Hiding from Google
First, you may be wondering, WHY hide from Google. The answer is that perhaps you don’t want one entity to know all about you, your friends, and your internet activities. But, there are many people that WANT to be found by their name and activities; they don’t mind that old relationships, strangers, or advertisers know about their personal lives. If you are one of those, this article isn’t for you — go back to Twittering about your MySpace page on your Android phone.
Good, now that the Google fanboys are out of the room, let’s talk. Data; yours, mine, and everyone else’s, is slowly “moving to the clouds”. More and more companies are using cloud-based applications, like Google Docs, instead of their desktop version, Microsoft Windows. As Google Europe boss, John Herlihy, said: “In three years desktops will be irrelevant” . Even Steve Ballmer, head of Microsoft has said that cloud computing is a $3.3 trillion industry, something he’s betting his company on. Once your data is in the hands of someone else, how much real control do you have with it? As Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt has said in regards to Google and privacy concerns, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” .
It used to be easier to hide from Google. You could simply stop using their search engine.
Google Search Engine: everyone knows and loves this. AVOID. Try Scroogle.org for proxy searches, or use Bing or Yahoo.
Gizmodo has a good article on how to quit using Google products (such as Buzz, Gmail, Docs, etc.) — but that is only the start.
Google has invested in some very clever ways to make itself part of your everyday experience, even if you don’t realize it. This isn’t to say that Google is all evil or all good. What they do with the huge amounts of data they have isn’t entirely clear to those outside the company. They do, however, make a huge portion of their profits from targeted advertising. If you value your privacy and don’t want Google to have access to it, you’ll need to consider these other, more hidden, Google products:
Google’s advertising is sophisticated enough to detect cheaters (site owners clicking their own links for example), so, they have a good handle on who is visiting which sites, along with the content that should be in those ads for those sites.
Web Analytics: Google provides a free, robust web statistics reporting for any web site owner. Once they install that Google Analytics code, all site traffic information heads back to Google. Information in the reports include; visitor IP address, web browser type, country, how long on the site, pages visited, and much more.
These first two can pretty easily be eliminated by adding in some host file changes. Most computer use a host file to do lookups of domain names. For example, if you make a request to “www.hawaiiwebconsulting.com” your computer will first check your host file, then check with your DNS server. By editing that host file, you can tell your computer to basically ignore any request to certain domains — in other words, it doesn’t go to get the code on those Google Adwords or Analytics sites. There are several ways to do this:
Windows users can download and install BlueTack’s excellent (though a bit too agressive) HostManager. This program will download bad hosts and let you add them easily to your host file.
Or you can simply edit the host file yourself. Google it! 😉
Here’s what you’ll need to include:
With those inserted into your operating system’s hosts, any request to get the codes from Google, will be ignored. If you want to drop those requests to all the computers in your home, you could use OpenDNS and add those hosts into the “block” settings. OpenDNS is a great product, easy to use, and can be set up for free.
Host blocking is great for a computer that YOU can control, but doesn’t work for Internet cafes, hotels, (non-jailbroken) iPhones, etc. — you are using someone else’s network and system. Best bet: limit the number of requests on those open-systems.
Custom Searches on other sites: Google offers sites the ability to add their excellent search engine into any web site.
RSS Feeds: Google purchased Feedburner a while back, which means that if you want to repackage your RSS feed, or consolidate it with other metrics and advertising, Google knows all about the traffic to your feeds. For many people, RSS feeds are THE way to stay up to date with a large number of websites. Google therefore knows the statistics about who is clicking on which of those many Feedburner feeds.
This can be eliminated by not following RSS feeds which use Feedburner or Google Reader. But, that might eliminate some of the ones you really want to subscribe to. In that case, something like Notify.me can be used as a proxy.
Gmail: They have a great mail system; fast, reliable, and customizable. People can use it for their entire domain, so you aren’t really sure who is using Gmail and who isn’t. Entire universities are using Gmail as their email service provider. If your mail goes to Gmail, Google will have access to it.
Best to avoid. Be aware of what recipients are using for mail service. Try encrypting your email where possible (PGP, Hushmail). Try your ISP email, or email through Yahoo, Hotmail, or others.
Chrome Browser: this is a very nice, fast browser that Google has created. Does it report back to Google? If you leave the default settings ON, yes, it will send information back to Google about aspects of your browsing experience.
Best to avoid. Try Firefox with Adblock Plus, TACO, and Ghostery add-ons.
Google Earth/Maps: beautiful way to learn more about your planet and surroundings.
Best to avoid. Try Microsoft’s Bing for maps.
Chrome OS: new idea from Google to have people’s entire Operating System running off a Google product.
Wow. It sounds very cool, as almost all their products do. Why use it though?!
Google DNS: By controlling DNS, you can control where people go when they resolve that domain name. By controlling your DNS lookups, they know what sites you are browsing to. If they control DNS, they can also prevent you from blocking some addresses (or redirecting it to another location). OpenDNS won’t let you block their advertising-system domain, for example.
Twitter: Google bought the right to search those tweets.
Try using a fake persona, don’t do Geo-location.
Picasa: excellent free app to organize your photos and videos on Windows. Now in beta on Mac.
Best to avoid, at least Picasa Web Albums. Try ACDSEE or other media organizers on Windows, and iPhoto on Mac. Flickr works great, as does good old email for sharing.
Picnik: Yep, Google just bought that company. One of my favorites for online web editing of images.
Best bet: don’t upload anything you don’t want Google to know about. Try Adobe’s free photoshop.com instead.
Your own website: so, how do you have a SUCCESSFUL site without Google? Google does comb domain registrations for sites (SEO sites have known this for years – see mattcutts.com for more), so if you register with your own name, they will most likely know it. Your name on the site is kind of a given that Google knows it. Avoid putting your email address on your site (unless you like spam). Limit what personal information you put on the site. You want to have Google send you visitors, unless it is a personal site. If so, block access to the site for GoogleBots using robots.txt (User-agent: * Disallow: /)and metadata tags (< META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW” >).
Ads on your site: well, since Google seems to be hellbent on buying up advertising companies, you’re options have shrunk. But there are other ways to support your site than putting junky ads on it. If it’s so great, perhaps people would be willing to donate or get a subscription to it. Avoid Google Ads.
So, there you have it. A lot of other fragmented sites you can use to keep your entire “you” out of the hands of just one company. Sure your friends and family may ignore it, sharing their most intimate details about you on Facebook or Buzz, but, you’ll still have a shred of control over some of it. Maybe. For now…
[Disclaimer: I started this article a while ago since I was amazed at how many websites use Google products, and how many people think nothing of sharing everything with the company. I don’t love or hate Google. They make some great products that are very hard to resist. Their rather unsophisticated release of Buzz didn’t help lessen concerns about Google’s policies toward privacy. I didn’t want to sound like a tin-hat loony but just alert those who might be interested to how deeply their actions *could* be tracked by Google.]