Anyone who follows me on Google+ may have seen a comment I gave to a friend’s post where I declared that I am going to go Google-free in 15 days (from that post). The end date for those 15 days is March 7th, 2014.
I am writing this blog post for my site, and copying it to Google+, to explain why I am doing this. It is not my intention to convince others of my thinking, I’d consider that rude as there is too much effort on the Internet today where people try to influence each other’s behaviours. If I say on the Internet I don’t like Brussels Sprouts, there will aways be someone who will argue why I actually should like them. There was a time this would be considered rude behaviour, but the Internet has made it a norm.
So, to re-iterate, I am only “documenting” my reasoning and explaining why those who follow me on Google+ won’t see me anymore after Mar. 7th. I do plan to delete my Google+ account on that date, as well as using the duckduckgo.com search engine. I’ve done a good job of avoiding other Google applications, and I run browser plug-ins to minimize tracking by Google Analytics.
This is a long post filled with many words and paragraphs and no point form. If the Internet has re-wired your thinking such that your attention span does not allow the reading of long prose (as argued by Nicholas Carr in “The Shallows”), then stop now…there is nothing for you here.
Here we go!
Importance of Privacy
I am a private person. I value my privacy as something important. In our heavy social-networked world, I get the feeling I am very alone in this. I was then very much relieved to watch Mikko Hypponen’s TED talk where he made the statement: “And one thing we should all understand is that we are brutally honest with search engines. You show me your search history, and I’ll find something incriminating or something embarrassing there in five minutes. We are more honest with search engines than we are with our families. Search engines know more about you than your family members know about you.”. I checked my own search history and looked through the stored cookies. I was not happy with what I found. Mikko is right.
Mikko was specifically talking about the NSA and what we know from the Snowden leaks, but to me, privacy is privacy whether it is from a government or a company. And, let’s be honest here: if I was a government agency collecting information and there is this massive corporation doing it for me, I will find a way to get it from them. I have no proof, but fully expect what Google collects is going to the NSA and other governments anyways so I see them all in the same light. If I feel outrage at the NSA spying on me, I should equally feel the same way when a company like Google is determined to do pretty much the same thing whenever I am using their applications (and sometimes even when I am not).
This Ayn Rand quote sums it up for me: “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”
Why I trust Apple and not Google
When I started contracting, I incorporated a business for my contracting activities. The one thing my accountant and lawyer kept stressing to me is that a business is a separate legal entity from me. That fact has stuck with me causing me to view businesses, regardless of their size, like I view people: an entity with its own unique motivations, goals, aspirations, etc. Unlike people, however, businesses have to write down their motivations in the form of a business model which drives the direction the employees take the business.
So, when I decide whether I want to trust a business with my private information, I do the same thing as I do with people: I try to understand the motivations and goals of the business to see if they indicate how trustworthy that business will be.
For Google, it seems very clear their business model involves farming people’s information (data), analyzing that data, and using that analysis to provide an ad targeting service to advertisers. I have to believe that everything Google does must fit into this model. With Google, it is obvious that I am not a customer because there is no exchange of money. I am the commodity Google uses to make money from its real customers: advertisers. As commodities, we users get to use Google’s applications for free in exchange for giving up some of our privacy and letting advertisers, who pay Google, target us with ads based on that private information.
From their business model, can I trust Google with my privacy. Of course I can’t. Nor can, or should I trust the data of my company, or any company I work for, in the hands of a Google application. That would be irresponsible given what I understand Google’s business model to be.
Now, let’s look at Apple. Apple’s business model seems focused on selling me very expensive hardware. Recent moves from Apple to make much of their software, like MacOS, free, makes them look more and more like Google’s freemium model. Except Apple does not engage with advertisers. Evidence is that Apple uses the sale of hardware, which is overpriced, to subsidize the development of software and services like iCloud. As a professional in high tech who makes a living off of using a computer for many hours a day, I don’t mind overpriced hardware as long as it is better quality. And I feel Apple’s stuff is very good quality. To those who keep trying to get me to use alternatives, try telling a professional mechanic that he can save money on tools by getting cheap Mastercraft tools from Canadian Tire rather than the more expensive Snap-on tools. See how he reacts to your comment. That is how I am now reacting when people tell me I should not use Apple hardware.
But, I digress. From their business model, can I trust Apple with my privacy? I say yes…until they change their business model and give me reason not to.
Not Healthy for High Tech
As someone who has worked in high tech for over 25 years, I simply do not like some of the “effects” Google has had on my industry. They use the freemium model like a weapon against other companies to force them to play the same game; adopt the freemium model or go extinct.
But is the freemium model really good for the us? Certainly as a software developer, the idea that I am expected to give away my efforts for free only to make money via a middleman (advertiser) makes me pretty angry. I’m a bit of a student of Ayn Rand’s objectivism so this whole freemium model goes against my grain.
For app users, getting a flurry of applications for free seems like a pretty good deal. But in the long run, I don’t feel freemium is a better way to go. There are numerous examples on the Internet showing the flaws of freemium. In the mobile gaming world, freemium translates to in-app purchases and this articles does a good job to criticizing that: http://www.baekdal.com/opinion/how-inapp-purchases-has-destroyed-the-industry/.
Freemium takes away a critical feedback mechanism built in by capitalism: the use of money. When a product does not work, we either won’t buy it, or will ask for our money back. When a product is good or great, we happily pay for it thereby support its creators. Traditional businesses use money as a measurement of how successful a product is. With freemium, money is not longer a feedback mechanism. If Googles decides one of their apps is not achieving their business model’s objectives, they can just cancel it since the users of it have not paid anything for it anyway. Just ask people who enjoyed using Google Reader or Google Wave (for a view of the Google graveyard, see: http://gizmodo.com/all-the-google-products-that-google-itself-has-killed-d-665225668). No matter how popular or wide spread these apps became, without money being directly involved, you cannot help them to survive should they not meet the main objective of selling ads.
False Economy Around Data
Google has been referred to as a data collection and analysis company. And certainly many of their acquisitions are indicating this to be true. I feel Google is one of the main reasons we have the latest buzzword: “Big Data”.
My thoughts on Big Data are best summarized by this quote from the Internet: “Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.”. My own professional exposure to Big Data lines up with this quote. As such, I feel it is the next buzz-worthy topic which won’t go away, but won’t stay in its current hyped-up state either. In short, I expect there to be a “Big Data Bubble Burst” at some point.
But, that has not stopped Google and others from building a very big economy around Big Data. Now with wearables becoming the next big thing for consumers, I expect that Google will be focused on using the vast army of wearables to collect massive amounts of data which will be aggregated to fuel Big Data analysis machines….to do what? Sell us yet more ads? Seriously, is this what we want from high tech for our world?!? I know I don’t.
Borg: Kings of Wearables
Speaking of wearables, Google Glass has become the kingpin of wearables. It promises to keep you connected to the hive mind of the Google-sanctioned Internet so you no longer have to remember tedious things like train schedules or facts and figures. Connected to the hive mind this way, we can enjoy a questionably better life. We can share with friends, and the hive, in real time rather than actually living our own lives.
I remember watching “Star Trek: New Generation” and thinking the being a Borg is a horrible thing. Loosing one’s identify to a hive mind…the horrors, the horrors (“Apocalypse Now” reference). Yet here we are with Google making it sound like a “good” thing we allow ourself to be integrated into a larger collective! Am I missing something here?!?
If other people want to be Borgs, fine. But what really annoys me is that Google glasses have the ability to infringe on my privacy without me knowing it. How do I know that a friend standing near me and wearing Google glasses is not recording video of me, recording my voice, or taking my picture? And all this can go to the Internet so fast, there is no way I can ask politely to not do that. Conclusion: anyone who actually wants to talk to me in person (heaven forbid!) is being rude if they are wearing Google glasses while doing it. I don’t like rude people.
Now I come full circle on my diatribe. I know I promised at the beginning no bullet points, but that seems like a good way to sum everything up:
- To me, privacy is an important thing.
- Google’s business model is not one I can trust with my privacy.
- Google, in my opinion, is not having a long term favourable effect upon the industry I depend upon for my livelihood.
- As such, to not be labelled a hypocrite, I can no longer use Google products (and that includes ones they acquire).
And so I bid adieu to Google+. I’ll end this now with the way Edward R. Murrow ended his programs: “Good Night, and Good Luck”.