The Two Reasons I Don’t Trust Google With My Data

This is my response to an article on androidcentral that I saw posted on /r/Android.

For readers with a short attention span, here is the TL;DR:

  1. I don’t want to.
  2. I don’t need to.

Allow me to elaborate on those two reasons, first in general, and then in a bit more detail.

  1. I don’t want to, because I can’t predict the future. There are a thousand different things that could happen where you would regret having your entire life tracked by a single entity. As long as you’re in the system and have “track everything” turned on, this is a real risk and there is simply no way to mitigate it.
  2. I don’t need to, because there are better alternatives. This didn’t used to be the case, but I think that, especially within the last year or two, alternative privacy-oriented solutions for every one of Google’s core services (search, mail, maps, etc.) have improved usability to be competitive with Google. If you can keep the usability & user experience and regain your privacy, why wouldn’t you?

I Don’t Want To

Now, I want to make it clear that I am not paranoid. I don’t think the CIA or the NSA or any other 3-letter agency is after me — but I do care about my privacy. You might not care that Google shows you car ads if it knows you’re buying a car, but it is indicative of a number of bigger problems.

What kinds of things might happen in the future that would make me regret being solely dependent on Google’s services?

  • Filter bubbles. When you use Google exclusively, your internet is essentially filtered before it ever reaches your eyeballs. You don’t lose access to the rest of the internet per se, but you do lose access to it by default.
  • Complacency. It is easy to forget your concerns about privacy and security when Google says it will take care of everything for you. The fact is that if a person did what Google does, we would probably call the police and report them as a stalker — and yet we allow Google to do this without even giving it a second thought!
  • Single point of failure. If all of your personal data is stored with Google and your Google account is ever successfully hacked — as we all know, nothing on the internet is ever totally secure — your entire online identity (and quite possibly your real identity) is compromised. Remember, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link — even if that link is your own carelessness or complacency.
  • Power consolidation. Putting more power than is necessary in the hands of a single entity has never turned out well. For anyone. In fact, we have a whole set of hard-won laws designed to protect us from the power of monopolistic corporations. We would never let Ford become the only automobile manufacturer, or Microsoft become the only OS manufacturer. Why then, do we presume Google should be the only search and email provider?

There are a few parts of Google that we’re stuck with. We’re stuck with Android because it’s the only iOS alternative. Thankfully, it’s a pretty good OS to use on the whole. We’re stuck with having a Google account for certain things, since it is so popular it’s often the only option for using integrated services with other platforms. But we’re not stuck with them for everything. There are alternatives. Good ones.

I Don’t Need To

I appreciate the author’s point in the article linked at the top of this post, which boils down to the final paragraph:

Google uses all of my data. [But] it shows me every little thing I’m doing … It’s transparent as hell.

This is great, and more companies should do it. However, as the author even points out, we are still taking Google at their word that the information they show us is all of the information they have, and that when we delete it, it is permanently removed from all of their servers around the world. Even disregarding these trust issues, we are still faced with all of the points I laid out above.

So my question is this: if a free, user-friendly, privacy-conscious alternative exists for certain services, what possible reason could we have not to give it a try? I am not proposing that you should delete your Google account and avoid them at all possible costs. Google provides excellent services that are easy to use — but they do come at a cost and we shouldn’t forget that.

Instead, I am simply suggesting that you learn about the alternatives. I wrote a rather lengthy post detailing many such services, with a focus on cost, compatibility, usability, and privacy. Try them out, and if you like them, you can swap them in for Google’s services whenever it makes sense. If you still need to use Google for something, that’s fine, too. But at the very least, take the time to learn about your options. That way, if and when the day comes where you get fed up with Google’s invasiveness, you know where to turn to.

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