How to live without Google

04. August 2013 Security 2
Image from: inflexwetrust.com
Image from: inflexwetrust.com

Google is everywhere and because of that, quitting Google is not easy. When asking people “What is Google?” most will say “google.com” or “an online search engine” and “don’t they make those funny glasses?”. With Google being identified as a search engine most people believe that simply no longer using google.com means they have eliminated Google from their lives. Unfortunately this is far from correct, to get Google out of your life you have to dig much deeper and adjust quite a few behaviors. This article is for those that want to go all the way and get Google out of their lives.
Google knows a lot about you, more than you probably realize. In an article by Tom Gara named “A Dark Journey Into My Google History” a graphic is used that shows the information from google.com/dashboard. This graphics shows how much Google knows about him and if you go to the dashboard and log in with your own account you can see all the info and stats Google has on you. This dashboard shows just a small portion of the information Google has on you. Here is Mr. Gara’s graphic:
GoogleGraphic
Read the full article here. (a good read)

Those that do not have an actual Google account don’t have a dashboard to check but this does not mean your information is not there. Based on your IP, search history etc. Google has a profile of you as well whether you have an account or not. Even those that do have an account and can see the dashboard only see part of the whole picture. Here are some of the ways you may be using Google and alternatives and/or ways to get rid of them.

google.com – Perhaps the most used google feature world wide. You use it by typing google.com or just by typing a search in the Safari address bar or your iPhone/Pod/Pad Safari search bar. All those searches lead back to Google. It’s fairly easy to change your default search engine in Safari to another one like startpage.com or DuckDuckGo on your Mac but this is not easily done on your iOS device. Your iOS device lets you choose between three engines; Google, Yahoo! and Bing with Google enabled by default. Whichever one you choose, your data and information will end up in places you don’t want it so it’s trying to figure out which one is the lesser evil. You can’t win in this case. It is best to stop using the search bar in iOS Safari completely. You can get the Startpage or DuckDuckGo app on your iOS device and use that instead of Safari. I prefer the Startpage app as it looks better, gets better results and offers the proxy just like their website does. While not designed to be a browser (there is no address bar just a search field) I use it as my primary browser and have no issues. It will be hard to shake Google on an iOS device without changing your habits but even then there are connections made to Google you have no control over, we’ll get to that down the list.

Calendars – These are calendars you own and Google hosted calendars you subscribe to. Every time an entry is made or changed it’s recorded including the contents of that entry. Every time one of your devices connects to Google for updates your IP and other information is recorded.

Maps – Google Maps is the best when looking for directions or other information and tons of websites have a little Google map embedded on their website. Then there are Mac and iOS applications that use the Google API to get the information needed. Every time one of your devices uses the service or a website/app using their API, your IP and some information ends up with Google. Check out OpenStreetMap, an interesting project.

Then there are contacts, Google+ profiles and chats, Gmail, Wallets, Google Earth, Blogger, YouTube and if you own an Android you’re screwed either way. These are some of the obvious ways Google learns about you but here are a few you may not know about.

Safe browsing data – Your Mac and iOS devices download lists of known fraudulent websites. An important feature that can keep you safe in case you’re visiting a websites that can execute malicious code on your device, download malware and/or be linked to phishing campaigns. The problem with this feature is that the list comes from Google so every time your Mac or iOS device updates that list, Google has your IP, location and perhaps other information. As far as I know there are no alternative services that offer a list like this and this connection to Google is built-in to your iOS device and browsers on your computer. Disabling this service severs another connection to Google but may expose you to fraudulent websites. Services like OpenDNS offer protection like this and I’m sure others do as well so this may be a good alternative. (I should mention that I’ve been waiting on OpenDNS to get back to me with answers to questions I’ve asked about their privacy policy. This has been over a month and I have yet to get these answers. Until I do I can not recommend the use of OpenDNS to my readers.)

Cookies – “A cookie is used to help websites remember your preferences and other information about you so that they can easily provide relevant content to you next time you visit.” Of course no mention is made as to what the “other information about you” is. You can find the cookies in Safari by going to Preferences > Privacy > Cookies and other website data > Details button. Do a search for Google and delete all the cookies that are found.

DNS – Google runs it’s own DNS service called Public DNS and states it will speed up your browsing experience and improve security amongst other things. While you may not be using their DNS servers there are a lot of people, companies and webservices out there that do. If you are adamant about staying out of Google’s logs you should inquire about the use of Google DNS.

Docs / Drive – Companies use Google Docs. Google Docs, part of Google Drive, is a very convenient way to save and share documents in the cloud. Unfortunately whatever is in Google’s cloud is available to Google and government agencies like the NSA and GCHQ (and undoubtedly many more). I recently even saw my doctor’s assistant using it and after some inquiry found out they use this for safe storage of anything from happy hour photos to patient files, because it’s safe, secure and easy to share with other departments and offices. That’s my medical information on Google’s servers! Private information that is no longer private as soon as it’s put on the Drive. I asked why they don’t just use their own server and pointed at a shiny server rack in the back of the office and got a “this is just so much easier and low maintenance”. Yup I flipped out. You can’t control what others do with their data and documents but just like the DNS, you can inquire about a company’s use of Google services before you decide to do business with them.

Adsense – Websites have ad space that may be occupied by advertisements offered from Google Adsense. The website host wants you to click on them because this gets them paid, no click, no money. However Google get’s what they want just by the website hosting Adsense advertisements. When you visit a website the ad is loaded and Google now has a record of your IP address and possible other info visiting that page. A great way to block Adsense is with browser plugins like DoNotTrackMe and AdBlock.

Analytics – Google Analytics is used by websites to track your browsing behavior while on that website. Site owners that run Google Analytics (or any kind of analytics, not just from Google) can use this information to see what area of the site is most viewed (a good place to put in more ads), where the most visitors are coming from (maybe offer a translation) and much more. While the website owners have no bad intent, they just want to get the most out of their website, Google has all of this information too. Your IP, browsing habits and history etc. are all recorded by Google Analytics which is hosted on Google’s servers and adds enormous amounts of specific information to their already staggering pool of information. The previously mentioned browser plugin DoNotTrackMe is very useful in blocking Google Analytics as well as many other trackers.

Like I said, Google is everywhere and it’s becoming harder and harder to not use a Google service in one way or another but just by being aware of what’s out there and how it may impact your life you can be careful of what you use and share and with who. It’s in Google’s best interest to make these services as attractive and easy to use as possible because they benefit a great deal from people using it. The amounts of information gathered on users is incredible and for Google itself, governments and government agencies world wide databases like these are endless and priceless sources.

Knowing what kind of services Google offers will help you in staying away from them and though it’s not easy it is possible. I personally run my own OS X server for the syncing of calendars and address books, file sharing, Mail and even Messages. What started as a little experiment and quest for skills and knowledge has turned out to be a great way of staying in control of my own data and information. Friends and family members have since joined the server and I now have over 50 people depending on it. They know their information is safe and their privacy is guaranteed. Running your own server can be great for many reasons, not just the one I mentioned. Whatever you use your server for, you have control over your data and privacy and make it much easier to step away from Google services, online file storage and sharing services and sync services like iCloud. I recommend running your own server, specially if you are a business.

Decided to leave Google? Read this post: “How I left Google and how you can too

Comments and feedback welcome!


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