Tag Archives: privacy

Life without Google: 6-month follow-up

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by Eliel

A little over six months ago, I nuked my Google account over their changed privacy policy and terms of service. For me, it was a pretty big change, as I relied pretty heavily on Google’s web services (especially the calendar and email) and I also use an Android phone.

First, the good news: you don’t need Google to have a web presence or an Android device.

The bad news: many, many things are much less convenient without a Google account.

My Google-free existence involves mostly using my self-hosted domain. It was pretty easy to shift to my own email, using Thunderbird on my laptop, K9mail on my phone, and my ISP’s webmail interface everywhere else (Bluehost offers several interfaces, but I find that I like Roundcube the best). For phone apps, I use the Amazon app store instead of Google’s, as well as a few offerings from f-Droid. I know Amazon tracks what I install, but it at least compartmentalizes my data more: Amazon knows a lot less about what I do online than Google does. I use dotcal.com and aCal to manage my calendar. Between the advanced category excluder plug-in and the WordPress Android app, the Snapshots category of my blog does a great job of letting my post snapshots from my phone to twitter without clogging up my front page with every picture I send out. I use Sparse RSS to keep up with feeds on my phone. I’ve found a way to do most of what I used my phone and Google’s web tools for without having a Google account.

Here’s the thing, though, much of what I do is much less convenient now. I exported my contacts from Gmail and imported them to Thunderbird, but I don’t have them on my phone. (I’m sure there’s a way to import them to K9mail, but they still wouldn’t be synchronized.) My RSS reader on the phone doesn’t sync read items with the web-based reader I use. Even though Amazon has a number of apps, they don’t have as many as Google (and without a Google account, I can’t buy the Mighty Eagle for my kid to use in Angry Birds). Whenever Flash releases a new version, my phone is rendered obsolete until I can find a copy of the apk file posted somewhere online. Ephemeral video? Say what you will about HTML5, I still can’t get videos to stream from my hosting account, never mind the fact that my phone records video in h264 but won’t play it in a browser. Google Hangouts offer a very convenient form of video conferencing, but without a Google account, they’re off-limits to me. (I’ve asked for a Big Blue Button installation at work, and even though I’ve been told, “We should be able to do that,” I can’t seem to get anyone to actually make it happen.)

What next? My web and mobile usage are clunkier now than they were before, but I’ve gained a marginal increase in online/mobile privacy. How much? In terms of mobile, probably very little, given how much mobile providers track their customers. Is the slight increase in privacy worth the big decrease in convenience? I don’t know, but the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7 are starting to look awfully appealing.

Leaving Google: calendar edition

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Joe Lanman
One of the challenges I faced in cancelling my Google account was the calendar. The default Android calendar syncs only through a Google account. In the spirit of Project Reclaim, I tried to host a calendar server on my hosting account, but as of yet, I haven’t been able to figure out a way to sync it with a calendar on my phone, other than by interacting with it directly via a mobile web browser, which was awkward at best. What I’ve settled on instead is a combination of dotcal.com and aCal, which is available from the f-Droid repository as well as the Android Market. Dotcal seems to do everything that I used Google calendar for, and aCal syncs with it perfectly. Dotcal does warn that “online calendars may take up to 8 hours to update,” but I haven’t seen any noticeable delay in updating.

Now an RSS reader is the only real hole I have left to plug after closing down my Google account. I’ve been using Newsblur, which I like well enough, but unfortunately, the corresponding Android app, Blar, seems to be available only through the Android Market, which I can’t use because I closed my Google account, which is why I’m using Newsblur now, which is why I want Blar . . . #catch22

Goodbye, Google

Gmail man

Microsoft seems to be feeling some competition from Google, but Gmail Man certainly strikes a chord in light of Google’s new privacy policy (doesn’t make me want to go Office 365, though–sorry Microsoft).

“My business, your business, it’s all business.”

Leaving Google: Google voice edition

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Ross LaRocco

I’ve used Google Voice as a voicemail service for awhile because they provide the option to email a transcript of each voicemail (they’re often bad, but usually you can get the gist of the message). I’ve been pulling back from Google, so I went back to regular voicemail from my phone carrier, which went smoothly, except that Google wouldn’t let go of the voicemail button on my phone–no matter what I did, the voicemail icon dialed my Google voice number and not my phone carrier. I could dial “1” or “123” to get voicemail, but the icon was stuck on Google voice. (I know, I know, first world problem.)

To fix it, I had to call tech support for my phone provider, and then had to escalate to level 2 support. There’s an over the air update that’s supposed to reset the voicemail number, but it didn’t work. Eventually, I had to take my SIM card out of my Android phone and put it in a dumbphone to recieve the update. Leaving Google: it”s not always easy.

Pimping Chrome

On top of their new privacy policy, Google seems to have stepped up their efforts to push Chrome.  Yesterday they warned that I might soon lose the ability to use Google Docs unless I “upgrade to a modern browser”:

The problem? I’m using Firefox 10.0, which was released just a couple of days ago. On top of that, now Google’s home page is trying to get me to install Chrome, too:

Google Chrome: All the better to track you with, my dear.

Don’t forget your DNS

Another potential source for tracking by Google: your DNS. If, like me, you discovered that Google’s DNS is significantly fast than your ISPs, you may be giving Google data about every website you visit. (H/T to Michael Leddy for a pointer to namebench which finds the fastest DNS for your location.)

Life without Google?

cc licensed flickr photo shared by dmixo6

As I’ve said elsewhere, Google’s new privacy policy gives me the creeps. I’m also surprised how much I’ve let my digital identity be subsumed by Google. As a result, I’m considering whether I can get by without Google. Even making an exception for the search engine, it looks like closing out my Google account will be challenging. (To be fair, Google does provide a way to get data out and they do have an option to delete your account.)

Email was relatively easy–I’ve got a hosting account already, so I just added an email account. A few emails to contacts with my new address,  and a few hours changing email addresses for online accounts, and I should be free of Gmail well before March 1.

The real challenge is going to be my Android phone. I wiped the user data this weekend and re-flashed the ROM, so that my phone is no longer connected to my Google account. Although Android asks you to login to your Google account at setup, the phone will operate without doing so–at the cost of reduced functionality. The first challenge is apps: you can’t get into the Android Market without logging in to Google. My first mistake was backing up only my paid apps  (with Titanium Backup) before reflashing–if I’d flashed them all, I wouldn’t have needed the Market so soon.

I did find several options. First, repositories of open-source Android apps: F-droid had several useful apps, and there’s also A-opensource. Next, alternate app stores: Slide me is one option, but what I’ve used most so far is Amazon’s app store. Sure, now Amazon’s tracking my Android purchases (and their labor policies are pretty atrocious), but they don’t track nearly as much of my data as Google. The Amazon store doesn’t have as many apps as Google’s, but it has a good selection (including K9 mail, which is far superior to the native Android mail app for using IMAP mail, and gStrings).

The next real challenge is a calendar, which I haven’t quite worked out yet.

Keep calm and lie to Google

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by .dh

Now more important than ever.