Years into my usage, I’m at a juncture. Do I assert that as a customer I have a right to determine who has access to my info, but forsake convenience afforded by Google? Do I quit cold-turkey and use alternatives? Does a middle of the road approach exist?

In my present state of affairs there is no way to have all the things I want: an ungodly amount of space for email, cloud storage, seamless integration across platforms, and to have say over where my data is going. A personal cloud server and email address is possible to build, but I don’t have the capital and it would require leveling up in techno-wizardry to pull off. For those of you that do have the above, Scientific American has your back.

Until I can get enough capital to build my mad scientist lair, what will I be doing? I may be more conscientious about which services I use. I’m not going to jump ship to Yahoo, because well, Yahoo’s email system is atrocious (though they have stood up to the NSA in courts). I’m not going to permanently power-off my Android powered phone, and I’m not going to start Binging when I need to look things up.

Why am I not just going to jump ship on everything? Because it’s a difficult situation to extricate myself from overnight (I’d commend you if you managed though). Phone contracts are a pain in the ass no matter which way you spin them. I’ve been a Gmail user for years, every contact I’ve had is within that system, and to change all of my services would be a laborious process. Now, if that makes me sound like a lazy hypocrite – perhaps I am. But a hasty withdrawal from the system doesn’t seem useful or plausible. My withdrawal will involve evaluating the best privacy concerned alternatives. That doesn’t mean I can’t start today. Since I started writing this post, I uninstalled Chrome, started trimming down my Facebook information, and deactivated Google Now – it was a drain on my battery anyhow. In terms of search engines all of the major ones were implicated in the scandal, but I’ve heard DuckDuckGo is a great search engine and I’ll be giving it a trial run as my primary source engine on Firefox. There are ways to browse with a reduced footprint, and I’ll present them in a later post.

Before I leave I’d like to say that it would be unfair to suggest Google (and hey, they may be living up to their Don’t Be Evil slogan) was the only company who has tons of data on its users. I chose to focus on Google, because I’m most entrenched with their services, but what about Facebook or any other online service? What about your phone company? If you’re looking to truly control what information you share, keep it offline. Hell, the Kremlin is doing it

Postscript: According to some lawyers it’s entirely possible that Google and others did try to stand up to the data requests. At present, Yahoo is the only confirmed tech company to have attempted.

The Author currently holds a soon-to-end contract with a professional theatre company, but has managed to find himself not enrolled in school for the coming semester. Listening to the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack probably won’t help him with enrolling in school, but that’s his present course of action.

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