I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but today I became keenly aware of the fact that by staying proactive and consistent, I’ve pretty much cut almost all major and involuntary Internet tracking out of my life.
Of course, this had been something I had thought about for ages. I thought dramatically cutting Google out of my life by destroying my Gmail account and dropping Chrome would suddenly free me from the web of corporate tracking that then gets bought by government (and thus becomes government tracking.) Somewhere I am sure there is a blog post out there (actually, it may be here early on this site) where I was quite proud of myself for quitting Gmail. Of course, this neglected the fact that I couldn’t search effectively, that if I ever got an Android phone it would probably require a Google account for use of its services, that my cloud storage would suddenly become harder to use, and much more. Sure enough, one of the first things I installed on my tablet was… Google Chrome.
And that’s not even touching Facebook and Twitter.
Times have changed, and the segmentation of services have changed with them. But the biggest change– easily the biggest one and the one that cascaded into noticing the others, was changing the search box. And it wasn’t until DuckDuckGo began covering the suite of services that I had grown used to with Google that slowly the behemoth’s shadow started to recede from my life.
Consider Google Maps. That’s a tasty little piece of trackable data, isn’t it? Where are you going to the doctor? What are you considering for dinner tonight? Did you feel like going to a movie? These are things that can be inferred from simple map searches. And yet Google Maps is central to the Google ecosystem. Some could argue– I would, as a veteran searcher– that maps are almost as important as search. Yet as DuckDuckGo began to make use of interfaces that took advantage of OpenStreetMap, slowly I saw no need to go to Google Maps.
I watched as the weather– something anyone who knows me knows I type directly into a search engine with zip code– went from non-existent (links) to marginally correct (100 miles away) to completely correct (my neighborhood.) Little things, like what time it is, are things that I used to type into Google. Not anymore.
It was here that things started to come crashing down, and yet I was unaware of it. By now I had already had a couple of years with a full-featured email that came from a company using a non-tracking and data collection model (they use a paid SaaS model instead) and it was serving my purposes well. Once I changed my search to DuckDuckGo (something that Firefox for a time was actually suggesting) and saw that many of the features I needed from Google were already there in a non-trackable model, I was already a good ways down towards being tracked only when I chose to be.
Meanwhile Facebook had made a desktop version of their Messenger app, making my time of FB more a voluntary than a compulsive thing, and Twitter began to eat itself with censorship, leading to me moving at least more of my social time to user-supported Gab. Sure, I have close family I keep in touch with on Facebook. Thanks to the much easier Messenger app, however, I don’t need to deal with all of Facebook to talk to them.
Using the Brave browser finished the job. (Firefox is a decent browser, and if you keep adding cool stuff to it, it will work great on a modern computer. And last year it introduced a voluntary tracking feature. But I like the idea of Brave, and I like the fact that it runs on Webkit.) Using Brave and DuckDuckGo together suddenly put me in a place where if I was going to Facebook or Twitter, I knew the deal, and a lot more advertising I couldn’t control was there. But that’s part of the bargain of social media: how much advertisers know about you should be up to you, and you should be aware of that by now in the first place.
It took three years, and now I look at new and different ways to explore, communicate, and get a message out when needed on the web. It’s always been a big place, and it’s easy to forget once we get used to our corporate-run walled gardens. But somewhere along the way, I remembered there was more to the Internet than that generously given us by Google, Facebook and Twitter, and in getting that back, I finally achieved (at least mostly) the goal of approaching the big corporations that wanted my information for their consumption on my terms. No, I won’t be tracked without permission. Yes, I will read the terms and conditions. And most importantly, if you want to sell me something, you aren’t getting a free peek through my life to make it easier to do your job.
After all, that’s what sales is for.
Postscript: But what about Google Docs?