April 01, 2013, 11:14 AM — A year ago, I divorced Google. In any divorce, friends go with both sides. Most friends went with Google, but a few stayed with me. I'm in a much happier place. It can be done. The co-dependency is over.
Image credit: ITworld/Steve Traynor
Much has happened a year later, most of it good. I still have a few moments when strange things happen because of my lack of anything Google. But I'm happy I made the choice. Should you use a search engine, you'll find much more criticism of my divorce using the search string, “henderson ITworld divorcing google". It's been tough to find starkly negative criticism. Some of the criticism applauds, while other raises the spectre of what privacy has become, and if Google is the savior and protagonist we all once thought they were. I still use Search, but even Search has changed.
Observations and lessons learned
There are some observations that I've made, post-divorce, of just how pervasive online data gathering has become and how Terms of Service privacy invasion and data sharing are now so wide-spread and out-in-the-open. Online sites don't blush about what your use of the site means in terms of your privacy. From your phone, your credit cards, even your car must willingly give up what you've been doing, where you've been (correlating this with where your friends have been), how long you spent doing something, perhaps ownership of the pictures taken, and we're not even talking web surfing yet. All of this information might be sold to someone you don't know, and will be kept long after you're dead. This situation, imposed rejection problems when I surfing for replacement apps.
Initially, it was Google's Terms of Service and Privacy Statement that motivated me to give up over 3,000 Google+ Friends, and to stop using the Google search engine and the rest of their products, attractive as they were. I've listed some of what I used at Google, and the replacements below. Some friends followed my example onto other social media sites. Not many. Perhaps they weren't really friends. Others took my lead in their own ways.
I must admit that for purposes of my research and testing (and my Android phone) that I still have a Google account under ExtremeLab's name. Full disclosure also says that I occasionally spin up a Windows 7 virtual machine that doesn't use script blockers, solely to use the AirBNB site, which doesn't work without them. Google is interwoven into the code of AirBNB's site, and it's a necessary evil. AirBNB is a little paranoid, in my opinion, but given the crux of their business, I suppose I'm ok with that. I spin down the Windows 7 instance, logon to AirBNB, and move on. I could make it easier, procedurally. I don't. Even Apple knows the problems of divorcing Google Maps.
But that's about it. I was slowed down, temporarily. No longer.
How I've replaced Google
Search is DuckDuckGo. Has some strange features in it, and reminds me of the value of using Boolean logic in queries, like the old days of search. On a rare day, I might use Yahoo! I'm still looking for an actual Craigslist search engine that doesn't sputter.
Mail. I always had my own email server, and use it primarily. You'll find me using Yahoo! Classic, too, although they've just discontinued the Classic version.
Maps. Mapquest is ok. Yahoo! Maps are my go-to, either choice with script-blocking. The Yahoo! Maps UI isn't very good, but the maps are quite usable. The map apps don't care that I block their scripts. I kill their cookies afterwards, although I doubt this helps.
Music and Videos. YouTube was the best, and for non-music how-to videos, too. Gone. Spotify is my new music source, and they're heaven sent, with 99%+ of the music I want, which is admittedly often older stuff. Vimeo has some videos, and I often use DuckDuckGo to search for videos if I simply must, which usually entails looking at Terms of Service, Privacy Notices, and even then, blocking scripts and erasing cookies. I erase cookies on almost a daily basis.
Images. I maintain a Flickr and Shutterfly account, both of them entirely bolted down for private, invitation-only viewing.
Social Networking. Facebook is for friends/family; Linked-In is public. Facebook can be privatized, and will be audited for the next couple of decades as an FTC settlement. That doesn't mean I trust them. Most people's Facebook identities are poorly protected, and I avoid posting there. Linked-In is public and my participation is fully public as my public life. Twitter? I tweet once in a while.
GPS. I don't use it, even in a car. I'm old-school as I like printed maps.
Google Translation. Babelfish is ok. Others do well, too. None are as good as I would like.
Apps. Amazon is an alternative to the GooglePlay app retailer, but I'm not very big on apps. I don't use Google Books at all. I rarely use digital books. I usually obtain books in whatever format, from the local public library, which is excellent. I rarely use online “office-like apps”.
Aftermath observations: Search and content have changed
Seeing Google's presence is now odd. It's kind of like seeing your ex at a shopping mall. There's a perfunctory and polite hello, how's the folks, and you move on. There are a few pangs. Memories. But I've moved on, and there is nothing in the Google app cavalcade that I need at all. Not a thing.
Indeed Google's been keen to cut away applications that it believes are barnacles on its bow. I once felt Google was a bunch of barnacles on my bow. As Slate points out, there are many dead bodies in the Google Graveyard. I'm reminded of New Orleans, and the mausoleums there, some highly ornamented, others more like a potter's field. People put time and effort into the development of them, and some caught on, if only to comparatively small audiences -- and perhaps ones that didn't cause heartburn at Microsoft or Apple's DevOps. Don't fall in love; they die young.
Google's services and apps have a lot of competition these days, ranging from Google Docs through Google+ to Google's user storage variants. In my original divorce description, I needed seven days to make Google go away. Finding alternatives is definitely do-able. It's worth the effort, in hindsight. Google is gone.
What I've concluded is that I'm happy, and I find that Google and SEO and tracking have soiled the web in unbelievable ways. Google has imposed a constraint on content through its ad business that I can't get away from, because content is trying to adapt to Google so it can be found, but especially because content becomes monetized in doing so-- to the detriment of us all.
Products like Ghostery, no-script, FlashBlock, are all heros to me. Why? Courage. The bottom line here is the quid pro quo of free app use versus loss of privacy. It is the foundation of the models that fuel the web today, and starving that fuel is going to be the only way to change them, as rules of conduct are often mitigated by the fuel needs of legislators and thought leaders.
There might be alternate financial models in the near future to anything Google. Subscription-based models are a possible alternative revenue stream, in terms of changing the underlying business model used by many on the web to fuel web pages. But when users consider actually shelling out money for a service, rather than using a free service, they'll go a long way towards personal exposure and its tawdry erasure of personal privacy. What must be raised is the common denominator, as the current model is a race towards entropy of the web.