scruloose: (Default)
[personal profile] scruloose
Feel free to call me jaded (you wouldn't be the first) but I'll freely admit that in spite of their generally-good privacy track record and "don't be evil" company motto, I've been growing a little uneasy about Google for a few years--in a faint "niggling doubt in the back of my mind" way. When it became clear that they were not so much a "search engine" company as a "gather all the information about everything and everyone" company, I had a little niggling doubt because power corrupts, and one entity aggregating and managing huge swathes of everyone's information is a hell of a concentration of power. When they got caught arbitrarily harvesting everybody's home Wifi info with their little Street View cars, my little niggling doubt got just a bit more insistent.

Of course, in spite of my misgivings, one thing I haven't had any doubt about is that Google's products are amazing. I've been using Google Reader for years, my Google Calendar is seamlessly integrated with my Android phone, and my primary e-mail address is (for now) at gmail.com. Until now, Google has been generally well-behaved enough that I've been able to set aside my misgivings. And even though the Google+ nymwars issue was off-putting enough to prevent me from getting an invite and signing up for an account, I couldn't really see what motivation Google would have to push the issue really hard, and I figured in a matter of weeks they'd probably drop their stupid and unworkable "real names" stance and I'd probably end up signing up for an account. Hey, at least it's not Facebook, right?

And then Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in an interview revealed the driving motivation behind the "real names" thing, and in fact Google's purpose for Google+, and it's no longer a little doubt in the back of my mind. It's time to start the long process of ending my dependence on Google's services. The article Real Names: Google+, Government & The Identity Ecosystem sketches some of the implications of Google+'s fundamental purpose as an "identity service". It's an eye-opening read and not terribly long. I recommend checking it out.

Put together Google's aggressive push to integrate Google+ with their other services, their Draconian approach to the "real names" issue, and Eric Schmidt's admission as to the underlying purpose... well, it leads inexorably to the conclusion that Google has declared war on anonymity and pseudonymity on the Internet. The ever-popular "if it's so bad, just don't use the service" excuse doesn't carry a lot of credibility given the fact that Schmidt is also being quoted (as mentioned in the "Real Names" article linked above) as saying that those who don’t have properly verified Google+ accounts could experience "downgrading" of their Google products and services.

At this point, the story I'm seeing between the lines here goes something like this:

  • Google got the whole Internet-using world hooked on their (admittedly excellent) services and software over a period of years. Presumably with no more nefarious intent than to make embarassing heaps of money.

  • Now that they have not only embarassing heaps of money but also global influence to rival a superpower, they're thinking in terms of empire, deciding to impose their will and reshape how the Internet works.

  • Google faces the same fundamental conflict of interest that Facebook does. As Bruce Schneier put it in his keynote speech at the 2010 RSA Security Conference "Don't make the mistake of thinking you're Facebook's customer, you're not – you're the product." The advertisers are the customer, and this fact has deep and scary implications for whose interests are going to matter when push comes to shove.

  • Given the volatile combination of a huge concentration of power and this conflict of interest, what's good for the users (anonymity and pseudonymity, which are vital to free speech) has, rather predictably, been sacrificed in favour of what's good for Google.

Oh, and just in case it's not self-explanatory, I'll let the Electronic Frontier Foundation provide a brief introduction to the connection between anonymity/pseudonymity and free speech. I don't think it's a hard concept, and I do think that the connection is fundamental enough that there's no denying that an attack on anonymity/pseudonymity is quite simply an attack on freedom of speech. Google is implementing the kind of universal ID card program that they stood up and refused to assist North Korea with in 2009, and that the British government scrapped in 2010 after years of widespread opposition, only Google is implementing it across the entire Internet regardless of national borders, and it comes candy-coated as a social network.

So much for "don't be evil".

Given all this, I can obviously never sign up for a Google+ account. Whatever claims they make about the policy going forward, how could I ever trust the service, knowing what I now know? And so, rather than wait and hope that Google doesn't choose to "downgrade" my other Google services, it's time to start disentangling myself now. My first step is to sign up with a paid e-mail provider. It's well worth $10 or $20 (USD) per year to not have to live with the assumption that my online communications are being datamined and sold. I will not accept being the product that the powerful people buy and sell. I'd rather be the customer.

Date: 2011-09-17 06:58 pm (UTC)
ginny_t: A close-up of chess pieces, the text reads "the queens we use would not excite you" a quote from "One Night in Bangkok" Photo taken by troubleinchina (intellectual snobbery)
From: [personal profile] ginny_t
An interesting quote I ran across the other day:

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
--Oscar Wilde (of course!)

It made me think of the nymwars shenanigans.

Just not using it is also not an option for people who rely on the Internet for referrals. I don't remember specifics, but G+ accounts play some sort of role in search results.

Date: 2011-09-20 09:18 pm (UTC)
bunnyhero: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bunnyhero
i am interested in degooglefying (and generally diversifying) my online life, too. i'm looking forward to hearing about your specific choices, if you blog about them.

paying for email service is not a bad idea. i know i could admin my own mail server, but i've done that before and $10-$20/year would be worth not having to deal with that headache, and also, as you say, knowing that you are the actual customer.

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say it with silence

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