The Anti-Google Resource
Sort of a byproduct of my Dark Android Project, I’ve recently made it my personal mission to heed the words of Edward Snowden and others in the modern-day cypherpunk movement: “Avoid Facebook and Google”. Since I have some degree of reach within anarchist and liberty-oriented circles, I’ve largely concentrated my efforts within those circles to get people away from these two companies in a multitude of ways, including by highlighting concerning news via my podcast Sovryn Tech, also through the plans I’ve laid out–and continue to lay out–through the Dark Android Project, and through my various speaking engagements, and of course through my more personal interactions, as well.
If you are concerned about more than just security–as in, you’re concerned about privacy, decentralization, and anonymity, also (a concept I call “DAPS“)–the case isn’t hard to make against Facebook and Google that their very business models rely upon you NOT having privacy and anonymity. While most people don’t really argue against this fact with Facebook, I still get a little bit of push-back from a few in anarchist/liberty circles that Google is just a business doing business, and there’s no harm in that, and that using their services are all voluntary.
And sure, it’s voluntary. That’s why I attempt to convince and ask people to no longer use Google in its entirety (again, I’m not going to talk about Facebook any further in this blog post). Which segues into my single largest problem with Google: its business model.
If you are a person that doesn’t care about your privacy or anonymity online, then likely nothing I’m about to share will matter to you. Trusting Google with your online data (and thus in many ways, your life) is a decision you’ve already made, privacy be damned. And that’s fine if you feel that way, I’m all about people having choice. But unlike you, I–and many others–do care about privacy and anonymity, and in having the ability to still engage with the “market” online while having it. Google’s business model of selling advertisements to you straight-up does not allow for that. To “better serve you ads” they cannot let you do things anonymously or privately. At one point, Google did provide an opt-out cookie that you could install to get you out of their “targeted ads” algorithm, but that has now been handed off to a third-party of questionable integrity. Another thing that Google has been allowing as late is for you to pay a fee every month that will eliminate ads on various sites. So for $2 a month or so, you don’t have to see ads, and Google can continue to offer its various services (though technically no longer for free). While paying for Google’s services is definitely far more palatable (though if it were the standard it would likely end the company as its main appeal is that its services are “free”), it does raise the point of how it actually survives as a company. The old adage of, “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”, is very true in this case. Unless you are somehow paying Google for their services (a Google Apps account which doesn’t get served ads in Gmail, or the monthly no-ads fee), they are collecting the data of your online habits and using that data (supposedly) only to serve you more relevant advertising information, and thus advertisers “happily” pay Google so that they can be a part of Google’s advertising ecosystem. I think this point is plain as day, so I don’t imagine I need to link to any stories about it, and it in-and-of-itself is not “evil” perhaps, but let’s be absolutely clear that Google’s advertising model relies upon the collection of as much data about you as possible, and that is the antithesis of privacy and anonymity. And if you try to openly work against Google’s bread and butter, you may promptly find yourself banned from its ecosystem. (SIDE NOTE: Google has had a dalliance with “double-blind” advertising where they collect the relevant-to-advertising data about you with a degree of anonymity, but Eric Schmidt of Google has stated that this would take around 10 years to implement. Personally, I find it hard to believe that it takes Google 10 years to develop anything, so I’m tempted to get conspiratorial about why they won’t implement this system, but perhaps rather they’re just not as brilliant a company as they are claimed to be.)
The second part of my problem with Google’s business model is a simple one: centralization. I personally like redundant and resilient networks–which in turn allows for the redundancy and resiliency of information (ie: communications, the entirety of human knowledge, etc.)–and the internet as it stands today with its backbone being server farms all over the world is antithetical to genuine resiliency. Centralization creates central points of failure (the server farms, for starters), and allows for things like Standard Operating Procedure 303 to be realities, potentially cutting off cities, countries, or even the world from the resources and services they are used to using. Google’s data collection and service distribution unabashedly relies on this centralized persistent internet. This same centralized internet is what also allows for what is known as the “Surveillance State” (or as Julian Assange more aptly put it, a “Surveillance Society”) and all the things that Julian Assange, Thomas Drake, Edward Snowden, Barrett Brown, and others have warned about endlessly. Now, again, if you’re not concerned about your privacy and/or anonymity, this doesn’t really matter to you, and I get it. But I–and many others–do care about their privacy and anonymity. The infrastructure that Google relies upon–and that it works to increase through Project Loon and other projects–is antithetical to privacy and anonymity. And if you don’t believe me, just ask a Google employee–a rather famous one at that: Vint Cerf. Mr. Cerf, one of the “creators” of the internet, has theorized that, “privacy may actually be an anomaly“. If you agree with Mr. Cerf that privacy may not even be a real human “right” or “liberty”, then by all means use Google to your hearts content. Personally, I don’t agree with ol’Vint. Decentralization is key to having secure, resilient, and private communications and data transmission, and there are many projects that are working towards getting away from the “Big Bad World Wide Web” as we know it today. MaidSafe, BitTorrent’s Project Malestrom, Zeronet, MegaNet, and others all recognize the inherent flaws (security and privacy flaws are just the beginning) in having one big network operate the way it does (as to where, again, Google’s business model relies upon taking advantage of those very flaws). These projects are getting traction and funding for many reasons, because giving people the option to get away from the Surveillance State is just for starters. And most importantly, these decentralized, P2P systems actually work! Nothing I’m talking about here resides in the realm of “dream land”.
For clarity, a lot of people theorize that Google has an open-door policy with various governments around the world, though some claim the evidence for this is scant. Maybe. But even if Google were not directly playing ball with governments and their agencies, they are doing nothing of substance to put an end to the Surveillance State. If anything, their various projects serve only to increase the Surveillance State, directly or indirectly. Recent incidents like the surveillance of a WikiLeaks journalist, done by Google and admitted to by Google, would not have been so thorough and easy if:
- Google didn’t exist.
- Our data infrastructure were decentralized.
- Google shutdown like Lavabit did when the government came knocking on its door asking for user private keys and emails.
That last point is the most important, immediately actionable answer. If Google REALLY cared about user privacy, it would shut down in a heartbeat once the government came knocking, much like Lavar Levinson did heroically with his company: Lavabit. But Google doesn’t care, whether it’s privacy-at-large, or privacy within their own company. And in fact, if one listens to recent episodes of “This Week in Google” (a podcast I listen to out of self-defense more than anything), you’ll hear the hosts say that they are glad that Google has finally effectively said that they are no longer going to worry about user privacy, and they are going to go full bore with what that allows for them to do as far as services they can provide. And maybe you see those privacy trade-offs as viable. You might even think it acceptable that Google hands over information to the governments of the world. If you do, you do.
But I don’t.
Now below I have put together various resources to further look into what I consider the “Problem that is Google”. Check them out at your own leisure, because this site isn’t going anywhere (even if Google removes it from their search, like they’ve done to my favorite torrent site: KickassTorrents). Many of these resources are what snapped me out of my one-time…well…what can only be described as “Google Fanboyism” (no really, I was a fanboy, big time).
When Google Met Wikileaks: This book (purchasable here) makes an excellent case that Google is just another part of the “Military Industrial Complex”. An interesting excerpt from the book titled, “Google Is Not What It Seems”, can be read here for free. This book is a must read for anyone interested in personal freedom, in my opinion.
How the CIA Made Google: Nafeez Ahmed’s tremendous series of articles are what really did me in as far as finally considering Google to actually “be evil”, discussing funding, origins, and designs for the ubiquitous company.
The Cloud Conspiracy: The late, great Caspar Bowden’s talk on how he–using heaps of evidence that was not classified–discovered that any “cloud services” company (including Google) that operates within the United States is required by law to have an open-door policy with the government. Bowden cleverly unearthed realities that would sadly only be given credence after the various “Snowden Revelations” confirmed what Bowden had laid out years before.
Google Not Being 100% Open-Source: While really none of the tech giants we normally think of are actually 100% open-source with their software (or even hardware), Google has been engaged in years of double-speak on this issue. While saying they actively support open-source, there have been multiple cases to date where they have clearly been against it. From differentiating Android development away from AOSP to where the two are practically different OS’, to automatically “updating” the open-source Chromium browser with closed-source binary blobs with “listening” capabilities (even though they backpedaled on this one eventually), the company talks the talk but clearly doesn’t walk the walk. And while I’m not trying to make the “FOSS purist” argument here (though I wouldn’t mind), the fact is you can’t really know something is secure and private if it’s closed-source. And elements of much of its various software (including Google Chrome and non-AOSP Android) are closed-source. So the only fact we do know is that we don’t really know that what Google is telling you is secure is actually secure across the board.
So there you have it. While it’s tough for any writing to be definitive, I have compiled all of this information–facts and opinions–to offer to everyone why I don’t trust Google, don’t want Google, and actively work towards others getting away from the company and its services as much as is possible for them personally. Alternatives to Google’s offerings can be found all over this site, but particularly on the Dark Android Project main page (that’s right, I don’t just complain, I actually provide solutions). There are many things I didn’t get into (the controversy over Chrome’s omnibar recording everything you type, conversations between former NSA-head Keith Alexander, the mass storage of WiFi passwords, etc.), but I hope you find this to be a solid statement on why I want Google out of my life.
Perhaps you want them out of your life now, too.