Google, Your Privacy, And Safer Alternatives

November 1st, 2010   Submitted by Paul Rosenberg

In this article I want to give you a quick explanation of why we recommend that you avoid Google, their web mail, and other web mail services.

We’ll start with Google’s fall from grace. It began as a clever new company, and has since become the newest member of the dominating class.

DON’T BE EVIL”

Some of you will remember their original motto: Don’t be evil. My, how times have changed! Aside from having forged very close partnerships with the US intel agencies and their contractor pals, Google is using convenience to suck people in to their game, then counting on them being in too deep and/or too apathetic to pull themselves out. But, let’s start with the intent of their boss:

Here is what Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, had to say at the Techonomy conference on August 4, 2010:

We can predict where you are going to go Tuesday morning.

Show us 14 photos of yourself and we can identify who you are. You think you don’t have 14 photos of yourself on the internet? You’ve got Facebook photos!

The only way to manage this is true transparency and no anonymity. In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a name service for people. Governments will demand it.

Yeah, it’s that bad. They’ve gathered enough information to predict their users’ behavior. That’s a bit spooky… and a lot spookier that this guy is bragging about it.

THE BIG PLAN

As you’ve probably heard, there has been a long argument amongst political types on Net Neutrality. The details don’t really matter to our subject, so I’m not going re-hash them here. Suffice it to say that they are predictable, vehement and mostly a waste of time. But what is important is that Google and Verizon have put forward a plan that ends up with the biggest tech players owning the Internet.

This plan may or may not come to fruition, but you should be aware of the possibility. I call it a plan to divide the Internet into two parts. The initial division is between a free Internet and the pay Internet – and thus giving all parties in the net neutrality fight at least a partial victory.

I’ll give you a few quotes from the plan, followed by my interpretation. You can make up your own mind.

Our proposal would now make those principles fully enforceable at the FCC.


This is a tool of enforcement. Even if they really did intend it to do what they say, it wouldn’t matter: a means of enforcement is neutral – it can be used equally well for good or for evil… just like guns. Here’s a closer look at the enforcement machine:

Specifically, the FCC would enforce these openness policies on a case-by-case basis, using a complaint-driven process. The FCC could move swiftly to stop a practice that violates these safeguards, and it could impose a penalty of up to $2 million on bad actors.

“Due process” will involve complaints and bureaucrats only. In practical application, any group with five members will be able to generate enough complaints to get you black-balled. Unless, of course, you are a friend of the FCC, or if you hire a man in Washington to look after your interests, or if you buy a few favors for an FCC boss.

The end of this is that the big boys who hire lobbyists and bribe politicians will be fine. The little guys will get crushed whenever they irritate something large.

Our proposal also includes safeguards to ensure that such online services must be distinguishable from traditional broadband internet access services and are not designed to circumvent the rules.

Note the crucial word, distinguishable. They are creating a way to divide between types. Again, once this tool is in place, it can be used in any way. And, in my opinion, after another ‘crisis’ or two, the division will be between “good” and “bad.”

In the end, obedient, harmless serfs will end up on the good side of the cordon and the bad side will be shut down. Google, Verizon and other big tech outfits end up owning the approved Internet.

To make the closure of the “unsafe Internet” palatable, the governments will probably just subsidize the “safe” Internet, so that it is faster and cheaper than ever. Right-thinking people will stop complaining and the mission will be accomplished. As Thomas Jefferson said: The natural tendency is for liberty to yield.

WEB MAIL

Why do they give us web mail for free? We can’t really believe that Google, Yahoo or Microsoft (HotMail) are acting in good will toward men? It’s quite obvious that they are making money from it, by selling our information. They gather piles of information on you, and provide it to customers in one form or another.

Google knows where you live, who your friends are, the subjects of your email, and what kinds of projects you’re working on. Yahoo and Microsoft aren’t far behind, and the others are struggling to catch up.

These services have massive server farms keeping all of your data, mining it, cross-referencing it and providing a lot of it to anyone who is willing to pay. Sure, they remove things like names, but it remains your data and they do tie it your ID to it when they can or when they are forced to.


The information they save forever includes everything you type – even when you’ve had too much to drink or are in a bad mood. You can delete such things from your own computer, and your friends can delete them from theirs, but once the web mail servers touch them (even as drafts, which they save automatically), it stays in their databanks for a long, long time.

Use web mail only is you must. If you have a bunch of GMail accounts, start migrating away from them. Definitely do NOT use it for anything that is sensitive – and this isn’t only a concern for personal messages; it is more important for your business information. If you don’t want your worst competitor to know, don’t send it as web mail.

The best way to handle email is to use an email program on your own computer. A lot of people have used Outlook, but it is so full of holes that I definitely do NOT recommend it. Our secure email system at Cryptohippie works with Thunderbird, a free, open-source email program from Mozilla that I highly recommend. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Outlook, but at some point, devotion to the newest and glitziest becomes brain-dead.

SEARCH ENGINES

I have two reasons to discourage you from using Google. The first is the obvious, because they will grab and use your information. (“He searches for _____ once every ___ days.”) The other is that I don’t want them to know what people are looking for on the Internet. Yes, they can put together meta-stats on what the mass of the public is developing an interest in. I don’t want them and their friends to have clear pictures of such things.

The alternative search engine I’ve been using lately is Duck Duck Go. It Seems okay so far. I used to use Alta Vista, but they have teamed-up with Yahoo.

To replace Google Maps, I use OpenStreetMap, which is in some ways superior.

Okay, enough for today. More to come. 🙂

Paul Rosenberg is the CEO of Cryptohippie.com

30 Responses to “Google, Your Privacy, And Safer Alternatives”

  1. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    So far Duck Duck Go seems to have very comparable search results to Google, so the switch is nice and easy and I like their privacy policy a lot more than Google’s. So I think I am going to be sticking with Duck Duck Go.

    For those of you who don’t know how to make Duck Duck Go your permanent search engine in your browser, simply go to duckduckgo.com and below the search bar click on “Add To Firefox.” After that you should see an arrow next to your current search engine’s symbol which is placed next to the search bar in the top right corner of your browser. Click on that and then go to “Manage Search Engines” and click that. You should see a list of search engines to choose from. Find Duck Duck Go, click and drag it to the top of the list. That will make it your permanent search engine.

    As far as OpenStreetMap goes, I cannot say I was very impressed. I couldn’t even get directions from it. Maybe I just haven’t figured it out yet. Either way, it needs some more work before I give up on Google Maps.

  2. RyanNo Gravatar says:

    Great article. Now I’ve got to figure out how to get away from the monster that, it seems, I’ve helped feed. While the damage has been done, in the sense that a lot of personal information is already on google and my gmail account, it’s never too late to switch and take protective measures for the present and future.

    I have a question, for Paul, regarding the overall indemnity of web mail. Using one’s own DNS seems to be the best solution for an e-mail address and you suggest using a local client. What about using web mail through a web hosting plan? If someone uses an e-mail account through their own DNS, the e-mail account still must be registered by the hosting company, does that mean that the web hosting servers would still have access to the incoming/outgoing e-mails?

  3. PaulNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Thanks.

    As for mail hosting operations: Unfortunately I’m not current with specific providers. My general experience has been that most are much better than the web hosts and that some are excellent. You can host your own email, but that does require some skill.

    Best regards.

  4. RyanNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for your reply, Paul. It seems like we all have a lot of work ahead of us if achieving any level of privacy is our goal. All of your advice is very much appreciated!

  5. Kaptein A MericaNo Gravatar says:

    Is there any further inherent danger in accessing websites or email via cell service lines (Verizon, etc) over say cable broadband?

    I guess the safest would be using wifi at a hot spot with some sort of privacy protection in place. (

    Keep up the articles in regards to internet privacy- I just haven’t been sold on purchasing a relatively expensive product for an individual. If the info is wanted by someone; it will be sold by someone.

    In the meantime, I encourage the fiscally poor like me to change emails frequently & not connect them together.

  6. PaulNo Gravatar says:

    Hey Kap’n, a few answers for you:

    > Is there any further inherent danger in accessing websites or email via cell service lines (Verizon, etc) over say cable broadband?

    Yes, it is one more area of easy interception.

    > I guess the safest would be using wifi at a hot spot with some sort of privacy protection in place. (

    Well, if you have good privacy protection in place, just about anywhere is safe.

    > Keep up the articles in regards to internet privacy- I just haven’t been sold on purchasing a relatively expensive product for an individual. If the info is wanted by someone; it will be sold by someone.
    In the meantime, I encourage the fiscally poor like me to change emails frequently & not connect them together.

    Thanks. Sorry to say, but the truth is that good security requires thought, effort, assets and adaptation. That means that people need to be paid to do it. The service I recommend is less than a dollar a day, but you do have to pay. (No free lunch and all that.)

    Best,

    PR

  7. RyanNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve just discovered the service at mymail.com which seems like a good (pay) e-mail service for keeping communications private. I’m still leaning towards using my own website hosts mail option, which offers openPGP through cPanel since I’m already paying for web hosting and I don’t see how mymail could provide more security than this alternative.

    While fixing my internet searching security (via switching to Duck Duck Go) I’ve also just found that Firefox search engine add-ons are often offered with an SSL version as well. If I’m not mistaken, this adds another level of privacy and security to the communication between the user and the search engine servers.

  8. DaveNo Gravatar says:

    I guess I look at this from a very different perspective. I’m a heavy Google services user – mail, calendar, documents, voice, and even carry an Android based cell phone. Matter of fact, I leverage everything Google knows about me on a daily basis to make my life easier, and my work more effective. I also leverage what Google (and other search engines) know about me publically to build my personal brand and further my career and business.

    Does Google know a lot about me? Yes. Do they leverage that data to generate revenue through advertising? Absolutely. In return, do I receive a greater benefit to my business than I incur in cost? Without question. At the end of the day, I’m in this to make money to provide a quality standard of living for my family. If these tools make me more productive towards that end, and have acceptable terms of service, then I will employ them.

    The simple fact is that in today’s society, it is impossible to live and do business without significant amounts of data being collected about you. It is still vitally important to protect sensitive information (SSN, PINs, passwords etc) but I have come to realize that the productivity penalty of constant worry about these kind of things isn’t worth the benefit.

    Truthfully the only major concern we should have about the generation and collection of this data by service providers we choose to use (such as Google) is in the compromise of this info by governmental agencies. If we find the terms of service acceptable, then there is no evil in the collection of data and the use of that collected data to generate advertising revenue by the service provider. Our focus should be upon insulating these service providers from governmental intrusion.

    Don’t take this as any specific defense of Google. They simply happen to be the provider of the services I’ve found useful and valuable and were the specific topic of this post. If the company in question were Apple, Dell, or even Microsoft my feelings would be the same.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      I’m coming to the conclusion that we can have our cake and eat it too. I used to think that the more secure stuff meant I would be missing out on all of the goodies but I’ve come to learn that it just isn’t true. I recently switched my operating system from MS Windows to Linux, and I can without a doubt tell you that not only is it a safer product, but it is better, because now I have all of the programs I want just like Windows, but I no longer have to pay for anti-virus protection software and endure the down time from bugs and laggy operating speed that comes with Windows.

      • DaveNo Gravatar says:

        Seth,

        I fully agree with the change from Windows to Linux. I made the change 2 years ago, and haven’t looked back. I do keep one PC at home able to dual-boot, but that’s simply so I can have access to a couple old PC games that I still enjoy during those rare moments of down time.

        Which distro did you select? I’ve stayed with Fedora since all of the production servers my firm owns are all CentOS based, and there are a number of benefits to having my workstations all from the same RedHat family of distro’s.

    • AndyNo Gravatar says:

      Please do not consider yourself to be a “brand”. If you stop thinking of yourself as a human being first and last you will end up being screwed.

  9. PaulNo Gravatar says:

    Your choice to make, Dave. My choices differ massively, but your life is yours to live. Good luck.

    • DaveNo Gravatar says:

      Paul,

      I hope my comment didn’t come off as attempting to undermine your post – that was not my intent at all! If it did seem that way, I do apologize.

      I do believe you make some excellent points. My goal was simply to share a different perspective on many of the core issues you identified. Your position is absolutely valid, and I believe that you have made excellent choices (and recommendations) based on your opinion of the situation.

  10. PTTNo Gravatar says:

    Great article. My personal info is surely within the tangle of Google’s tentacles. However, $275 p/year is a bit steep for our family budget. I need a free alternative, if one exists.

    Plus, no matter what i subscribe to, the ISP can always share data with the government. In my case, it is Charter. The Net Neutrality regulatory effort by the FCC aims at the ISPs, and would force them to cough up their data to the government data collectors. Short of incryption, how do we avoid spying by the ISPs?

  11. PaulNo Gravatar says:

    Hi PTT, and thanks.

    The short answer is the there is no free way that has much effect. There are free proxies, but many are honey-traps. There are cheap proxies, but one hop just doesn’t cut it (no longer effective), and there are lots of other attacks that will work. You need to pay professionals.

    You can protect the content of emails for free with encryption, but that will not hide who you communicate with.

    Sorry, but that’s the truth as best I know it.

  12. GatesNo Gravatar says:

    Things you can do:
    – buy VPN service, preferably SSL VPN (OpenVPN) from reputable (preferrably off-shore) company that doesn’t keep logs. Not cheap. Between $10-30/month. This encrypts all traffic between your machine and the VPN provider, to where your ISP (e.g. Comcast, ATT) can’t see anything besides communication on SSL port 443 with the VPN provider host. Your destination website (e.g. Google) also doesn’t know who you “are,” as they see the request to their website coming from your VPN provider.

    – use scroogle, which acts as a middle man between you and Google: https://ssl.scroogle.org. With the SSL option, at least your ISP and Google don’t know who you are and your ISP doesn’t even know what terms you are searching for.

    – use Firefox with Prefbar extension for easy cookie deletion/enabling/disabling and also for user agent spoofing. I do most surfing with cookies disabled, and when they are enabled I deleted them immediately after logout of website using them.

    – Search scroogle for “Referrer Spoof for Prefbar” and add that button to Prefbar.

    – encrypt your (whole) hard drive with TrueCrypt (windows)

    – encrypt your home folder (linux)

    – leave no traces behind and browse much faster by running from RAM: I can’t stand slow browsing. I load small linux distributions (e.g. SliTaz, TinyCore, DSL, Puppy) from a USB stick into RAM. For SliTaz, for example, I customize my Firefox with all extensions, clear all browsing data and write the customization changes back to USB, sort of cooking my own operating system with the bells and whistles I want. Next time I start up again, my small and fast operating system is customized so I don’t have to do it all over again, but I do not leave any traces behind, since it all runs in RAM*. The speed increase is remarkable, since the weak(est) link –the hard drive– is removed.

    – while I’m talking about running things in RAM: you can use RamDisk and run FirefoxPortable in RAM while working in MS Windows.

    * if someone really wants your data and is good and has access to your computer within a couple of minutes of shutdown, they can recover (some of) your data.

    Phew, I’m done!

  13. PaulNo Gravatar says:

    Nice post, Billy!

  14. Helped me a lot, just what I was looking for : D.

  15. Tremendous issues here. I’m very satisfied to see your article. Thanks so much and I am looking ahead to touch you. Will you please drop me a mail?

  16. SashaNo Gravatar says:

    duckduckgo doesnt work for me, it just pulls up google… i dont know how to get it!

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  17. PaulNo Gravatar says:

    duckduckgo.com

    It works.

  18. BahadırNo Gravatar says:

    25 GB monthly traffic of cryptohippie.com is simply humorous for todays internet technology, especially with this price. 7000 songs or 10 million e-mails, so what about HD 1080P videos or even 4K UHD content.

    • PaulNo Gravatar says:

      “25 GB monthly traffic of cryptohippie.com is simply humorous…”

      Then go buy “unlimited traffic” service from a honey-pot. We have to pay data centers for traffic.

      Only suckers think they can get something for nothing.

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