Even if you don’t use Google, the Menlo Park data giant still has you and some of your most deeply personal information deep in its servers. Gizmodo’s Kashmir Hill took on a “monumental challenge,” according to the latest from Forbes, of not merely giving up Google’s many services, but actively blocking all communication with every single one of Google’s services on all her devices.
In other words, Hill didn’t just stop using Google Search, YouTube, Gmail, Waze, etc., she got “the help of a Motorola engineer who designed a custom VPN (virtual private network) that restricted all of her devices — laptops, phones, smart speakers, everything — from talking to Google servers.”
The result? It pretty much broke her access to the internet.
Jason Evangelho reports what happens when your smartphone, computer laptop, and tablet are denied access to “Google’s 8,699,648 (!) IP addresses,” and the results weren’t pretty:
1. When trying to get across town for a meeting, Hill discovered that her Uber and Lyft apps were essentially useless. That’s because they rely on Google Maps.
2. Hill was unable to stream her favorite on songs on Spotify. Yep. Spotify hosts all its music on the Google Cloud.
3. Attempting to simply browse the web created flashbacks of the internet in the 90’s. “On Airbnb, photos won’t load,” Hill says. “New York Times articles won’t appear until the site has tried (and failed) to load Google Analytics, Google Pay, Google News, Google ads, and a Doubleclick tracker.” Many of the sites she visited were also dependent on Google Fonts. . .
4. When trying to share video journals to her colleagues at Gizmodo, Dropbox refused to let her log in because the service uses an invisible CAPTCHA — hosted by Google — to verify that real humans are trying to access it.
And those were just the obvious results. Behind the scenes, Hill’s specialty VPN blocked her devices from trying to ping Google’s servers more than 15,000 times — in just the first few hours. After a week, it had stopped more than 100,000 attempts to share data with Google. And to repeat, this is after Hill had stopped using any of Google’s apps or services. The company has its tendrils all throughout the internet.
As Hill describes the process in her report to Gizmodo:
I migrate my browser bookmarks over to Firefox (made by Mozilla).
I change the default search engine on Firefox and my iPhone from Google—a privilege for which Google reportedly pays Apple up to $9 billion per year—to privacy-respecting DuckDuckGo, a search engine that also makes money off ads but doesn’t keep track of users’ searches.
I download Apple Maps and the Mapquest app to my phone…
I switch to Apple’s calendar app.
I create new email addresses on Protonmail and Riseup.net (for work and personal email, respectively) and direct people to them via autoreplies in Gmail.
Hill did literally everything an internet-connected human being can do to disconnect themselves from Google. But you don’t have to be a Google customer in order to have the company garner 100,000 little bits of data about you every single week. Or as Hill herself says, “Google, like Amazon, is woven deeply into the infrastructure of online services and other companies’ offerings, which is frustrating to all the connected devices in my house.”
The fact is, you aren’t Google’s customer: You and your data are Google’s product, served up on an electronic platter to advertisers and God-Only-Knows-Who-Else… even if, like me, you’ve boycotted all of the company’s little data-sniffing products.
As a libertarian, I have philosophical issues with the whole idea of antitrust. But when a company grows so big and so pervasive that you can’t avoid becoming its tool — even when going to the extreme lengths Hill went through — then I can draw only one conclusion, expressed in three words.
Break. Them. Up.