Sophie's Google Choice: Privacy or Functionality and Convenience? - Technologist
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Sophie's Google Choice: Privacy or Functionality and Convenience?

It's been a slow march of regress, in terms of privacy protections, for Google users. The company that once revolutionized email, provided free (and excellent) turn-by-turn navigation on our smartphones, and became the industry leader in about a dozen other areas, has slowly chipped away at privacy, much to the chagrin of users everywhere.

But can we really quit Google? From our smartphones to our browsers, to our gadgets, and even our email, Google is everywhere. And the alternatives, in many cases, are expensive, less functional, or have similar privacy issues.

Why Quit Google?

I don't know where my personal breaking point was. Google scans your emails to deliver advertising. The company was caught copying unsecured data off of Wi-Fi networks. They've removed the ability to comment on YouTube anonymously, and embedded their Google+ service, which for most people is tied to their real identify, into nearly everything they do.

Most people don't notice the waves of privacy litigation and scandals that have hit Google, but much like a reporter that covers plane crashes may think twice about flying, I see, on a near-weekly basis, reasons to walk away from the new "evil" empire. So, as a little experiment, I decided to try to give up my everything-provider.

Sometimes, It's Easy

Adios Gmail. Microsoft really did make it easy to migrate over to Outlook.com. My Gmail account still exists for catching spam, but for the last few months, after spending fifteen minutes setting up an account with Microsoft, I haven't looked back once.

Ditto for SkyDrive (now OneDrive, thanks to an IP dispute) and Office Web Apps, which have finally caught up to Google's offerings.

And for mobile maps and navigation, GigaOm recommends Skobber's $1 alternative, which comes with an added bonus: offline maps for when your data connection is unavailable.

Sometimes, Not So Much

Google Chrome. It is, by far, the best web browser out there. No one comes close. At all.

Firefox? It's been two months that I've been with Google's closest rival, but at least on the desktop version, I've had way more crashes, freezes, and slowdowns with my tab-heavy browsing habits than I ever did with Chrome, though on mobile devices, Firefox is about even with Google's offering.

Google Chrome also wins when it comes to accessing your open tabs on other devices. (What was that article I was reading at work? Ah, I can use my smartphone to access the tabs on my laptop. Handy!)

Internet Explorer has been atrocious since inception, so while it may be improved, I'm still a bit traumatized by the last twenty years or so. Maybe I'll get there.

That leaves Chromium as my hopefully-savior. It's the open-source version of Chrome, without all of Google's proprietary goodies.

Biggest Trap: Android

I have two straight-outta-Google Nexus devices: a phone and a tablet. What I don't have is $600 for an iPhone.

Going Google-free on Android is, as Sufficiently Secure put it, is "like using email without the [I]nternet." Basically, the only option is to flash a third-party version of Android that omits everything Google. Then you have to find alternative apps for everything, and install them from a third-party app store, such as F-Droid, which carries only free, open-source, and no tracking apps.

Needless to say, ROM-flashing and installing unsigned apps is not for the faint of heart, nor for the average user. Nor are these time-sucking pro-privacy projects particularly appealing for lawyers with 100-hour work weeks.

Which begs the question: what's more important -- privacy or convenience?

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