How I divorced Google

Leave Google, and save your privacy in 7 days (or at least get a start on it)

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Day five: Android

First some background is needed. At least for now, ridding one's self of Google doesn't mean you have to give up your Motorola mobile phone. As Google now owns them, I'm guessing that Motorola's phone policies will change. I own a Motorola Droid 2, which runs Android. Verizon conveniently updated the version, wiping out the mods that I had done to the phone. You can use Android without Google, but doing so is tough, and there's work to do. Having done so, your privacy and dignity will be preserved. Lacking these steps and using Android or Google products, your privacy and dignity will be usurped -- by your permission.

Scrubbing Google from your phone is at least temporarily do-able. It's beyond the scope of what I'm writing about here. The basic steps require you to scrape a lot of stuff after going through a process called rooting-your-phone, which gives you, the owner of the phone, control back over the use of the phone. You must then use non-Google apps, and no more Google Maps, Android Marketplace (unless the app you select is known to behave) apps, and must carefully watch downloaded apps for stuff they request to do.

One of my great sadnesses is that updates to Angry Birds now want access to your location, your phone contact list, and the names of all your high school classmates whose last names begin with the letter “S". Each app you download will ask for permissions. You must decide whether to grant them or not. There are listed payloads of basic apps that will work well with Android phones, but at the whim of a telco, the telco may try and assert an update to your phone's operating system that will wipe out all of that work. You must either resist the upgrade request, or succumb to it and clean it up again immediately afterwards -- if you want to ensure your privacy. Even then, phones report all sorts of things that are privacy robbing to the telcos, who in turn, do with that data as they will. You have no seeming choice as there is no such thing as a do-not-track for many personally-identifying characteristics of phone use.

Using a different operating system than Android may not improve your privacy position. Microsoft and to a lesser extent, Facebook, have attempted to compete with Google's product lines. Microsoft has operating systems and phones. Facebook has social networking and to an extent, search and voice (in partnership with Microsoft). So you'll need to decide if the replacement, as a cure, isn’t worse than the Google “problem". In some cases they are -- and it's a matter of trust to use these products, even if you agree to the terms of their licensing.

Why bother to read the agreements? They're legally binding. Vendors of the products you use, subject to the licensing agreements that you agree to, can use the information in ways you didn't intend. This means both with your desires, but also against them for the desires of others. Can an insurance company deny you a policy because you've been searching extensively on diabetes and cancer? Perhaps performing a query on low cost legal services, or learning about HIV might peg you as an undesirable. Findings might be quotient of a decision process that you have no control over. It might be best to move on.

Where ever you go with a mobile phone that's turned on, that phone broadcasts its location, and that location is tracked. If you use the GPS functionality of a mobile phone, then you're now in a very precise location-based tracking system. The GPS chip will rat out your location. This was originally a function to help telcos serve your phone with the best tower location. Now it can be used for whatever purposes the telco wants.

In the US, telcos will give up a history of your calls and location (of your phone) to law enforcement officials. Burglary some place? Were you nearby? You're a potential suspect. Calling people with conviction records? Oh dear.

Talking to someone with a conviction near the scene of a crime? Oh my. The telcos have a history of releasing location-based system (LBS) information with hardly a warrant. Governments can keep track of your location, and in some places, listen in on your calls, you terrorist, you. How long do they keep the data? I sense that data is forever.

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