Tag Archives: google privacy

If it looks like a duck; ditching Google Search (again)

Let’s apply the duck-test to Google;

  1. They’re changing their privacy policy without offering users a true opt-out
  2. They severely limited access for Scroogle, the Google-scraper for privacy-nuts, to the point where it is effectively out of service (although apparently Google isn’t the only one to blame)
  3. They have been caught with their hands in your cookie jar, not only bypassing user’s cookie preferences in Safari but also in Internet Explorer

So if Google looks, swims and quacks like it doesn’t care about user privacy, it must be that it … doesn’t care about user privacy.

I on the other hand do care about my privacy, so I decided to put even less eggs in Google’s basket: I’ve switched my search-engine to startpage.com, which is operated by a Dutch company (i.e. one which has to comply with stricter European privacy laws) and which guarantees privacy while being powered by Google.

Startpage’s only downside: they are blocked by our company internet-filter because they provide proxy-services, so as an alternative I also use the less powerful DuckDuckGo (I changed keyword.url in Firefox’ about:config to “https://duckduckgo.com/?q=”). And a nice bonus; DuckDuckGo also has a nice Android-app, which I have installed to replace Google Search on my Sammy SII as well.

Enhanced privacy for embedded YouTube

While looking into the possibility to play embedded YouTube clips with html5’s video-element on this blog, I noticed Google added an ‘Enable privacy-enhanced mode‘ flag to the embed-options. This small tweak ensures that visitors who arrive on a page that has YouTube embedded, don’t immediately get tracking cookies stuffed down their throat. Unless they play the video or click through to youtube.com, that is.

Enabling the “enhanced privacy” option just changes the URL in the embed code from youtube.com to youtube-nocookie.com;

<object width="560" height="340"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/FuGJfVAgiTM&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/FuGJfVAgiTM&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="560" height="340"></embed></object>

The change has no impact whatsoever on the user experience, so I immediately tweaked the code of the Smart YouTube WordPress plugin on my server and I asked the developer to add the option to his plugin as well.

Yet another small step in the fight against Google’s omniscience!

Switching from Google Reader to Tiny Tiny RSS

Given the concerns about the enormous amount of data Google continuously collects about its users and because of the fact that their CEO seems to have a poor understanding of privacy (Schmidt stated “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”) and despite Google’s Jonathan Rosenberg recent manifesto on openness I decided to move some of my online activities away from the all-seeing eye of  Google. After switching to scroogle.org for normal search, I now found an alternative for Google Reader as well in Tiny Tiny RSS.

Tiny Tiny RSS (or “tt-rss” for short) is an open source web application written in PHP with a PostgreSQL or MySQL database. The webapp is AJAX-based, multi-user and is offline-enabled using Google Gears (you can check out a demo here). There’s also a mobile version, a (deprecated) XML-RPC API and a brand new experimental JSON-API, which I’m playing around with, using XUI to write a minimal mobile version of my own.

For those who are not able to install and configure tt-rss or who don’t want to burden their server with it, developer Andrew Dolgov put up a hosted version (thanks Andrew!) where currently 8 more users can register.

After having switched about a week ago, I find I barely miss Google Reader, although tt-rss still feels a little rough around the edges at times. The only real limitation is that shared items (‘published’ in tt-rss) off course aren’t automagically shared with your Google friends. I now automatically import my tt-rss published articles and manually share those every few days in Reader. Because I wouldn’t want to disappoint my Google friends, now would I?

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? :-)