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BLOG: How I divorced Google

Tom Henderson | March 21, 2012
I sat recently at the Grand Opening Ceremony at CeBIT 2012 in Hannover. There was a huge crowd of dignitaries, business people, and captains of German industry. They were waiting to hear from the President of Brazil, the Chancellor of Germany, and the Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt. Each gave a keynote. As the event's them was Managing Trust, it seemed salient for me to listen specifically to Schmidt, perhaps one last time. It's not that I don't respect the German Chancellor or the President of Brazil, but I wasn't trying to divorce myself from the organizations they represent.

The warning here is that although Ghostery seems to work, it can cause certain web pages that depend on tracking to suddenly not work. If you use Discus, as an example, you must turn it back on by adding an exception for your site. I have no idea what Discus does with the data it garners. Sometimes Ghostery lights up with a dozen or more tracking elements on every page I load from some sites. A page reload (including going back to a page) will trigger Ghostery all over again. Some pages simply crawl because of the extra tracking junk Ghostery must stop.

Day five: Android

First some background is needed. At least for now, ridding one's self of Google doesn't mean you have to give up your Motorola mobile phone. As Google now owns them, I'm guessing that Motorola's phone policies will change. I own a Motorola Droid 2, which runs Android. Verizon conveniently updated the version, wiping out the mods that I had done to the phone. You can use Android without Google, but doing so is tough, and there's work to do. Having done so, your privacy and dignity will be preserved. Lacking these steps and using Android or Google products, your privacy and dignity will be usurped -- by your permission.

Scrubbing Google from your phone is at least temporarily do-able. It's beyond the scope of what I'm writing about here. The basic steps require you to scrape a lot of stuff after going through a process called rooting-your-phone, which gives you, the owner of the phone, control back over the use of the phone. You must then use non-Google apps, and no more Google Maps, Android Marketplace (unless the app you select is known to behave) apps, and must carefully watch downloaded apps for stuff they request to do.

One of my great sadnesses is that updates to Angry Birds now want access to your location, your phone contact list, and the names of all your high school classmates whose last names begin with the letter “S". Each app you download will ask for permissions. You must decide whether to grant them or not. There are listed payloads of basic apps that will work well with Android phones, but at the whim of a telco, the telco may try and assert an update to your phone's operating system that will wipe out all of that work. You must either resist the upgrade request, or succumb to it and clean it up again immediately afterwards -- if you want to ensure your privacy. Even then, phones report all sorts of things that are privacy robbing to the telcos, who in turn, do with that data as they will. You have no seeming choice as there is no such thing as a do-not-track for many personally-identifying characteristics of phone use.


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