Opinion » Cybernaut

Quitting Google?



Google is a very busy company these day, between launching a gigabit speed internet network, cornering the market on web search and cell phone operating systems, mapping the planet, launching a subscription music service, providing free email and productivity software to the masses, various diversions into Chromebook laptops and other hardware like Google Nexus phone and the somewhat maligned Google Glass, building a quantum computer to study artificial intelligence, engineering self-driving cars, building up their Google+ social network, pushing a new compressed video standard that shrinks videos format in half, upgrading their web browser and operating system, and generally managing a rapidly expanding company that saw its share value break the $900 mark for the first time in company history last week.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, a partial list of all the things that Google is up to. There's never been a company like Google with so many fingers in so many pies, so ready to take chances and invest in research and development. While it's exciting in a lot of ways, the truth is that Google's growth is also creeping some people out.

While Google looks to find more and better ways to provide services to people, some people are actively shunning the company over a variety of concerns — including how much information Google really keeps on the people that use its services, the language in various privacy/user agreements and all the ways people have come to trust their valued information to a company that's famous for dropping things (Google Reader, Google Wave, Google Nexus, Google TV hardware and soon, I hope, Google Glass).

It's not just tinfoil hat-wearing wingnuts either. Some of the people to write about why they left Google recently include former employees concerned with the direction of the company, or by decisions made to abandon projects. There's even a website called Leave Google Behind (www.leavegooglebehind.com) that explains a lot of the reasons for switching to other services. A short list of those reasons includes:

• Privacy — Google tracks everything and uses that information to direct searches and generate personalized ads. That's a lot of information when you consider that it includes personal documents and photos with GPS information, map data, internet searches, emails, your browsing history (Google AdSense), the contents of your computer (Google Desktop), where you work, what you're watching on YouTube, what television shows/networks you watch (Google TV) what products you're searching for, your financial data (Google Wallet) and more. They're also not shy about using that information. See if you can read this quote from former CEO Eric Schmidt without shuddering:

"Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it... we don't need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about."

• Monopoly — Some people like myself have a natural aversion to monopolies, to the point where I'd gladly pay $2 more for a book at our small, independent local book store than order online from Amazon. And there's no question that Google is actively working to create monopolies in a wide range of fields, from the dissemination of online news to the Android operating system on smart phones. They'll eventually dominate every field of technology at this rate for the simple reason that they offer one platform for everything.

• Security — While Google has actually been pretty good at securing cloud data and their operating environment, some malware has crept into their Google Play app store that allows hackers to take over Android smart phones. That's not to say that Google is any worse than any of the other tech companies out there, but they've had issue with their browser, app store, Chromebooks and other technologies.

I'm not personally recommending that people ditch Google, but it's not a bad idea to be aware of all the other options out there. Some are better and most are more private, than what Google is currently offering.

For example, I recently started searching for flights and deals to Mexico and, surprise, surprise, all of the ads on web pages for the next while were advertising flights and trips to Mexico. And if you search on one website you might see the price go up between visits because they know you're interested and they know exactly when you plan to travel.

To stay one step ahead I've started to do all my online shopping in Incognito/Private mode, and I've also started using search engines like Ixquick and DuckDuckGo that don't track any information. I get better, unpolluted, non-optimized search results that way.

I do use Gmail sometimes, but quite honestly the new Outlook (formerly Hotmail) is a much better, cleaner system and it integrates well with my calendar, contacts and SkyDrive cloud service. I also use online versions of office rather than Google Docs.

Google wants nothing more than to be everything to everyone. While they're doing a great job so far, if you're getting a "One Ring to Rule them All" vibe, then don't feel bad about pulling back. By the sounds of it, you'll be in good company.


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