There’s no question that Google is one of the most successful companies in history. Sometimes it seems like Google makes a decision that shows just how little they think about privacy concerns. Not only do they get away with their questionable choices, but many times, people love it! And so I ask: what’s wrong with us? How can we let such a powerful organization take advantage of us and get away with it? And why do we continue to use their products, anyway?
I have been considering moving from Android to iPhone for quite some time now. Android phones have been my preference since it introduced them, but over time Google has become a company that abuses my trust and leaves me asking myself questions. If Google doesn’t give up on their uncivilized behaviors, then my dream of going back to the iPhone might soon become a reality.
Why Google Products Are Bad For You
Google has more of your data than any other company globally, and they’re not precisely known for the best security practices. Their products are terrible, they’re full of bugs, they don’t respect your privacy, and you should uninstall them all. Here’s why.
Privacy advocates have attacked Google after a recent report from The Wall Street Journal revealed that Android phones automatically send details about a user’s activity to Google. Even when an Android device gets turned off, every minute of interaction gets logged and sent to Google for analysis. Considering how much information we share online already, these revelations have raised severe cybersecurity concerns. If it bothers you that much, there’s a simple fix: Uninstall it. There are tons of alternatives out there. As a bonus, many of those services offer better quality apps, anyway.
Gmail reads your emails. Not only that, but they have also scanned every email to allow third-party companies to target users with personalized ads. They’ve recently come under fire for questionable data-collection practices. It’s not an overstatement to say that Gmail is bad for your cybersecurity and privacy concerns. You can do better than Gmail, which might be why people are ditching it for better alternatives like ProtonMail.
For starters, ProtonMail offers user-friendly encryption to keep your emails completely private from snooping hackers. It also uses zero-access encryption, so only you have access to your keys—not even ProtonMail can read your emails or get in between you and your contacts. The icing on top of all that is ProtonMail’s ability to make encrypted calls, video chats, text messages, groups (which they call Circles), file storage (which they call Vaults) besides email. None of your data is used for ad targeting because ProtonMail has no advertisements. You can’t say that about Gmail!
There is also Google Drive support with ProtonMail, which means specific files that cannot get viewed within ProtonMail can still get accessed on Google Drive or other compatible programs. Keep in mind, though: as mentioned above, one great thing about ProtonMail is zero-access encryption, so even if hackers gain access, they won’t see anything useful as everything will appear as encrypted gobbledygook!
Chrome is a great web browser, but it’s a wrong choice if your goal is to maintain your privacy. Chrome doesn’t have built-in end-to-end encryption that would keep third parties from reading your online data. And then there’s Google itself: Google has a long history of collecting user data for free services. Although much of its collection takes place when users sign in, there’s not much stopping Google from monitoring users who don’t log in, especially when many businesses use G Suite. For cybersecurity reasons and to protect your privacy, I recommend uninstalling Chrome and switching to Mozilla Firefox or Brave Browser instead.
Uninstalling Chrome is quite simple. On Windows, right-click on your desktop icon for Chrome, then click Properties. Next, navigate to where it says Target in your screen’s top-left corner. Add — disable-web-security (no quotes) at the end of that line, then click Apply/OK. Now go back to Settings again and clear your browsing data. If you have an old version installed on another computer or if Chrome isn’t on your main desktop icon but gets hidden away inside C:\Program Files\Google\Chrome or something similar, be sure to delete it entirely before proceeding.
Uninstall Google Search
Google search is one of Google’s worst creations. It’s not just a privacy nightmare, but it can also expose your system to malware, adware, viruses, browser hijackers, spyware, dangerous pop-ups, or unwanted software. The worst part? Delete individual search engines to get rid of them manually. Why? Because when people make a search on Google Search, no link says I want all these search results or Get rid of these ads. That’s because Google doesn’t care about your experience using their service; they only care about gathering data from your searches so they can make money through intrusive ads.
Uninstalling Google’s video platform allows for more security and privacy with your browsing. You can still watch videos on Youtube. However, you will no longer get logged in to your account when doing so. Why does logging out of Youtube matter? Every search gets tracked; Google uses that data to target its advertisements at users better.
By uninstalling Youtube, Google can still serve ads, but advertisers will no longer have access to information about who or where their customers are. It might not sound like a big deal, but it could make a big difference if something were to go wrong with Google’s ad service. Deleting Youtube also increases your overall device speed due to removing an unnecessary app off your phone or computer.
Uninstall Google Maps
As security expert Bruce Schneier points out, Google collects enormous information about people when they use their services. Google Maps can track your location at all times to target ads. If you’re concerned about online privacy, it might be time to switch to a map provider that doesn’t depend on collecting data for profit. Most major apps have their mapping solution—you need to find one that works for you.
OpenStreetMap is a good option if you want a free, open-source alternative. Another approach would be to turn off your phone’s GPS sensor so Google can’t access your location unless you manually type in where you want to go. Doing so also helps conserve battery life!
That said, tracking someone without their permission isn’t illegal as long as someone else does it, so there’s no reason not to use Google Maps over other services as long as you’re OK with being tracked by Google. You probably have little choice anyway since Google has become virtually synonymous with maps over the past few years! To switch from a navigation app that relies on tracking users’ locations every day, try Waze instead.
Uninstall Google Photos
Uninstalling Google Photos is a good idea because it helps with cybersecurity. Google Photos doesn’t have any security measures in place, which leaves your private images exposed to cybercriminals. People who visit your home could download your pictures, print them out, scan them on their computers or smartphones and hack your devices. To avoid these privacy concerns regarding Google Photos, uninstall it as soon as possible.
You can disable Edit, which will not allow any changes to photos. You can also unlink it with your Google account, which is more important. All of your pictures on Google Photos get backed up in the cloud, so it will still be available on other devices – but if they’re not associated with your account anymore, they won’t sync. You will probably want to do both things before completely uninstalling Google Photos for good (it’s challenging to get back once it’s gone).
While you’re at it, don’t forget that deleting an account permanently deletes all associated data, including your contacts! Before anything else happens, export any of that information off Google services like Gmail or Calendar. There’s no automated process to do so, and you’ll have to go through each of your accounts and export each contact one by one, but it might just save hours or days of manual cleanup later.
Don’t Use Google Keep
Keep is one of those Google apps people don’t talk about, but it’s come up on my radar a few times as a tool some clients I’ve worked with like to use. However, the problem with Keep is that, by default, Keep stores your notes in a non-encrypted database on your device. If someone gets your device (and provided they know how to get into such things), they can easily read all of your notes! It doesn’t sound big, but if you’re looking for ways to lock down your privacy without going through too much trouble, consider uninstalling Google Keep and using Evernote instead.
Google, Censorship, And The Chinese
In 2012, Google launched a censored version of its search engine in China. In doing so, it agreed to censor results as required by local law. This raises serious privacy concerns for users worldwide since the information made unavailable in China may be available elsewhere. When users search for sensitive keywords inside China, they will only see results that Chinese censors have approved. Users outside of China won’t see these same results; they’ll see different—and usually irrelevant—results. Therefore, Google searches conducted from locations outside China could become a window into a parallel universe where censorship is rampant.
Google’s Copyright & Patents
Google’s recent drive to enforce their copyrights over Android has led to their patents being used in lawsuits against competitors. It is doubtful that either Motorola or Google will win much with these lawsuits, as their patents aren’t excellent quality, but it confuses markets where Android is proliferating. For example, Samsung has recently come under attack by Google for violating some of its software patents on Android devices. While it may be true that they break some of Google’s patents, Samsung still sells more phones than any other company. They do not see these actions as beneficial to their brand image, especially considering many people around the world view Google’s actions as less-than-ethical, if not simply childish.
Google also uses its copyrights in a less-than-ethical way. In April 2012, Google made headlines to use a small software developer named Robin Gross to create an app called Droid Manager. It essentially did all Google’s management apps do, except that Google did not write it. While Droid Manager is no longer on Google Play, it is still available from 3rd party sources. This has led to confusion among Android users about which applications they can trust and how much control Google has over what software can run on Android devices.
Google & The Government
Google has built an empire of free services on top of paid services, putting itself in a position to make more money than any other company on earth. There’s nothing wrong with making money; every company wants to make as much as possible. But, Google’s situation isn’t like that of Microsoft or Apple, which needs to provide excellent products to earn people’s trust—and thus pay for their operating systems and devices. Google has bet its future on collecting vast amounts of data about its users; if it ever stopped doing that, it would stop being Google. Because of all that information, Google can sell targeted ads better than anyone else.
So, Google sells its hardware directly to consumers (the Pixel phones, Chromebooks, Chromecasts), but it also sells advertisements through these devices. That means Google gets paid for every app or online service you use on those devices—and its ability to track what you do means that every one of those services will try to be as all-inclusive as possible. Each app will link up with every other app to track everything about your life across platforms. If I’m using Spotify through my Chrome browser, YouTube will want to link up to know which songs I listen to.
Google has been in trouble with the government before because of that and other anti-competitive practices. In early 2017, for example, both South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission (for abusing its Android dominance) and Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (for antitrust violations) fined Google. Those fines were each over $7 billion—roughly 2% of Google’s total revenue for 2016.
Another incident occurred with the government when Google started paying Apple to have its search engine as one of the default options on iOS. That would seem like a good deal for Google because it can collect ad money from users who come across its search app organically. However, it appeared anti-competitive to critics who worried that Apple would look at Google as iOS now rather than something stand-alone. Because Google was offering to pay Apple, it could get seen as trying to force itself into people’s lives. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation into potential antitrust behavior at Google after news broke about those agreements between Apple and Google. This investigation is still ongoing today, even though no results have gotten released yet.