Back in its early days Google had a simple motto:
Don’t be evil.
This motto still exists in their official Code of Conduct, right near the end of the very long document:
And remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right – speak up!
Since changing their official motto to Do the right thing, Google has seen itself increasingly mired in controversy, most of it borne from the fact that the company makes its money through selling the data of its users to companies that then use the data to target users with ads, ads which often follow them around the internet. Google is essentially a series of services—most of which are free to the user—designed to harvest data and sell it for ads.
Put more simply, Google is an advertising company. Nearly everything it does is in service to advertising. This is the code of the company and is likely to remain so into the foreseeable future.
Is this bad? Is it evil? On a relative scale, not so much. To paraphrase Stockard Channing, there are worse things it could do. But what it does is enough to have finally given me pause after years of using their free services:
- The Chrome browser is near Internet Explorer 6.0 levels of dominating the browser market, with sites increasingly being tailored for and only tested with Chrome. This is not good for the web, web standards and basically everything a free, open web stands for.
- Gmail, Google search and other free services are tracking users across the web, feeding their surfing habits, random clicks and more to companies that use that information to target the users with ads and services. Most of this is done surreptitiously, without the user being aware.
- Chrome is easing restrictions on some kinds of ad-blocking, for obvious reasons
Basically, I’m not comfortable supporting this model anymore. I think it makes for an unhealthy web. So I’m making changes. Some are days, some are more difficult.
Let’s start with the easy ones:
- I haven’t used Chrome as my primary browser for quite awhile, having switched to Firefox long ago. If I need alternative browsers for whatever reason, I can use Edge (!), Vivaldi or Brave.
- I’ve switched from Google search to DuckDuckGo. Plus DuckDuckGo is way more fun to say. Are the searches less comprehensive? Maybe. I can’t say I’ve never not found what I was looking for yet. In fact, the searches are more accurate because I no longer have Google trying to shape (or contort) the search results to better “fit” what I am allegedly looking for.
- I no longer use Google Drive for cloud storage (I use OneDrive and iCloud Drive)
- I have long abandoned Google’s office apps, like Docs and Sheets
And now the harder stuff:
- Google Maps is still by far the best map site/software, though Google is doing its best to clog it up with services, suggestions and generally getting in the way of what should be simple directions on how to get from A to B. The alternatives are still not quite there. Apple Maps is improved, but it’s limited to Apple platforms (which, honestly, is kind of dumb—Apple should have a browser version, and I don’t mean one that requires Safari). Apple is also way behind on its equivalent to Street View. Then there’s Bing Maps. It’s okay, but it lacks in so many little and some major ways. I will keep using these and hope they improve, but it will be a meaning process. I don’t use maps much, anyway.
- Gmail. This is the big one. I have had a Gmail account for a long time. I have thousands of messages and many subscriptions and services tied to my gmail address. I can direct new subs to an alternate email address—I have a more “serious” email address at outlook.com, for example, or I can use one from my own domain, @creolened.com, though that looks a little weird, really. This is a long term project, one I’ll probably tackle piecemeal. There is always the fear that whatever other service I switch to could disappear, while Gmail is one of the handful of Google services that seems relatively safe.
All said, I’m making these moves to help simplify my interactions on the web, to get less ads and less shaping, to find what I am looking for, without handing over information that really sin’t anyone else’s business. Excelsior, as they say.