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Andrew (he/him)
Andrew (he/him)

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Is Giving Google All Your Data Worth The Convenience?

[Mark Zuckerberg]: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don't know why.

Zuck: They "trust me"

Zuck: Dumb f--ks.

-- Current Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, c. 2004

Facebook, as a company, is no stranger to privacy breaches. Since 2003, roughly once or twice a year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has apologised in one way or another for his or his company's mishandling of users' data. A Pew Survey from September of this past year shows that nearly half of Facebook users aged 18-29 have deleted the app from their phone, likely driven (at least in part) by Facebook's opaque, technically-you-asked-for-it, opt-out-by-default data collecting policies.

In spite of this, Facebook's membership numbers do not appear to be slowing down, with nearly one-third of all human beings on the planet now monthly active users. With developed countries all but completely locked in, Facebook is focusing on increasing membership in developing countries by offering services like Facebook Free Basics, a suite of Facebook-monitored apps which give users a small taste of the Internet -- Accuweather, BBC News, Bing search, and of course Facebook. All of this Internet traffic is routed through Facebook's servers, providing them even more of that sweet, sweet data. In some countries where Internet adoption was low before Facebook arrived, "the social network [has become] synonymous with the Internet itself".

Having been bombarded by "oops" after "oops" with regards to user privacy since I joined the social network in 2007, I finally took the plunge and deleted my account at the end of this past year. Since I have an Instagram and I still use WhatsApp, I'm sure that I have a shadow profile hanging around on Facebook's servers somewhere, but I can't bring myself to continue using Facebook itself. (Also Facebook facilitated genocide in Myanmar if you haven't heard about that yet.)

This all brings me to the main topic I'd like to discuss here. I still happily use Google and give them any information they ask for. Maybe they have a great PR team, maybe I'm a hypocrite, or maybe I'm ignorant (or maybe all three!). Facebook has never been shy about the fact that they (indirectly) sell your data in the form of targeted ads. More data = more ads = more revenue. Google, of course, does this as well, but they also use user data to improve their services.

Google has built the Android operating system, a Linux-based mobile OS which is now installed on 75% of all smartphones worldwide. Google Maps is six times as popular as its nearest competitors. GMail is currently neck and neck with iPhone Mail as the most popular email client.

All of these services are popular because they all work great. If I (badly) remember a few words of a song I heard in a pub last night, I can google it (a search engine so ubiquitous it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in verb form in 2006) and quickly find that badly-remembered information. I can get walking (or driving, or real-time public transport) directions back to that pub to look for my wallet which I may or may not have forgotten. I can put a reminder in my calendar which syncs (along with all of my other information) to my PC to remind myself to cancel my credit card which is missing from my recovered wallet.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm happy to give Google my information, provided that their services measurably improve my quality of life. With Facebook, all I felt that I was getting in return was a leaky social network with a spotty ethical record (and lots of awkward, confusing memes from my older relatives). Persuade me that I should drop Google and I will, but until then, flailing your arms and yelling "privacy" over and over won't convince me to drop Chrome, GMail, Google Maps, and Android.

Top comments (13)

niorad profile image
Antonio Radovcic

RE Google: I don't see the point in dropping it completely, but I do think that it should not be as big as it is, and that it could use more competition in certain fields.

As good as their services are, the alternatives are not necessarily worse, especially when they are paid services. And I think they are worth checking out.

I'd keep e-mail at my own domain, so I'm independent of the service. (You can do that with G-Mail too, I think, at least when you pay)

Giving them so much personal info may be fine today, while more or less sane, normal people are in control of it. This collected data won't disappear, though. You don't know which one of the data-points could identify you as "undesirable person" in 20 years. Which false-positive conclusions about you it may trigger at some point because of your location-data.

kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman • Edited

The only thing that will persuade you (and most people) is headlines, and bad ones. It’s just the culture right now to give away your privacy for convenience. It will take a new generation (cuz you know, what they grow up with is given and boring) or something really bad happening to change it. If it’s something heinous, the toss up is whether it will be corps or govt to cross the line first.

I’m there with you in some ways. I still use a few services because the convenience currently outweighs the risks (as I understand them). But I don’t like the situation and I’d love to see better alternatives that let me keep control of my own information. I’m keeping my eye on a few such as SOLID.

notriddle profile image
Michael "notriddle" Howell • Edited

It's the same story for me and most of my family; they dropped Facebook because they figured it wasn't actually enhancing their lives very much. Awkward memes, guilt-tripping chain mail, and finding out that your aunt is kinda racist aren't a very good marketing pitch. Any concerns about privacy were a bonus, in as much as privacy and health are both tied to the user's control over their own experience.

This is a stark contrast to GMail and Maps, which are actually good.

As for what I recommend, if you do nothing else, install uBlock Origin. It will enhance your life as much as dropping Facebook did. That's my gateway drug for all other privacy-related activities. If that's not enough, switch off of GMail; it's the combination of adsense, analytics, and email that allows Google to figure out what's going on when you use services that they don't actually run. Those two (ublock origin and protonmail) are the biggest bang-for-your-buck privacy enhancers.

sebboh profile image
David Loyall

I haven't tried uBlock Origin, because from what I have read, sometimes you have to turn it off. I use uMatrix (by Raymond Hill aka gorhill). It gives me fine-grain, real-time control of what each browser tab is allowed to access. For each hostname the tab wants to contact, I can grant or revoke permission on a per-resource type basis. There are these types of resources: cookie, css, image, media, script, XHR, frame, and other. So, 10 hosts * 8 resource types = 80 push buttons--a matrix of buttons, so it's called uMatrix. Here's a screenshot of the UI for this site. Note that I'm successfully commenting without having enabled most of the resources... Of which there are many on this site. :)

uMatrix screenshot

notriddle profile image
Michael "notriddle" Howell

There are three big reasons why I don't like blocking resources by hand.

  • It requires more work.
  • Block lists are collective action. Individual customizations are not.
  • I can't recommend it to my less technical family and friends. And I don't want to be recommending stuff that I don't use myself.
awwsmm profile image
Andrew (he/him)

Thanks, Michael! On another recent post of mine...

...a few other people also suggested uBlock Origin and I just switched to it. Happy with it so far!

biros profile image
Boris Jamot ✊ /

Personally, I deleted my Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, TripAdvisor and so on accounts for many reasons including privacy, toxicity, and because people on these websites are out of reality and many of them are crazy.
That's not Internet anymore.

sarthology profile image
Sarthak Sharma

I think soon, more and more people gonna stop using these big giants. Decentralization of these services will happen, the only thing is are we ready for this? We developers should totally promote this. I also started working on a small project regarding this named nomoogle, gonna complete it soon.

awwsmm profile image
Andrew (he/him)

That's a neat tool!

fluffy profile image

Ever since Google + made some very creepy connections for me (including trying to get me to connect with my grandpa who had died a few months before it launched), I decided Google had too much information about me and my family and decided to pull as much data as I could from their services.

For a while I ran my own CalDAV/CardDAV servers so that I could get cross-device calendar stuff, but that was a major pain in the butt. Eventually I found ownCloud which worked okay, but it kept on breaking every upgrade.

Finally I gave in and decided that iCloud was the least-evil of the cloud providers, and Apple's continued privacy commitments have made me feel like I made the right choice there.

Also, iCloud works just fine with anything that speaks CalDAV/CardDAV - including Android, if you install the appropriate connectors for it. So it's funny how the company that's seen as the most proprietary and based on vendor lock-in actually makes the best use of the most open protocols, and provides way better interop to their competitors than vice-versa.

awwsmm profile image
Andrew (he/him) • Edited

Your reaction makes no sense to me. I'm still following you and there's nothing you can do to change that. We're "connected" in that way until one of us deletes our account (or until I decide to unfollow you).

How many followers do you have? A few hundred? I'd be willing to bet that at least 2/3 of them use some Google product on a daily basis. You're connected to all of them in the same way that you're connected to me.

burleson_allan profile image

All of the Google services you mentioned that are useful to you have equivalents made by other companies that work just as well without collecting lots of user data. There’s nothing to lose by not using Google services so might as well not.

nektro profile image
Meghan (she/her)

For Search, Drive, Maps, and YouTube they're still the clear winners. For other things it's good practice anyway to not have a single point of failure. Including on your digital life.