I have used Google for years, mostly in the form of Gmail. In Your Ultimate Security Guide: Windows 7 Edition I wrote about Gmail. I threw in some well-deserved praise about Google’s security; it is very, very good. Google offers one of the most user-friendly two-factor systems I have used. They alert you when your account is logged into from a new IP and browser. Your entire sessions is HTTPS encrypted, and encrypted inside of Google. From a security standpoint it’s hard to complain about Google. Privacy is another matter completely.
As Bruce Schneier recently pointed out, Google wants you to be secure from everyone except Google. Google keeps your data safe from hackers and the NSA (they say), but they don’t keep it safe from themselves. Google scans all your emails, records all your searches, remembers what videos you’ve watched, and what sites you go to when you leave Google. And it never forgets. Though I never created a Google + account, don’t log into YouTube, and don’t upload files to Google Drive, Google still knows an incredible amount of information about me. That information will be remembered forever. It will be accessible with warrants. It may be seen if Google is hacked (Google holds a lot – a lot – of data and is a target because of it). It will still be sold to advertisers. And I don’t like that.
I have managed to subvert much of Google’s ability to track me through with several tools. I don’t use Google’s browser, Chrome. Instead of searching through Google I use DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t collect or store data about its users. Another very good tool is Disconnect Private Search, a browser add-on for Firefox and Chrome that routes all your searches through a “light” VPN. Google doesn’t know who sent the request and can’t track me (Disconnect Search also allows you to use Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Yahoo!). I also configure my browsers to delete history and cookies each time it is closed and I close it frequently. I run BleachBit or CCleaner several times a day, too.
I have also been a fairly heavy Google Voice user. I liked Google Voice because I could give out a GV number instead of my “real” number. I could get calls, texts, and voicemail from my phone or computer, and the most compelling feature was its price: free. I have managed to subvert this, too, through Silent Circle. Though I have to pay for it Silent Circle offers me security from everyone, not everyone-but-them.
These steps seem simple in comparison to finding a suitable substitute for Gmail. Other “mainstream” (read: free) email providers scrape emails, too, and unfortunately I don’t have the confidence in my own technical accumen to run my own email server. Through the last several months, however, I have managed to piece together a workable email solution. Unfortunately there is no sole-source replacement for Gmail, but with paid services like KolabNow and free ones like ProtonMail I know my communications are, if not more secure, at least more private.
You should also know that if you contact me, your communications are stored privately and securely on email servers that are not scraped for advertisments. The email address to which the contact form on this site links is a ProtonMail email address. Additionally, I have removed Google Analytics from this site. I do not have access to any data about the individuals who visit my site, whether specifically or in aggregate. When I initially set up this blog I thought it would be a good idea to see how often the site was visited, but I quickly realized that I had become part of the problem. This is my mea culpa.