Time to say goodbye Google,

Originally posted on Tumblr sometime around 2010

This blog post documents my reasons for kicking Google to the kerb. Nothing new or revelatory to be found here, just a personal perspective.

In Internet and calendar years I am an old fart, my use of of the internet pre-dates the introduction of the web browser and as an early adopter I quickly jumped onto the fresh new Google bandwagon and stayed there ever since, well until last week that is.

I fully supported Google’s approach to business in China after all a condition of trading in a country is to abide by it’s laws and customs. Freedom of speech and it’s associated censorship is an issue in China but it wasn’t fair for lobbyists to single out Google as the bad boy.  Many global companies operate in China, these companies go about their business without attracting the sustained level of criticism aimed at Google.  I also understood and supported Googles withdrawal from China when they became the victims of the Chinese Government’s information raid on many of the top corporations around the world. As my usage of the web grew so did my usage of Google. Their products work well, if a bit too beta-ish on most occasions, I trusted them and I believed in them.

Around a year ago, when Facebook fumbled the privacy ball, commentators asked Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt to outline their privacy philosophy, his response 

“if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”

This remark from the CEO of a company who should have privacy at the top of its agenda surprised me. As the EFF said it appears that Google

“is not even concerned enough to understand basic lessons about privacy and why it’s important on so many levels-from protection against shallow embarrassments to the preservation of freedom and human rights.”

I learned from this that Google isn’t watching my back, they never said they would but it was somehow implied in their “do no evil” mantra.

So why does this matter to me?

Many years ago Google moved from being just a damn good Internet search engine to a company that sells advertising space.  They sell that space based on what they know about you, if you use Google’s services the data you input is being analysed for keywords, trends and God knows what else. This data is aggregated into pools of information for business and industry analysts to use. I have no qualms about Google anonymising data and then setting it to use for the benefit of others.  This helps produce better goods and services that I will probably use. I have extreme reservations about how this data can be personalised, how Google and their partners sweep up the crumbs from your Internet activity and are able to target you personally.

Check this link out, it’s a little paranoid but does illustrate the problem of remaining anonymous if you use Google’s services. If you need further proof experiment by putting the words ‘engagement ring’ in your Gmail signature and see what happens.

The implications of this problem were stated by Bruce Schneier (who also has lots to say about post 9/11 airport security)

“For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness.  We become children, degraded under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that – either now or in the uncertain future – patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focussed upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable.”

It’s worth rephrasing–Google is selling your eyeballs–you are not their customer, the advertising agencies are, you and who you are are the materials they sell.