So What if Google Sends me Targetted Ads?
I had an interesting email exchange earlier this week with fellow BearBlogger Vova about blogging platforms and digital privacy in general. While the blog is relatively new, I like Vova's directness and honesty, as for example in the post titled "I need to stop being so serious about the blog".
Our discussion quickly shifted from paying for services to the question of digital privacy, and whether or not there really is a need to try to de-Google and take other steps to retain privacy. With Vova's encouragement and permission, I present an edited and structured version of our discussion below.
What is your reason behind de-Googling? They might use my data for marketing and ads, or even sell it to 3rd parties, but that does not feel like enough of a reason to refuse using Google services.
Make your own decisions
I believe in the idea that everyone should decide what works for them and what goes too far, in terms of data collection. I do think it's important to be informed about how data is used, and to be aware that very few things in life are truly free.
The illusion of choice
De-Googling became important once I realised that I was living under the illusion of choice. The push to use Google services is so strong, that you think you're simply choosing the smartest option, along with everyone else. Not many people ask: What are those other, less good options that I am not choosing, when I go with Google, Microsoft or Apple?
Once I began to take that question more seriously, I noticed how not choosing Google is very hard. I began looking into everything Google owns, and realised that Android was part of that, as well as YouTube. That's how I became interested in alternative operating systems like /e/Foundation and CalyxOS for phones, and Linux and other free open source software, like LibreOffice for PC. That led to setting up Linux devices for my kids.
All data leads to Google
A second problem with data collection is that this handful of mega companies seem to collect data about me from from a wide range of places. Before I began to de-Google, I was using Chrome browser, Google search engine, Google Docs and Drive for file storage, Gmail, YouTube for videos, Android for my smartphone (and all the same applications by Google there), Google Play for my store, and Google Maps for directions.
It seems wrong for one single company to be able to build such a detailed profile of my preferences, purchases and whereabouts. I thought it would be healthy just to break that up a bit, and, for example, start using LibreOffice Writer for documents instead of Google Docs. The same is true for services and apps by other Big Tech companies, like Meta.
The third motivator was that breaking away from Google felt good. I don't see why companies should store all my digital data just because they can. The default should be that I decide that. So breaking away from such data-model services has helped me take back control over that decision a bit, which feels good. Why should someone else get to choose which products are best for me?
So what if Google sends me targetted ads?
I see your point - big tech corporations own a lot of platforms, and sometimes even more than we are aware of. Nevertheless, I am still not entirely convinced. Though I understand the concern, it is not enough for me. I would question myself, saying "So what?" True, I agree that Apple and Meta know a lot about me, and Google knows even more. However, I don't feel like that harms me in any way from the privacy perspective. Sure, I see targeted ads, getting bombarded with highly-relevant ads everywhere I go as they seek ways to make me pay attention, click and buy. But that is about it. Curious what you think.
Who decides what happens to my data?
A key point for me is: who decides what happens to my data? Surely it should be me, the owner of the data in question. If in your case, you don't mind the data collection and sale of your data in exchange for a service, then that's your decision. But companies like Google have not been so transparent about the transaction that is taking place.
People now have more awareness, thanks to some documentaries and whistleblower events in the news. I strongly believe the default should be opting out of data collection, and that users can then opt in by choice, perhaps in exchange for more storage, or for a faster help desk service. It's deceptive to have everyone opt in by default, and obfuscate methods for opting out.
My supermarket has a savings scheme, in exchange for my personal information. The way it works is that the cashier asks: do you want to join this savings scheme? If the customer says yes, they give you a form to fill in your details. If you say no, they leave you alone, and you miss out on the discount or gifts. I always say no, and would not continue shopping in a supermarket that took my personal information in exchange for a discount without making a point of asking me first. I believe that deception is happening on a very large scale with Big Tech. Additionally, I am concerned about banks currently making noises about digital cash (CBDC), as it will be very hard to opt out of that, and more of your data (purchases, whereabouts) will constantly be collected.
Never be evil
The 'so what?' argument only holds as long as the organisations with access to your data remain neutral or benevolent, and will always stay that way. Data is a product that can be stored for a long time. Certain companies are currently investing a lot of their energy in gathering data to build profiles on us. Assuming that this data will never be used for anything other than advertising is a very hopeful position to take. Today, government organisations can access that same data, provided they follow legal procedures.
A relatively recent example is PayPal blocking individuals from transacting or fining them for having the wrong politics. By opting out of these big services as much as possible now, I am hoping to retain control over or minimize my own 'profile' as much as possible, so that I can control when I share personal information with someone, like we did when we introduced ourselves at the start of this exchange.
What about Google Maps?
By the way, what about Google Maps? Have you found any alternative?
For maps, I sometimes use Google Maps tied to a Google account I only use for that on a PC, but on my phone I use an app called Organic Maps. It is based on the alternative to Google Maps called Open Street Map.
As you can see, I'm not totally averse to using Google or other Big Tech companies' products, but I try to avoid putting my entire data life in just a handful of baskets.
This post trended briefly on Hacker News, hitting spot #2 for a while. The discussion is quite interesting and relevant, so I'll add that here.
What Is Big Tech?
What Is a Central Bank Digital Currency? (Investopedia, April 2023)
After PayPal Revokes Controversial Misinformation Policy, Major Concerns Remain Over $2,500 Fine (Forbes, Oct. 2022)
Organic Maps application
Open Street Map
-----Discuss on Reddit-----
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