Experiment timeframe: December 2018 - December 2019

Google. Do I need it?

Until last year, I’ve always been a very loyal consumer of Google products such as Translate, Gmail, Drive, Calendar, Keep, Hangouts, Google+ and Android under the belief that it is a fair exchange of privacy for convenience. Or is it?

Motivation

Google has great power over all of us. Why? because:

  1. they collect massive amount of data on all their users through their products
  2. they own the biggest shares in two key markets on the internet: Search and Ads

At work, I have also been using other Google products that target businesses such as Analytics, AdWords and GSuite for a few years now.

Before I moved to Germany mid 2015, I had just a bunch of theoretical concerns on data privacy and digital monopoly in the internet age and their seemingly destructive effect both on consumer behavior in free markets and on the public opinion.

It took a couple of months after living and working in Berlin to witness many of those effects in real life. I then started closing many accounts on online services that capitalized directly on my data to influence my buying decisions or my view of the world for their localized profits.

It was quite easy to stop using most of the services and platforms I used to use when their terms of service were either vague or explicit regarding their collection of user data. It didn’t take so long to realize that especially big products that monopolized their markets such as Facebook and Linkedin were also a bad deal on a much simpler level. I did not need to even think about their data collection effects at all, but only about how the amount of time and effort invested was tremendously higher than the value they returned to me.

I did not lose friends nor I missed any important news about my close friends after I stopped using Facebook. Rather I won back lots of hours I put into Facebook to spend it with my friends.

Same way, I did not get less desirable to companies nor I got rejected by any company when I sent them my online CV that I host and keep up-to-date instead of sending them my Linkedin. All that I lost, for better, were those annoying recuiters’ messages and terrible marketing posts by ego-centric founders and C-level weirdos.

That got me questioning again my deal with Google, and the assumed fair trade of privacy-for-convenience I do with their products. Is the convenience Google products provide really worth the level of privacy breach I allow them into my life, and the degree of dependency I create on their products across devices and across personal and work accounts?

“Do I need it?” one by one

On it’s face, it seems almost impossible to quantitavely measure the degree of which digital monopolists with their algorithms and business models influence people and markets. I do not intend to include that in any of my experiments.

Rather, I allow the assumption that there is a fair amount of undesirable effects on me personally to be temporarily true, then I take the second part of the deal a little beyond convenience and ask myself: “Do I need it?”. That question is what this experiment is about regarding Google products.

This quesition in Google case is orders of magnitude harder to answer compared to other platforms like Facebook or Linkedin. Google has many products. Is each of them a bad deal? If not, which ones?

Leaving all Google products at once as an experiment simply won’t work as it is guaranteed it will cause a lot of damange. And even if that damage was accepted, it won’t be obvious which damange caused by dropping which product.

The next obvious way to apprach it is to go about it one by one, starting from the ones that seem to collect the most data for the least amount of convenience.

The alternatives I am using or will use may not have better privacy policies than Google products do. At the end, the only proper privacy solution is an offline one, or equivalent.

However, I try to choose alternatives that are not monopolizing on retargetting me with data they collect, or when they have a clear business model in which I pay a subscription fee or purchase value.

Checklist
  • Google Authenticator (for 2FA)

    I stopped using 2FA, and if I really have to I use SMS only

  • Google Calendar

    I'm using Time Tree app for personal calendars

  • Google Translate

    I use DeepL

  • Gmail

    I'm using Protonmail

  • Google Photos

  • Google Search

  • Google Keep

  • Google Drive

  • Google Docs/Sheets/Slides

  • Google Contacts

  • Google Hangouts

  • Google Maps