DogHouseDiaries on social media’s simmering privacy policies

Social Media is an important way to interact with friends and colleagues, and in many cases, with colleagues, customers and suppliers. It can be a powerful tool, but it can also be an incredible productivity sinkhole.

It is also a fact that many of the major social media services have progressively and slowly evolved (eroded) their terms of service to decrease privacy.

Today’s DogHouseDiaries comic beautifully expresses this.

Personally I minimise my time on social networks, sticking mainly to Twitter and LinkedIn. I use Google+ and Facebook selectively, and then only in dedicated (read: sandboxed) apps, or in a browser that I only use for these sites. I don’t access Google or Facebook from my main browser.

The De-Google-fying of my online life…

My Retreat from Google

A few weeks back I posted about my Return to Google following my move away from it in 2012. I have been growing increasingly wary of Google’s creepiness, especially relating to its free offerings and the fact that it is collecting enormous amounts of data which it uses to filter search results, and to sell to advertisers.

At the time, I had decided that I was perhaps overdoing things a little, so decided to allow Google back into my life in some areas, while spreading out my data. And using paid Google services where possible. Just 4 days later, Google announced the closure of Google Reader, along with discontinuation of several other services/products. I, like many users, was disappointed with this.

Inspired at least in part by Ben Brooks’ post You Can’t Quit, I Dare You, written in response to Marco Armant’s post Your favorite Thursday sandwich, I have taken on the challenge of De-Google-fying my online life to as a great an extent as is feasible. Marco made the provocative statement:

Want to really stick it to them? Stop using Google. All of it. Search, Gmail, Maps, the works. Delete your account and start using Bing. Ready?

Yeah. That’s the problem. You won’t. I won’t. Nobody will.

Now I would have to agree that it is virtually impossible to completely remove Google from your life, because they are ubiquotous and deeply embedded into so much of the online culture. But I think it is important that we pay careful attention to where we store our data, and what information we give freely (perhaps in return for a free service) to any single company or organisation.

For me, that means that I am de-Google-fying[1] to a large extent. Here’s where I am at so far:

Search


My preference is to use DuckDuckGo wherever possible due to its well regarded privacy policy. I have made it my default search in both Safari and Firefox. Firefox makes it easy to do so, by way of an extension. With Safari I had to edit the hosts file to make DuckDuckGo the default search engine.

My iOS devices now use Bing as the default engine. I have also installed and use a DuckDuckGo action for Drafts, and use the DuckDuckGo app for iOS.

Email

All of my email (from multiple domains) redirects into my Fastmail account – a paid service. As my Google Apps subsriptions expire, I will direct the domains directly into Fastmail, and bypass Google altogether. I no longer use Google for a front end. I also use the CloudPull app to grab all my historical data down from Google.

I am using Airmail as my front end email client on OSX, and the native iOS Mail app.

Calendars and Contacts

All have moved back to iCloud. I look forward to full 2 factor security for all iCloud data, along with all other Apple ID related services.

Documents

I wasn’t a huge user of Google Docs, at least in recent times, and instead use Dropbox and, to a lesser extent, iCloud. CloudPull has ensured that I have my historic documents.

RSS Reader

I have moved back to my own Fever installation. I had been using Fever for a while, but moved back to Google Reader due to the limited number of front end apps for Fever, particularly on OSX and for iPad. I am using the excellent Reeder app which supports Fever on iPhone[2], and I am using the browser interface on OSX and iPad for now. Rumour has it that Ashes app is being rebuilt to support Fever on all iOS devices[3].

RSS Feed Redirection

I have moved all of my website RSS feeds away from Feedburner to Maxime Valette’s uri.lv service. I’ve taken on a Premium account for the additional services, and so that I can support the developer.

Maps

Another easy one for me, at least on my iDevices. I’ve gone back to Apple Maps. They’ve improved in many areas, and it’s up to users to keep using and providing feedback so they continue to improve. I don’t use maps on desktop that much, and will probably use Google for that wherever needed. I’ll reconsier if and when Apple comes out with a true alternative.

Google Earth

I love this app, and do use it some of my training activities. I’ll probably keep using it. As a standalone app, it’s not really that connected to the big picture view of the data stream coming in.

Social Networking

I am not a big fan of Google+. In some respects G+ represents the essence of the so-called creepiness factor about Google. My social networks of choice are App.net and Twitter, and I rarely use Facebook or Google+, although I do have accounts.

G+ has some fantastic photo sharing capabilities, and some wonderful groups for photographers. With that said, Flickr is still my preferred photo sharing site.

The thing I do like about G+ is the hangouts. So I keep it around mostly just for that.

Youtube

I surf Youtube. I have a paid Vimeo account for hosting and sharing my own videos.

Browsers

I use Safari and Firefox as my browsers of choice. Neither are logged into any Google account. I use Chrome exclusively for Google, Google+ and Youtube.

Authenticator

Google provides an excellent app called Google Autheticator, which allows you to establish and access 2 factor passwords for a variety of services. At this time, I haven’t found an alternative that I feel comfortable switching to. Since I don’t have to logon to a Google account to use the app, it’s a standalone island on my iPhone. So I am not uncomfortable using it, as I don’t believe Google to be likely to gather or maliciously use this data.

AdSense

Played around with this some time back on a couple of my sites. I’d rather do selected, targeted promotions of offerings I like and use through referal programs and/or sponsorships.

Analytics

My sites are on Squarespace or are self-hosted WordPress sites. I get all the analytics I need from the built in Squarespace tools or the Jetpack analytics on WP.

AdWords

I have used these on occasion for my Karate Dojo in Sydney and my scuba instructor training courses. I probably will again.

Conclusion

It’s still early days, but I have already moved substantially away from Google. I feel comfortable that my data is more distributed, largely amongst service providers who are committed to providing quality products, at a fair price and with an appropriate level of security/privacy.

I am not trying to “stick it to” Google. For many years I was a major Google advocate, and in fact encouraged others to adopt Google services. I don’t regret this – it was the right choice at the time. But times, people and organisations change. They continue to do a lot of good things, but some fundamentals have changed, causing me to reconsider my own stance.

Gabe Weatherhead expressed his reasons for his move away from Google beautifully in his post Getting Off the Google Juide:

Why go to this effort? Is this a conspiracy? No. Google is just being true to their mission: provide ever increasing information to advertisers so as to increase adverting revenue. I just don’t feel like being part of that. I’d rather pay for anonymity and data privacy. Google has not earned my trust and Apple, DuckDuckGo and Wolfram have.

I am simply (and similarly) taking ownership of my own data and online identity. In so doing, I want to to support providers who support users, and who have “earned my trust”. I hope others will consider these factors and make appropriate decisions. For those that choose free products, from Google or any company, I would encourage them to consider the true price of free.

I’d be interested to hear your views – are you de-Google-fying? To what extent? What apps/services have you adopted to replace Google services? Let me know in the comments.


  1. I am not trying to create a new word using a Google trademark. I’ll leave that to the Swedes

RSS Feed for this site

With the move by Google to discontinue Google Reader (the “GReadier Debacle”), I am moving any mission critical, non-paid services away from Google.

As part of that, the Feedburner feed for this site is no longer going to be the default feed, and at some point it is likely to be discontinued.

Although it will continue to operate for existing users until that time, can I suggest you unsubscribe and resubscribe to the RSS feed for Des Paroz On-The-Go, which is at www.desparoz.com/feed/.

Wishful thinking with the Dropbox-Mailbox merger

Perhaps its wishful thinking, but I wonder if I am alone in hoping that following the acquisition of Mailbox by Dropbox, perhaps Dropbox will launch email hosting as part of its suite of offerings[^1] .

I love Dropbox – it’s a vital tool in my personal file management, and I am proud to have been a paid customer for several years. I have implemented many features – shared folders (I have many of them), 2 factor authentication (one of my must-have features in an online service) and integration to a variety of iOS and OSX apps.

I must admit, one of the things I like about Dropbox is the fact that I am customer. Being a paid service, Dropbox benefits out of maintaining my business, which means providing me with a stable product that best meets my needs, and not using me and data they glean about me, to sell advertising (or sell to advertisers).

I’ve been enjoying using Mailbox on my iPhone, and it provides me with some features that are great – easy ability to clear my inbox down to what’s important, then make it zero by clearing those things out. It also has a way of making things come back later, perhaps when I am in a better place to deal with them.

But there are one or two things that bugs me – Mailbox is effectively an extra point of failure between me and my mail. If their servers are down, I can’t get my mail through the app – although at least I can get the mail through normal Gmail means. It also relies on Gmail, and like many people I am nervous about relying on gmail following the GReadier debacle. It’s also a free app, so I’m nervous about trusting it – but at least I have workarounds.

If Dropbox were to build a new email system from ground up, and use the front end features of Mailbox as a guide to the “UX” (user experience), this could make for interesting days. I’d love to see it as a paid service, part of the Dropbox Pro offering. Obviously the ability to map your own domain would be a necessity, but could be for a further premium.

This may be speculative and wishful, but it makes more and more sense as I think about it. I would move off Google Apps in a heartbeat if there was another offering that was similarly feature rich, but without the creepiness factor.

Google announces closure of Reader service

In the week that I discussed moving back to Google for some of my usage, including RSS feeds, Google has announced that it is killing Google Reader.

We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.

I like the way Google snuck this announcement in as the fifth bullet point on a post about spring cleaning aimed primarily at developers.

As Brett Terpstra said in a post on App.net:

“Usage of Google Reader has declined” = tons of people using it for sync, but we can’t put ads in that

Google Reader was free to we users, meaning we were the product, not the customer. Brett is spot on – if the majority of users access through apps where Google can’t control advertising, then the service isn’t viable.

It’s one reason why I initially moved to Shaun Inman’s Fever – having a self hosted, paid platform meant that I was the customer, and that the provider would not be in a position to simply shut up shop and go away.

I moved back to Google Reader solely because apps like Reeder and Mr Reader don’t support other RSS reader platforms, like Fever 1. I wanted more than a browser interface, particularly on iPad.

So, we’ve got a bit over 3 months for the developers of Reeder and Mr Reader to support other RSS platforms. I hope that Fever is first among them. I will move back as soon as there is a good iPad app – which I fully expect will happen in that time.

I also wonder whether the App.net social media platform will have a foundation upon which developers can build an alternative RSS service.


  1. I realise that Reeder 3.0 for iPhone does support Fever. I moved back to Google Reader because I need iPad and OSX support for it as well. Browser based access was ok, but not powerful enough for my usage. 

My return to Google

In June of last year (2012) I posted about how I was concerned about how Google was becoming “creepy”. At that time, I decided that I didn’t want any one company to have all my data. This would prevent Google (or anyone other company) having a complete picture of me, and also it would mean I wouldn’t be too exposed if any one company was to go away.

I was also concerned that as a user of Google’s services, I was more of a product than a customer. This may be the case for the free versions of those services, but as a paid Google Apps user, I may have over-thought this a little!

To achieve my move away from Google, I moved my email, calendar and address book to iCloud, and I moved my RSS feeds to a self hosted Fever installation. I also started playing around with alternative search engines, including DuckDuckGo and Bing. I thought’d it be interesting to check in with how that process has gone.

Let’s start with search. I found DuckDuckGo and Bing to both be excellent – I was particularly surprised by Bing, which I didn’t think would hold much chop. At this time, Bing is my default search engine on my iPhone, while Google plays that role on my iPad. It’s not possible to make DuckDuckGo the default search engine in iOS, but I do use the app, and have made it the default on my MacBook. All are good, but in general I do tend to find that Google continues to excel in giving accurate, fast and relevant search results. I’d say 70%-plus of my search goes to Google.

As for RSS, I continued to happily use Fever for sometime, but the lack of choices for quality apps, particularly on iPad and OSX continued to grind. Navigating the web interface on iPad was bearable, but clunky. Reeder for iPhone was and is an excellent choice, but interestingly Reeder for iPad and OSX has yet to be updated to include Fever support. In the meantime, other apps were released to support Google Reader, but none have Fever support.

Notably, MrReader became more and more recommended by many power users, and my curiosity grew. In particular, it’s support for URL schemes made it compelling. So around New Years, I made the call to switch back. It was nothing to do with the excellent Fever platform, but with the lack of quality front end app support. I may well switch back if app support for Fever takes off. 1

The most recent switch back has been to move all my email, contacts and calendar back to my paid Google Apps account. There were three things that gradually became show-stoppers for me with respect to Apple’s iCloud:

  1. The lack of ability to host your own domain with iCloud. I don’t want a me.com or icloud.com email address when I have my own domain. I want my contacts and calendar fully integrated with my email, so they all travelled together.
  2. iCloud calendar sharing outside iCloud is difficult, at best. I want to share calendars with colleagues easily. Google App’s systems are generally more open.
  3. Security. I am of the opinion that any online site which I use for storage of personal, sensitive, business-in-confidence or confidential information needs to have more than simple password security. A minimum of 2-factor security is my requirement, especially since the security attack on Evernote.

I know that there are other options for hosting my online world, but with a paid Google Apps account with 2-factor security enabled, I believe this is the best option for me, going forward.

As for my documents, these are for the most part in Dropbox. I have a small number of files in iCloud’s Documents in the Cloud service. These are a small number of iWork and specialised documents for which I really appreciate the fast and seamless syncing. But since most of my writing is in plain text using several different apps for iOS, OSX and the web, these best live in Dropbox. I am not considering using Google Drive for these.

Any choice of services utilised is a fine balancing act, considering a range of factors, including security, open-ness and functionality. At this point in time, Google offers the best options in the email, calendar, contacts and RSS for me. I also consider Google the primary option for most search requirements.


  1. Update on 2013-03-14: Google announced the closure of Google Reader, effective 1 July 2013. I will definitely be moving back to Fever between now and then, probably as soon as either Reeder or Mr Reader supports Fever on iPad. 

Google Maps for iOS Review: Good but sent me to the wrong place…

As I stated when iOS 6 was first released, map data has to work properly because of its intrinsic relationship with, well, all aspects of life.
A lot of people bemoaned Apple having dropped Google maps, because Google has been developed over many years, whereas Apple’s maps were a version 1 product. Google has also been much praised about the accuracy of its mapping data, as a result of, among other things, the fact the Google sends people out to check the mapping data.

I expect Apple will continue to improve their mapping data, and find the UI of their app to be good. But like most, we need the data to be accurate. Even Victoria Police in Australia has made specific warnings about trusting Apple Maps in navigating to the town of Mildura due to inaccurate map data.

When Google Maps was released for iOS, I was keen to try out the app to see if the app would give me the best of both worlds in terms of accurate data and a simple UI.

So I downloaded the app, and yesterday tried it out to navigate from Parramatta in Sydney’s west to a major shopping centre called Castle Towers. Castle Towers is a major centre that has been open since 1982, and is even home to one of the 7 Apple Stores in Sydney.

Google Maps’ UI was great, and it took me seconds to work out how to plan a route, and start the turn-by-turn navigation function. I really like the turn-by-turn experience, with clear information on the next turn, and (where appropriate) information about immediately following turns. In short, I like it, and can see this app replacing TomTom as my major navigation tool.

The app got me close to the shopping centre, but not to it. In fact, it told me I had arrived when I was in a leafy surburban street about 2 blocks from the centre. Not knowing the centre, I didn’t realise it was two blocks behind me, so I drove further down the street. A check of Google Street View in the Google Maps app showed me that there was no shopping centre there! (see photo)

So while nowhere as serious as the Mildura incident, the hallowed Google Maps failed me on its first usage, and it failed to find a major complex that is far from a recent addition.

After leaving Castle Towers, I set a course to visit Tamworth in regional NSW, a major town about 5–6 hours from Sydney. The app worked brilliantly, and tracked time and distance extremely well. In fact, it seems to estimate time a bit better than Apple Maps.

Plotting a trip home from Tamworth, Google Maps tells me it will be 5 hours 42 minutes, whilst Apple Maps predicts 5 hours 14 minutes. I bet that even in perfect traffic, 5:42 will be a best case scenario.

Google Maps will probably be my go-to app for turn-by-turn navigation, based on user experience, turn-by-turn functionality and overall better map data. I like the app, but will keep using the Apple Maps app as well to see how it improves.

Google+ Thinks I am inconsistent with community standards

Several months back I decided to reduce my exposure to Google, as it seemed to be getting “creepy”. I was (and still am to some degree) concerned that Google just has too much data on, well, everyone and everything. As part of this, I moved my rss to Fever (self-hosted), and killed my Google+ profile.
Keeping a keen eye on things as they develop, I think it is time for me to open up again to Google+, as it has some advantages, particularly to photographers. So I decided to swallow my pride and reactivate a Google+ profile.

Logging in today through my paid Google apps profile (on my own domain), I got most of the way through the process only to be told that my name “appears to be inconsistent with community standards”. I am not sure what this means, as I am using my real name (Des Paroz), which is linked to my longstanding paid Google Apps domain account. My google profile has been active for many years.

Anyway, I clicked the option to have my name reviewed for approval, and now my Google profile is suspended.

I certainly hope this doesn’t mean my email will stop working.

I look forward to Google turning this around, fast, and perhaps getting some insight into why my real, birth, name is inconsistent with community standards!