Notes on media, politics & technology, by Adam Wilcox.

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Cautionary Tales by Adam Wilcox

Exorcising Google

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An article from Sam Whited did the rounds on Hacker News recently,

Like many people, I recently decided to move many of my online services away from Google. The recent Google Reader shutdown and Google Hangouts disabling XMPP federation made me realize that any of my services could go at any time and I didn’t want to be so dependant on a single provider or the integrations between services.

I share Sam’s concerns about the direction Google is taking, and deleted my Google account a few months ago, mostly because of the privacy concerns. I don’t need or want another social network, and Google’s insistence that I was going to use and love Google+ at all times whether I like it or not finally broke me. Deleting Google from your life isn’t difficult, and you don’t need to resort to drastic measures like becoming a neckbeard Linux user. (Unfair? Yes- but statistically accurate).

Despite his concerns, Sam apparently still can’t quit Google;

First of all, let’s start out with what I’m keeping. The list is short: Gmail… I still use webmail quite often and haven’t found a solution I like as much as Gmail.

Gmail was the first to go. Delete nothing, as Gmail preaches may useful for digital hoarders, but it’s a data gold mine for Google as the more they have on you, the most profitable you are to advertisers. You should own your digital identity, certainly you should own the primary means of communication online - email. I have been a happy customer of Fastmail, a paid IMAP host. I never used more than one tag per email anyway, so moving back to a folder system suited me easily.

My calendar and contacts are stored and synced with iCloud. As an iOS/OS X user, I’m predisposed to be comfortable trusting Apple with my data, (NSA Prism concerns accepted), given that in general Apple just want to sell me expensive bits of hardware, rather than auction off my personal data to the highest bidder. Mozilla lost its way a long time ago, and I’m happy with dumping Chrome in favour of Safari, replacing Google search with DuckDuckGo. Further defence against the Dark Arts require Safari Extensions such as Privacy Badger or disconnect.me.

When Google Reader was taken out back with a shotgun, plenty of services popped up to fill the gap. My personal preference is Feedbin, which works with iOS apps such as Reeder.

Social Networking? I’ve never used Google+ but then again, who does? Back before Christmas I deleted my Facebook account. Partly this is an attempt to Simplify life, but mostly because I have no interest in the baby photos from people I went to school with over a decade ago. I use Twitter, because despite the best intentions of the app.net guys- it’s just not catching on. The great joy of Twitter is that it has such a wide spectrum of users, not just techie & data liberation types. Until app.net appeals to the comedians, musicians, journalists, and not just techies it won’t have mass market appeal, and thus the diverse interesting users.

Google Docs: As most of my writing is for pleasure, Byword more than covers my needs, and in my line of work, I don’t really have a great need for Office software. For the very rare occasions I need to open an Excel document I fall back on Microsoft’s Office Web Apps, however Apple’s iWork for iCloud Beta, is proving very effective and certainly fill my needs.

Everything Else

Blogging: Don’t use Blogger. No one should. Wordpress, Tumblr, Scriptogr.am are viable options, and frankly anything is better than Blogger. Personally I’m running a Jekyll blog using GitHub Pages, but one accepts that Git isn’t the easiest of products to use. As all my posts are simply markdown text files, if GitHub suddenly decided they didn’t want to fund the hosting of my site anymore, (perfectly justifiably), I can simply chuck it all through Jekyll and put it on S3.

Photos: I was a heavy Flickr user, my account would reveal every holiday I’d taken, and a full history of my life from School, to college, university, graduation, punctuated with photos of friends and parties. You could watch girlfriends come and go, the arrival and eventual departure of some ill-advised haircuts, and hopefully observe an improvement in photographic skill. But I stopped wanting, (needing), to share my life with strangers, and the account is now mostly dormant.

File storage: I’ve replaced Google Drive with Dropbox for non-secure backup. For my secure off-site backups, I’d recommend Arq, encrypted backups to Amazon S3 and/or Glacier.

Maps: Well, yes, Google Maps is an amazing resource. But I’ve made a real go of putting Apple Maps through its paces and in recent months the service has proved reliable for me in London, across the South of England, and even on the Hebridean Isle of Lewis.

Chat: Google Chat wasn’t difficult to let go of, and since MSN Messenger was rolled into Skype, I’m preparing to go with Skype alone. This is possibly a benefit of being in the UK, as MSN Messenger was the messaging service when I was in school - AOL Messenger never really had the same reach here. The old days of ICQ are best forgotten.

Music: iTunes Match is my backup in the cloud. I commute and do most of my music listening in the car- I like knowing my music is on my device, and can rely on it being there even when data coverage is not.

Video: I never really liked Youtube as a platform, even before Google took it over. Vimeo is where I share the very few videos I produce.

In Conclusion

Google’s services are very good, and in regard to privacy concerns unless you are going to go to great lengths to hide what you online you’re being monitored anyway. Whether you should delete your Google account is up to you, in most cases probably not, but I looked at what I did online and didn’t find a particular need to make use of the services Google provides. However, the more Google pushes Google+ and corporate requirements that are counter users best interests, the more appealing a Google-free life appears.