30 Months on a Week Without Google

Small things can have large consequences! In December of 2009, as he snapped a picture of my with his newly acquired Google phone, James Governor casually challenged me to take a week off from using Google’s products. It seemed silly to miss a rare opportunity to beat James in a challenge, so I thought I’d give it a try. “How hard can this be?” I thought. And so, my week without Google started.

Little did I know, 30 months on, that I’d be on various news sites around the globe, the subject of a BBC news article and be interview on drive time radio shows as far afield as Australia. Welcome to The Internet, as they say.

At first it was difficult going without Google, then it became really hard. And that was back in 2009, when Internet Explorer had 70% market share, Chrome was a twinkle in Google’s tummy, Android tablets didn’t exist, and a Google phone was a novelty. Fast forward 30 months, and the Chrome web browser has 35% market share, my local O2 store is packed floor-to-ceiling with Android handsets and tablets, and Google+ is finding a user based beyond just Google staffers.

Interestingly, the Safari web browser issue that discovered during my week without Google has lead to a reported $22 million settlement with the FTC. And, in the 30 months since, Google has combined 70 different privacy policies down to one (for better or for worse).

As I originally said, I have no beef with Google at all – I think they do some amazing things, and provide some brilliant services that I am fantastically thankful for. Yes, Google have made some snafus in the UK, but they also make it fantastically easy to see at least most of the data that they collect about you, and you can even get a copy of it. That’s pretty cool. Hello Apple, are you listening?

“If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” blue_beetle

SXSW Attendee – complete with Tiny Foil Hat and sleep deprivation

Now, I’m not advocating running around with a tin foil hat on, but I am advocating being smart about what you do on-line. Here in The UK, the government is trying to help, but the recent cookie law does almost nothing to help with transparency and privacy, and has done everything to make some of the things I do at work an utter pain and ruin my Internet experience (although it’s not quite as challenging as life 2.0).

Tony Benn once posited this set of questions for anyone living in a democracy:

“If you meet a powerful person–ask them five questions: 

  • What power have you got?
  • Where did you get it from?
  • In whose interests do you exercise it?
  • To whom are you accountable?
  • And how can we get rid of you?

If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.”

I think there is a similar test for on-line services. Before you click that connect button, or agree to terms and services, ask these five questions of the site owner:

  • What data are you collecting about me?
  • Where do you collect that data from?
  • Who benefits from the data you hold?
  • Who is your business accountable to?
  • How do I get you to remove all data about me?


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