A bit of DeGoogling
As I grow increasingly concerned with my reliance on Cloud Services, and the exposure of my data to the corporate overlords, I’ve been “taking back control” bit by bit.
This really began at the start of my MRes in late 2014, when I made a decision to revert to Firefox back from Google Chrome. I had originally moved to Chrome at the beginning of my undergraduate degree because the browser finally released an Ubuntu version and they offered better syncing services (Firefox sync sucked). This, coupled with my new smartphone and the aesthetics of Google’s apps, drew me in and I handed over the keys to my life.
Today I’m in the throws of a De-Googling, slowly claiming my life back piece by piece by removing reliance on their services. As I said, I began by reverting to my old friend, Firefox. I still require Chrome for Netflix on Ubuntu due to bollocks proprietary Silverlight stuff on Netflixs’ part, but I’m back on board with Mozilla for browsing.
My phone was the next battle-ground. It’s intrinsically tied to Google services, being an Android phone. I went through a phase of adoring Hangouts as “the iMessage Killer”, which ended as soon as I experienced the snooping. I had sent my friend an SMS via Hangouts regarding dinner; she’s vegan and I was reassuring her that the meal I was cooking would be vegan as well. For a week after this, I was getting adverts on YouTube about vegan chocolates. It freaked me out, so I removed Hangouts and installed Textra. I’m currently trying out Signal. This became coupled with a frenzy of disabling Google apps on my phone. Play Books, Hangouts, loads. By the end of it, I had removed tons of Google apps. However, look at what I’m still left with:
- Google Search (I’ve disabled Google Now, though)
- Google Settings (for some reason, I’m not even that sure what it does)
- Play Music
- Play Store
- Street View
- Voice Search
Which is somewhat concerning. Ever since discovering F-Droid I’ve made it a mission to replace all/most of the apps on my phone with versions from their whenever possible, even if it means losing a feature or two. This has manifested in many different ways, but has provided me with a few opportunities to address the Googleage on my phone.
I’ve 99% replaced Authenticator with One Time Pad, and just need to transfer my Facebook across. This requires a Facebook log in though; something I’m not willing to do until the new year. I used Open Street Map for a long time, but missed Google’s navigation features whilst I was in California and got sucked back in :-( I replaced the Google Camera apps on my phone with OpenCamera.
Reflecting on this, F-Droid’s biggest impact isn’t how it’s provided me with opportunities to attack Google apps; it’s the decreased reliance on Google’s Play Store of apps. It’s now instinct for me to check out F-Droid instead of Play, and I’ve replaced around 12-15 apps on my phone with F-Droid equivalents. Google no now longer get that usage tracking from me (if they ever did).
This is the fucker. Google’s entire schtick is services, and I’ve been there from the beginning as the beta tester for GMail. Here’s the state of the battleground for me in terms of service-usage for Google:
- I’ve removed reliance on Google Search by using DuckDuck Go. About once a fortnight I require a quick search to Google for comparisons if I can’t find something that might rely on the context of being tracked. This is happening less often.
- I deleted my G+ account. I didn’t manually delete my photos so they’ve probably still got them
- I moved back from using GDrive to using Dropbox, and I store as much using BitBucket as possible.
- I still use YouTube, and subscribe to stuff. I don’t really see a way around that.
- As mentioned, I still use Maps. Trying harder next year to tackle this using OSM wherever possible.
- I use GMail. It’s familiar, and I’m aware that it tracks me. I mainly use it as a ‘back up’ address, and places where 99% of my subscription emails go. I do use the .uk address provided by my host for most things – but I hate my host and this has put my reliance on that into question.
- I use Google Keep as cloud notes are pretty neat and I like the app a lot. I’m thinking of mocking up a quick clone, sans some features, to use myself or outsource my todo list to Trello (Trello has a lot of Google signin though and I’m not sure how much they track me)
- Play Music. This is the current front, alongside Authenticator (which is lower priority)
- I occasionally use Google sign in for some services.
In the trenches with Google Play Music.
In 2012 I outsourced my music library to Google Play Music. I got sucked into using ‘devices’ (a phone and a tablet), and needed a way to sync across them. Play Music allowed me to ‘pin’ music to the device and then swap it out for others when it got full! Amazing! And Google were letting you upload your own tracks. I didn’t possess the critical faculties at the time to understand what was going on. By handing Google control of my music library I had provided them with an insight into who I was through my data, but I had also given them the power to determine what I was allowed to listen to and when. When music becomes confined to these walled gardens, then it can’t be shared freely among the people. Google users may have access to a particular band that iTunes users don’t. Governments can decided that Tchaikovsky is a bad idea and order it blacklisted from these stores.
No more. I’m going back. Using Google’s little app thing, I’m downloading my entire music library back to my external hard drive. We’re going full circle back to the Marshall of 2008 where I have an Ubuntu machine, Rhythmbox, and my external drive. I tried to do this before, but I want to remove another service. I think last time, Google didn’t download some of my tracks properly. This is a risk I’m going to have to deal with I think. I don’t listen to that much music anyway.
On the phone front, I’ll be trawling F-Droid for the best music players. I might even do one of those weird review-blog things. Yes. Rsync + USB cable will be my syncing services now.