We started this special mini-series of EXPOSED! two weeks ago by explaining how the guy who stands by your front door, follows you to the supermarket, goes through your trash and reports to your health care provider that you had two steaks, a couple of beers and a bottle of scotch last weekend!
Even though that's a scary thought it is what happens daily when you use services like Amazon, Google, Facebook and the like. In today's edition we want to highlight a few things about Google - The Mothership!
Google started as a search engine and which has now grown into an AI monster that spies on us and for way too long for my liking.
The problem with Google is the algorithms. It sounds like a great idea at first to give you great results, based on your likes and personal preferences. Additionally, Google claims their algorithms are objective and essentially autonomous and not influenced by human bias or business considerations.
Think about this for a moment and then let the number of search queries managed, at over 40,000 per second on average, blow your mind. This equates to 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.
Now think about what Google could do with this power.
In a research paper published by Tim Wu, a legal scholar and former adviser to the Federal Trade Commission, Google was accused of knowingly manipulating search results, hampering competitors and limiting consumers’ options. Wu said:
“The main surprising and shocking realization is that Google is not presenting its best product. In fact it’s presenting a version of the product that’s degraded and intentionally worse for consumers.”
A study run by Yelp also found glaring evidence that Google denies consumers the best results:
“The easy and widely disseminated argument that Google’s universal search serves users and merchants is demonstrably false. Instead, in the largest category of search (local intent-based), Google appears to be strategically deploying universal search in a way that degrades the product so as to slow and exclude challengers to its dominant search paradigm.”
Yet, Google sees everything you do daily. Google also sees everything your kith, kin, wife/husband, mistress and dog does daily. Well, the dog is probably less affected by this, but Google knows their favorite toy and treats anyway. Google knows more than your mother about you. Now think about their linking all this information they have on you, your family, your political views and your daily habits. Of course Google also has your contact list, your call data and a list of every app you are using.
Even though you have nothing to hide and Google has excellent services - you should still stop some or, better yet, most of the things Google are using to profile you.
Google is trying to link every single search you do to your real name and address. On top of which Google ANALYtics is on so many websites that they follow you around and know every single keystroke you've made. Google is predicting your future searches, feeds you with products to buy and sells your data to others. For instance, to insurance companies, who can adjust your risk assessments, not on your needs, but actually on your habits. On top if you search for an insurance company they will push the one what "fits" Google, and pays them the best commission.
But it is not just insurance, but banking, shopping, your daily life. Google builds a profile on you, similar to what China does with their own citizens, but of course because Google is not a Chinese Government Agency, the entire world seems to be ok with it. After all, you have nothing to hide.
Still closing your curtains when you undress? Or the door to your bathroom? Why bother? if you have nothing to hide.
The problem here is that the algorithm is not shown to the public or to you. Yet, you get treated in your daily life based on what Google knows about you. It is not just what you research in your search bar. Google is not just a search engine and with their Android you're giving Google your location (even you switch off the location services), your keystrokes and your daily life. Yes, your cellphone has become your ankle monitor - like a criminal. The sad part is we love our ankle monitor, and have it in our hand most of the day. We take pictures with it, sharing them on social media and Google collects all their data on you.
Google is one of the guys who follow you around in the mall, and shares this data with 3rd parties. The scary part, most apps, regardless of if they are on Apples iOS or on Android, have Google trackers pre-installed. Most websites you visit have Google Trackers in the code. And even with the new iOS 14.5 firmware which claims to block trackers or only allow trackers you specifically allow to track you, the ANALYtics in the apps are collecting for Google regardless.
This data from apps is also linked to the same database Google has about you, including your IP address, location, age, interests, what apps you have installed, what products you've looked at etc.
Google also links your financial statements, your employee statement, and of course, your relationship statement to this database. They link your social media behavior, apps and posts as well as your political views to the same database. Of course all for "your own good".
Now you've got an idea what Google is - it's scary! But we have covered Google in the past and if you'd like to go deeper into Google, read what we have written about Google in the past, and continue with solutions after doing so.
Since we have this out of the way, what can you do to be less profiled?
The first thing seems to be obvious, change your search engine.
Regardless of if you use iOS, Android, Microsoft, Linux or whatever you use to search the web, change the default search in the browsers of your respective devices. Use a different browser, perhaps Firefox, and not stick with just one search engine. It is allowed to switch, do this often. Use two different browsers, one for banking and shopping and one for your daily habits. Make sure both browsers are not chrome or chromium based, except ungoogled chromium and the like which removes Google all together. Use uBlock Origin as one of your browser add-ons.
On iOS/macOS Safari you don't have many options, but DuckDuckGo is a good start. You can and should install Firefox on macOS and make it your daily habits browser.
On Android (Google owned but you can change your search engine to DuckDuckGo as well), but you can also add even better search engines to your browser. A good example would be metaGer.org.
The next step would be signing out of all Google services. In fact, I would recommend resetting your Android phone and start over. Do not enter your Google account during setup, and you'll be a step ahead when it comes to Google Profiling.
I would even go the extra mile and remove Google or as much Google as possible on your Phone. Replacing the PlayStore with F-Droid and if you really need any app which is not open-source and has some Google trackers in it, get them via Aurora Store (which you can find on F-Droid). Use the anonymous option in Aurora Store and do not sign in to your Google accounts.
We have covered how to get Google free or less Google'd in these Privacy Cookbook entries.
If you are a Samsung User:
As you see we have covered this topic on smartphones for a while, but let's recap. An encrypted DNS, perhaps with the option to block all Google sites and services is a great start.
NextDNS has an All-Google blocklist included. But of course, you could use netguard, Blockada or AdGuard to archive this locally. Yet, I would be recommending encrypting the DNS regardless.
Great DNS filters and a how-to guides are published here:
The next really cool feature you can get on android is called NewPipe, it gives you YouTube without Google's trackers or ads! The same service you can get on a desktop, it's called FreeTube. We have covered alternative ways to even download YouTube Videos here:
As you can see, you can use YouTube even without Google's involvement. Invidious is another great option to watch YouTube within your browser.
If you'd like to go even more private PeerTube is a great option to do so.
An absolute killer app when it comes to privacy is called UntrackMe it redirects links you receive or see on websites to privacy respective instances and services. Nitter (Twitter), Teddit (reddit), Invidious (YouTube) and Bibliogram (Instagram) are all supported at the moment.
I always recommend reading your news and websites you use daily via RSS. You can find great RSS readers in iOS, Android, but also on desktops. RSS will give you the full text and even pictures (if you select this option) without being able to track you. A great way to catch up on all the sites you use daily. RSS also works for Twitter feeds (via Nitter), Reddit and YouTube.
Of course these are baby steps, but every step helps to get away from the data Kraken that is Google. At the same time if you use an encrypted DNS and are able to block sites, consider blocking Facebook and co as well. NextDNS has most of those services in an excessive blocklist to chose from.
If you want to go Google free on a phone you can always have a look at GrapheneOS or CalyxOS. But as I already mentioned, every step counts and every step you take is a step to getting away from being a commodity.
We are more than a product, and Google and the likes should respect this.
In the end it is about the shareholders, about making money and it's not a surprise that Google, Apple, Amazon and co are the masters in making money, at your expense on so many levels!
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Don't forget to share them, we don't mind where you share them. Even if you do it at one of the evil companies. Making more people aware and doing something about this great manipulation and data collection is what drives us.