Matt Marshall

5 Posts with Tag privacy (All tags)

Reflections on my Facebook use

It's long been a goal of mine to stop using Facebook for the majority of my social interaction on the web. The seminal blog post Get your loved ones off Facebook explains just some of the nefarious practices of the site, and since I've on a massive data ownership push lately I'm not overly comfortable with the notion of Facebook ad tracking (rant on ads coming soon). Do I also need to mention their dodgy newsfeed experiments?

Other than that, the centralising of the web into a commercial communications service frightens me to death; my socialist (cough communist cough) leanings already mean that the fact Facebook is a large corporation extracting profit from millions of workers who are essentially working for free (see Dmytri Kleiner) makes my skin crawl. On top of that, they're looking to launch their own web platform bundled into Messenger which will allow companies to use their services and develop apps/bots that interact with customers through Messenger. The principle is that if you're a start-up and can't really afford to invest in your own infrastructure, then you can use the service to reach your customer base digitally nontheless. I love the idea of commissioning platforms generally, but the corporate hegemonising of Messenger's app platform is sickening. A better approach to commissioning is (shameless plug for my lab) App Movement but I think even the centralised way that the platform operates doesn't make it a true grassroots approach.

Facebook recently also diversified its 'Like' function into 'Reactions', giving us a slightly less narrow range of ways to express our feelings at a post whilst still providing them with button clicks. This also provides them with an extra dimension of data to sell to advertisers, as people are now increasingly sharing links instead of status updates so the data they receive needs to be enrichened. In fact, the Belgian police force recently advised against using reactions for this reason.

I also feel that there is an obvious problem about a single large corporation owning what is arguably one of the most widely used communications platforms in the world :-/.

So this all adds up to me beginning to pull out of Facebook; or rather saying I will. No matter how much I complain and tell myself to just get out... I find myself browsing the site as consistently as ever. The next part of this post is largely a diary entry reflecting on my Facebook usage and trying to devise ways in which to get out.

What do I use Facebook for?

Upon reflection, I find that the main activity that I use Facebook for is actually semi-mindless browsing of news aggregate. This probably doesn't surprise most people, but it surprised me because I thought that I was a lot more involved than that. I'd say that the majority of my Facebook usage comes from mobile (browser, not app) whilst commuting, idling waiting for people to arrive etc. Of this, I'd say that most of my interactions with Facebook stories consist almost solely of either clicking to read, liking, or sharing. I'm not even sure why I like things tbh -- I don't look back on it. It's largely just a habit formed from liking friends' posts.

I do appreciate my friends' posts. Particularly a few closer friends who post interesting content, and share interesting articles I wouldn't normally read. I sometimes comment on statuses to show support or a more concrete form of appreciation than a Like. I also enjoy Facebook groups, the communities that arise from them, and actually I enjoy Page content quite a lot (again -- news for the most part).

I rarely post statuses. I'd argue that over the last year (and certainly over the last six months) the content I've submitted to Facebook has consisted by-and-large of sharing articles/news that makes me angry / happy / sad, and also posting images that form humble-brags of what I'm up to or have produced (like my sweet-ass Sushi plates) in attempt to validate my activities. I'm also tagged in quite a few photos from when I've visited others that I enjoy seeing

The messaging service is another one that I use a fair amount. There are those who I speak to largely through Messenger, and would miss out on conversations with them otherwise. They're relatively few and far between though, and the thing I'd miss out on is actually the group chats. I'd also probably miss out on random people contacting me, which is always fun.

So what do I do?

I think I can tackle the mindless browsing fairly simply. I've already begun the process of adding an RSS reader to my site, which will allow me to browse news aggregate here rather than visiting Facebook. I should actually start making a log of what I like to click on / find interesting in order to get a good map of what to start bringing in. Content discovery (ie new feeds / sources etc) might be tricky, since I won't be pulling in Facebook posts such as shares from friends. I might actually go back to using StumbleUpon, and then adding feeds as I discover them.

Friends' posts present a problem, although this forms a relatively small part of my Facebook interaction. I won't be pulling in Facebook content here, I'll need to keep up with them some other way (or sign into Facebook to see them specifically).

Posting statuses and sharing articles won't be a problem. Sometime in the future I might POSSE to Facebook (with an explicit request of course, unlike Twitter) when I want to share links to people. Posting photos also probably won't be an issue. It's on the books to integrate images and gallery functionality into Brimstone, and if I'm absolutely desperate for people to see my humble-brags then I can just POSSE a link to Facebook as a post. Tagging will just have to bugger off for now.

Messenger provides a trickier problem, as I do value the group chats and relatively random encounters a lot. Individuals that I'm serious about talking to, for the most part, are usually willing to contact me via Telegram. I might consider hooking up a notification over here to notify me of a message, or a new conversation but that is a lot of effort. For now I'd be satisfied just using and avoiding the main Facebook site.

If you've read this, thanks for reading to the end. As mentioned this was largely a diary entry for reflection on my use of Facebook and the cognitive dissonance that I experience when browsing it.

diary facebook privacy capitalism

Now I've exported all my data, the only thing stopping me from deleting my Google Account is the fact I have an app in deployment for my PhD that uses the maps api :-/ I've got a workaround almost ready using OSM but it's not quite ready yet

privacy google open source de googling

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

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:

  • Authenticator
  • Calendar
  • GMail
  • Google Search (I've disabled Google Now, though)
  • Google Settings (for some reason, I'm not even that sure what it does)
  • Keep
  • Maps
  • Play Music
  • Play Store
  • Street View
  • Translate
  • Voice Search
  • YouTube

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.

privacy google cloud anticloud data music control

Pulling away from Big Google

This is designed to be a living article, and will be edited as time progresses. I will do my best to highlight edits as effectively possible for transparency's sake.

Yesterday evening, a friend of mine pointed me to a post, which pointed to an article that detailed how Google has dropped its ban on personally identifiable Web Tracking. The article was dated Oct 2016, which means it's ancient in Web-years. The fact I've only heard about this now is concerning in and of itself tbh.

What does this mean for you? Google has always tracked you, and built a profile around you. However, it's never combined the 'profile' that they build for you with the personally-identifiable name that they have from your use of their services (GMail). They bought ad-service DoubleClick back in 2007, and that's how ads follow you around the Web. What's happened now (actually, what happened in 2016) is that Google have changed their policy to allow those ads access to your name and other information that Google has about you. Better yet, they can now build "build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct." (quote from same source as before).

Ok, terrifying. What can we do? The long-term answer is obviously a struggle for privacy over profit, and has implications for class warfare and revolution against capitalism. You can begin by cluing up on privacy stuff, I recommend Bruce Schneier, and Cathy O'Neil. From there, move into privacy activist circles, and understand the political economy of the web. Recommended reading here is Dmytri Kleiner's TeleKommunist Manifesto, which is a fantastic read even if you're not a comrade. It'll clue you up on how the Web began usurping the disintermediation abilities that were the initial great leap forward granted by Internet. Perhaps, even join your local Pirate Party if you don't have an existing, larger scale, allegiance.

What about the short and medium term? The answer is that you need to totally and utterly remove your dependence on Google. This isn't easy. And as more information about more services becomes available, it'll get harder. But the more people who do this, the more that Google gets the message. Hit them where they hurt - wallet. You're their product, and if they can't sell you they can't get paid as much. This being said, this process is a journey and a struggle, and it's messy. It becomes easier if you're not fussed about using other, proprietary, services to replace Google ones. If you're an Open-Source head like I am, it can get a bit dark at times and you might need to learn some basic tech skills to scaffold your own ecosystem. I'm sorry :-(

Anyway, here's the list of alternatives to Google stuff that I've come up with so far. Most of the edits to the article will be made here. I've divided it into various "arenas", although the intersections of devices and services and cross-platform nature of the web makes these divisions a bit meaningless at times. Whenever I come up with a viable alternative format -- I'll let you know. Note, there is already a comprehensive article about this from elsewhere. The purpose of this piece is to try and gear it towards my friends/colleagues as well as acting as a checklist for myself, to provide an overview of the software and services that I use.

The Web

  • Google Search, use DuckDuckGo
  • GMail, this is a fucker. If you're not bothered about other corps, then maybe try Yahoo Mail or Microsoft's LiveMail/Hotmail/whatever. If you're fortunate enough to have the capital you can perhaps purchase a privacy-focused email account. A DIY solution would take about £30 for a Raspberry PI, and the ability to follow a tutorial. A hack/workaround would be to only use the mail service from a local client running on your phone / PC, with access to PGP capability. See below
  • Google Calendar, I'm still working on this. Sorry.
  • YouTube, you could refuse to access it. But that's shooting yourself in terms of access to media / information / entertainment. I postulate that a really activist thing to do is to take from YouTube without giving back (ie giving your usage data to Google). Start by signing out, and accessing the site in private browsing. A level up from this could be to disable Javascript in your browser, or access the site using Tor. Tor isn't perfect, but it's a start.
  • More soon!

Your PC

  • Uninstall Chrome. Ffs uninstall it now. Get Firefox. It's so much nicer, and sync works well across devices. Levelling up from this means using Tor but it's not perfect and it means taking a bit of a speed hit. I use Tor sparingly for specific purposes (all innocent, actually), and Firefox with a host of security-plugins.
  • Install an adblocker, The traditional goto for blocking ads has been AdBlock plus; but it turns out that they're scabs. I use uBlock. These go as browser plugins.
  • Use Local Email Clients Remember when email was a piece of software that lived on your PC? It still should. Even if you're using a web-hosted email server, you can install Thunderbird. If you still kinda need GMail, you can connect it to here. What's the benefit then? Firstly, it gets you used to the idea of running email on your local machine instead of firing up a web browser, breaking the twitch. Second, you can pair it with GPG and the Thunderbird plugin Enigmail to begin encrypting your personal communications to each other.

Your Phone

(This section mainly applies to people with Android devices)

privacy mydevice nocloud degoogle security