Convenient Technologies and Privacy
Published by James Gallagher on .
This article takes approximately 5 minutes to read.
A few weeks ago I decided to “degoogle” my life. It turns out that so many people have been tired of Google that “degoogle” has meaning in a few circles. I get why people may want to distance from Google. For me, it was about taking back control of my internet experience. I like to be the person who decides how I consume content. When I use tools like Google Search, I feel like I lose control.
Google Search does all of the curation for me. That’s not why I use the internet. I like exploring on the internet. Webrings are interesting to me because they are a place where I can go to explore a community for hours. I can follow whichever links I like. The only curation on most webrings that takes place is an initial screen to ensure that a site is relevant. Google, on the other hand, uses algorithms everywhere.
I am here to report that I have been unable to stay completely off Google. I gave it a try. I really did. I just could not do it.
I was convinced that technology companies like Google should have no place in my life at all. I know that Google may talk a lot about privacy but the fact of the matter is that they do not live up to all of the values they talk about. Google tracks me almost everywhere I go on the internet.
This turned out to be the wrong stance. As I replaced Google Search with DuckDuckGo, Google Drive with documents on my computer, and every other Google tool with a comparable alternative, I started to notice that Google actually gave me a lot of value. Some of that value was obscured by the privacy violations and the algorithms. There was still some value for me to get from their services. I just needed to use them in the right way.
To completely ignore Google has been very difficult because I am a coder. Google does a really good job of curating answers to technical queries that come up when I am coding. I have been doing more coding these past few weeks and so I found myself turning to Google more and more. It did not help that I used Google for work too. Reaching for a Google service was really easy.
Google offers a level of convenience that other technologies do not. I knew this before. I now understand it in a different way. That convenience is not something to be scared of. It’s not as if Google being convenient and free is indicative that the company only has bad motives. It just means that I need to be more cautious when I use their services.
I am Saving Time
Since switching back to Google Search, I am saving time. I set DuckDuckGo as my default browser but I eventually just typed
goo into the address bar every time I wanted to run a search query so that I could be taken to Google. On some days,
go was all it would take. Ironic, huh?
go. I digress. It was clear that I was trying to modify my behavior in a way that I did not like. DuckDuckGo felt forced.
This is the same reason why I am moving to LastPass. I used to use 1Password and then I moved to KeePass XC. KeePass was more secure and robust. No passwords were exchanged across my network to my knowledge. For that additional security, I had to pay a price: convenience. It started to take me ten or twenty seconds more to type in passwords on the internet. It’s a minor annoyance if you care a lot about privacy. I have realized that having my passwords go through a service like LastPass does not extend outside my privacy comfort zone.
I am not giving up on my metaphorical battle against the Tech Giants. I believe that companies like Google have no grounds to use data in the way that they do. To put it bluntly, many of these companies spy.
My Comfort Zone
Just because many tech giants spy on their users, it does not mean that I cannot use their services. My justification for this is the same reason why many people who support the IndieWeb are still willing to use social networks. Tech giants may not have the best of motives but they are still offering services. As a tech savvy person, I know how I can sidestep some of the ethically questionable practices of these companies and have a better experience.
I am not signed into a personal Google account on my search. I no longer use Google Chrome. I have taken a series of privacy measures in my browser such as installing Privacy Badger to preserve my privacy. These are steps I may not have taken if I had not decided to get more serious about privacy. Now I am starting to ease up some of my self-imposed privacy restrictions because I realize that, in some cases, convenience is worth it.
What are the chances that LastPass gets hacked and loses all their customers’ data? They have had a security breach before but it did not compromise individual passwords. How effectively can Google target me with ads if I have two ad-blockers and a few other privacy scripts installed? I do not feel it is worth it to stop using Google when my other privacy practices limit their influence over me. I believe that everyone has their own privacy comfort zone. I am still trying to find mine. I do know that I don’t want to be completely away from all the tech giants right now. That may change.