March 16, 2012, 8:00 AM — I sat recently at the Grand Opening Ceremony at CeBIT 2012 in Hannover. There was a huge crowd of dignitaries, business people, and captains of German industry. They were waiting to hear from the President of Brazil, the Chancellor of Germany, and the Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt. Each gave a keynote. As the event's them was Managing Trust, it seemed salient for me to listen specifically to Schmidt, perhaps one last time. It's not that I don't respect the German Chancellor or the President of Brazil, but I wasn't trying to divorce myself from the organizations they represent.
You see, I'm leaving Google, in toto -- meaning in every single possible personal way. What you're reading is the first seven days in the attempt, which is ongoing.
If you live in the modern world, leaving Google is both heresy and damn difficult to do. My primary motivation is that I don't believe Google's privacy protection claims. But you should know I cannot know the truth of its claims; I simply don't trust them. I was raised to be skeptical.
Day one: Inventory
The content industry is tied to Google Analytics, which is the oil well in Google's basement that fuels and funds many things that Google does. It's a brilliant system. It serves ads based on demographics gleaned from analysis of user behavior and advertiser needs. The more an ad is targeted and salient or relevant for the user, the better chance a user will click on the ad for whatever purposes the ad portends. It's automated in such a way that it has become a vast machine. Lots of money is made with targeted clicks.
That machine is charged with robbing most of your personal characteristics in a quest to make the ads better. The problem is: it also robs you of your privacy. The price of privacy is ostensible excellent, and often free content that's subsidized by the oil well in the basement, and the economic engines that it fuels in terms of sales for advertisers. In my mind, it's a robber baron of dignity.
Day one was spent totaling the way Google has permeated my online life. I had to add up the ways I go about my work day. Google is glued to my life (and perhaps yours) like barnacles to a boat. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that I have a personal mobile phone based on Android, and Google has tremendous involvement in Android's attachment to its analytic (and therefore privacy robbing) engines. Removing the barnacles can be done. I've largely done it, although there are unfortunate ways that I unwittingly must still face seeing Google and its products online. Losing one user, Tom Henderson, won't hurt Google in any discernible way as the body of data that Google has is monstrously huge.
Day two: Leave no tracks, start to delete cookies
It's this immense body of data that's the ideological problem. Law enforcement agencies seem to have easy access to the data. That data includes: where I surfed via Google Search. Who I called. My participation and 3000+ friends on Google+. My location, via what Android tells Google. I hope and mostly believe that Google doesn't know ALL my contacts and their phone numbers, and in some instances, their location. I cannot know the true extent of what Google knows about me. I believe that Google Corporate may not be able to tell me how much they know.
When I sit at home, Google (unless I consciously prevent it) knows where I sit, on what machine, and what time of day I'm there. Data is collected not only from the search engine site, but sites that I visit that have Google maps, and so forth. The penetration of Google's ability to sniff a single individual's location and preferences is unprecedented. Google knows more about me than my mother. Google “deserves" this knowledge because of the EULA they mandate, and because it's their business model.
First, I had to remove the cookies. There were several dozen of them with Google's address or name on them. I have three browsers (for research purposes) based on different software engines. Each has a slightly different way of exorcising the cookies. It should be noted here that Google isn't the only one tracking me for demographic purposes. It's just the big dog, and the one with the largest reach.
I'll avoid references to the “old days" when people didn't relinquish their privacy and details to gain free access to applications and services. Some people believe this is benign, but they're wrong. I won't argue these points, rather explain how to get yourself free. After you rid yourself of the cookies as an exercise, you'll be much more aware of how much was being tracked.