Abhinav Marwaha

Ramblings on the world.

11 July 2020

Comfort, Price and Privacy

I have been lately wondering about all the products and services I use and how much data I willingly/unwillingly share with these companies.

I have gone as far as scanning all my google sign in's and emailing all the companies whose products I have discontinued using and asking them to delete all data and account details from their servers.

Some have deleted data and I have cross checked it (as much as I can). While others have either not replied ( I will call them hopefully) or said they had erased the data but I can still find traces of it.

The reality is whatever you add to the internet, it will somehow stay there. There are services that regularly index the whole internet (which you can opt out of at some degree) and there are services that will delete something off the internet for a fair price and power. (which is not accessible to you or me, the commoners).

I have concluded that privacy comes down to these:

  1. Enhancing it via software specific privacy settings
  2. Not sharing anything on internet that you don't want in public eye. (encryption can help, but you have to be careful as this term is loosely used by companies)
  3. Using only those services you really really need (practising digital minimalism and data minimalism).

If you really want to be private and secure on the internet, you can't be. There is this famous quote that goes something like this:

If you really want your computer to be secure, switch it off and put it in a 10 feet underground vault, and even then you can't really be sure

Lets be sane and look for options that are less extreme.

First things first you have to ditch google completely, this includes but not limited to gmail, google calender and contacts, google drive, google docs, sides, sheets, google chrome, google play store, google meet, google board (keyboard), and all the nice google tools we use daily.

You can't really uninstall them from android (you will need open-source OS's like lineage OS that is built on top of android).

And you can't really function in this digital world without it.

Also if you have a Chinese (owned) phone you have all kinds of bloatware that tracks and keep data on their servers. And there isn't really any other price for value option other than Chinese brands. The best thing you can do is install OS's like lineage OS and just install minimal google products.

I have been exploring all kinds of alternatives to google products like these:

 search engine -> Startpage.com
 browser -> brave (everyday), TOR (for extreme cases)
 drive -> sync.com / gdrive with cryptomator / syncthing
 office -> LibreOffice on windows, openOffice on mobile
 photos -> syncthing
 email -> protonmail, tutanota, outlook
 Google play store -> fdroid , aurora store
 Google Maps: openStreetMap (DataBase) , OsmAnd+ (Android), map.me
 Gboard: OpenBoard, Anysoft Keyboard
 Calender, tasks -> stock android apps
 Communications -> wire, signal
 General Security measures:
 Password Managers: bitwarden (cloud based), keepass (local)
 2FA: andOTP

But I can't really function without google's products.

The Incentive Problem

Primarily Google's business is based on ads hence it tries to get every piece of data so that you click on ads more.

Businesses have to earn and Google's business is based on ads hence they will always try to collect more data.

If you are not paying for the product, you are the product and to some sense this is true.

If you are not using Business G suite (Paying for it), your drive, your email (This contains far more information you may seem to realize, bank statements, buyer behaviour, personal emails to name a few), your contacts, location data and so on are being scanned and indexed by Google's algorithms to serve more converting ads.

The problem here is incentive, there is no clear incentive for google to provide its products for free other than to index you.

I have concluded that if you want full functionality, there is nothing to beat google.

I have come to realize its just comes down to these points:

  1. Whether you want to pay or not.
  2. Whether you need all the collaborative and enhanced features of google products or you can live your life without the extravagant features.
  3. Network effect: what your social groups use on daily basis.
  4. The learning curves and brand trust issues.

The problem of Trust

The thing is people trust things on the basis of social proof (even people who consult the internet as just the social group has expanded over the globe).

If you can't trust the big companies, who can you trust? The smaller companies who may be trying to scam you?

We don't have to put trust in companies but on technologies (that's why I love Blockchain). If the product is open sourced and regularly audited and all the precautions are taken by you, you can be way more private and secure than you are using closed source products.

Our world is becoming more and more digital and yet digital literacy is quite low as it is evident by the simple phishing attacks being successful.

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