Google Privacy Fail; Asa Dotzler is right

google_screamMozilla’s Asa Dotzler recently rocked the boat when telling readers to use Bing instead of Google because of a shortsighted statement on privacy by Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO. The discussion that followed Asa’s blogpost was interesting on occasion, but harsh and even rude at times.

While we’re all Google fanboys one way or the other and while the idea of switching from “Do no Evil Google” to “Monopolist-Micro$oft” can be a little bit unnerving, there is in my opinion reason to be concerned with Schmidts’ quote. My main problem is with this claim;

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

I don’t know about you, but to me Schmidt seems to imply that if I require privacy, that must mean that I have something to hide which is at least unpleasant and probably even outright illegal. If one accepts this premise, requiring (or enforcing, by means of encryption or anonymizers) privacy in itself is an indication of guilt?

Given that Google has too much data about me (being the avid Google-user I am) and given the flawed reasoning of Google’s CEO regarding respect for my privacy, I cannot but agree with Asa Dotzler. It is time to rethink my use of Google applications, although I’m not switching to Microsoft alternatives just yet. The general idea is simple: stop putting all my eggs in one basket, instead fragmenting my information across multiple independent organizations, hoping that privacy-breaching data-mining will be a bit less efficient that way.

scroogle: how it worksI’m still looking into alternatives for most Google web applications (Serge is right off course; “with microsoft it’s easy, you can switch to apple or linux – the problem with google is that their stuff just works“), but for search I’ve decided to switch to scroogle.org. Scroogle is a not-for-profit secure (as in https) cookie-less search that uses Google (the irony). The site is operated by Daniel Brandt, the almost anonymous weirdo who’s also behind google-watch and wikipedia-watch.

To make sure my Google-friendly browser doesn’t accidentally direct me to Google search, I changed the following things in Firefox:

  • On my “bookmarks toolbar” replace the Google bookmark with a Scroogle one
  • Add Scroogle SSL” from the Mycroft search engine plugin site and move it to the top of the “search engines” list
  • And finally to make sure searches from the “awesome bar” don’t direct me to Google either, in about:config I changed the value of “keyword.URL” into “https://ssl.scroogle.org/cgi-bin/nbbwssl.cgi?q=”

So what Google property should I replace next and more importantly, what with? Any suggestions? :-)

6 thoughts on “Google Privacy Fail; Asa Dotzler is right

  1. Philip Paeps

    You could just gate traffic to Google through tor. Make sure you’re not accidentally logged in with a “Google Account” that identifies you though. Also make sure you’re not accepting Google cookies which can be used to build up a profile of you.

    Also: try to think a bit more instead of going straight to Google. I find that working “disconnected” in a room with easy access to reference books and on a machine with local copies of manual pages and standards, is often significantly more productive than having a web browser open all the time.

    Reply
  2. frank Post author

    ah Philip, I was thinking about you while writing the above post :-)

    as I still use Gmail (although replacing that is on the table as well), I have to be logged into Google.

    Regarding working disconnected; you might have a point there, but if the problem at hand is ‘privacy while on the internet’ saying not to use the internet is a workaround, not a solution ;-)

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  3. Philip Paeps

    Well – if you’re allowing Google to read your email, you’re pretty much fucked, aren’t you? Even if you delete all the email they’ve already seen, you can’t make them “unsee” it. The statistical analysis has been done. You’re already part of the fabric.

    While it’s true that you need to be logged in to read your email, you don’t need to be logged in to search. You’re merely choosing to stay logged in for convenience reasons. Arguably, logging out would not make much of a difference either: they know it’s you based on your IP, and you’ve already given them a boatload of statistical data to further confirm that it’s you.

    I agree that “not using the internet” is not the solution. I also don’t dispute the fact that there is a wealth of information on the internet. If you care about privacy at all, you just need to be a bit more clever about getting at it.

    Your use pattern may differ, of course, but I find that most of my searches tend to be for data which can easily be stored offline in bulk: manuals, standards, datasheets. Clearly this data can be found once and stored indefinitely.

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  4. metasonix

    If you’re going to call Brandt a “weirdo”, you could at very least give a similar sobriquet to certain of the administrators at Wikipedia that he has had years-long disputes with. I GUARANTEE they are “weirdos”.

    Reply
    1. frank Post author

      That might be the case Eric, but that would very much be out of the scope of the blogpost I mentioned Daniël Brandt because he’s the man behind Scroogle as an anonymous entry to Google, not because of his involvement with various other projects (concerning Wikipedia amongst others).

      Reply

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