If you’ve seen the tech news recently, then you know privacy has been a hot topic. Companies like Facebook and Google are trying their best to collect as much information on you as possible. However, there are a few things you can do to get rid of them. So today, we will look at how to kick Google to the curb.
Let’s start off using some imagery to describe data collection. You’re new to the world of tech. You log onto your computer for the first time, and you open your internet browser like Google Chrome or Safari. You then do a quick Google search. It’s at that moment a new folder is created and opened in Google’s massive filing cabinet. From then on, when you interact with any Google service, your file is updated. After creating a Google account, you’re really locked in. Now a name has been added to that folder. As you continue to use their services, your folder gets bigger and bigger. And that’s data collection in a nutshell. Some may not mind it since it does create a better user experience in some cases. Others say HANDS OFF.
Data collection has a time and a place. There are some valid reasons to collect user’s information. For instance, if you’re developing an iPhone app, you want to see when users run into problems so you can fix them. However, you don’t need to know everything about that user, maybe just the iPhone model and iOS version number. Companies like Google and Facebook, on the other hand, use their massive data collection processes to serve users personalized ads in an attempt to make as much money as possible, more on that later.
The most obvious way to solve your Google privacy problem is by switching to a different service.
The number one Google service you probably use is Google Search. As much as they dominate the market, you’d be forgiven if you thought they were the only search engine out there. However, there are two great alternatives to consider, and I’m not talking about Bing or Yahoo.
DuckDuckGo and Ecosia are two great alternatives to Google search. Both companies pride themselves on not collecting and storing information on you nor work with other companies that will. And you may be thinking, “Then how do these companies make money?” Well, they still sell ad spots, but the trick is to show ads based on what you just searched for and not what you looked up the other day. In addition to privacy, Ecosia donates a large portion of its income to non-profits around the world that focus on planting trees. I strongly encourage you to try one of these services and see if you notice a difference. I will leave links below on how to change your default search engine in the most common browsers.
Another Google product you may use is G-Suite or Google Workspace, as they call it now. I am referring to Google’s suite of cloud applications, including Docs, Slides, Sheets, Drive, Photos, etc. Google makes these services super easy to use and access, but it also opens the doors for Google to take a peak.
I have two recommendations for you Microsoft 365 and Apple’s free iWork suite including, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, along with iCloud Drive. Both of these providers appear to be very privacy-focused. You have Apple advocating that privacy is a basic human right and Microsoft with their squeaky clean record. Now, which one should you go with? Well, if you’re a heavy Microsoft Office user, you’re better off going with Microsoft 365. If you want to learn more about Microsoft 365, check out this article I wrote last year called Microsoft 365: What is the Best Way to Purchase Office? I will leave a link to it below. If you stick with Apple products and are a light office user, give Pages, Numbers, Keynote, and iCloud Drive a chance.
Next, we take a look at your browser. Chances are you navigate the World Wide Web through the Google Chrome browser, don’t worry you’re not alone. Google Chrome accounts for about 70% of the market. But Chrome is not your only option, and in the past couple of years, Chrome has started lagging behind the competition. Luckily, you have plenty of alternatives. If you’re a Windows user, give Microsoft Edge a chance. It’s preinstalled on your system and has come a long way since its inception. If you’re on macOS, Safari is a great option, it’s clean and super easy to use. If neither of those is your cup of tea, give Firefox a go. I have a whole article on why you should switch to Firefox. I will leave a link to it below.
Here’s one Google service you use all the time without realizing it, Google Adsense, Google’s advertising business. Advertisers pay Google for space to put ads. 3rd party websites then give space for Google to put those ads. In return, Google splits the money they make from the advertisers with the websites. Let’s break this down with an example. I’m advertising a bike and sell my ad to Google. Google then shows my ad on websites that focus on bikes, sports, exercise, etc. Now let’s look beyond that. For example, when a user goes to bikeblog.com, Google takes note of their visit and interest in bikes. Now when this visitor goes to another site, Google may show them my bike ad. If this visitor clicks on my ad and buys my bike, everyone through the pipeline will benefit. The user may be ok with this. After all, the bike is relevant to the user. Others may think it’s creepy to be scrolling through a tech site that’s showing ads for a bike you looked at yesterday. For some, these personalized ads cross the line.
How can you tell if a website uses Google Ads? Let’s take a look through Safari. As an example, go to Dictionary.com and open Safari’s privacy report for this website. Supersize, supersize, there are multiple Google services collecting my information for the sole purpose of showing me personalized ads, along with countless others.
It can be easy to look at websites like Dictionary.com and call them the bad guys for using services that heavily track their users, but it would be way too expensive for each of these sites to run in house ad services, and Google is one of the top ad business in the market. And, you would be wrong if you thought an adblocker would solve your problems. Instead, you will be crippling their ability to make money and provide you with free online services. Would you be willing to pay a monthly subscription to access their dictionary services? Probably not.
But, there is one thing you can do. Request Google not to show you personalized ads and not allow them to collect information on you. If you go to adssettings.google.com and can customize your Google ad preferences. If you scroll down on that page you can see everything Google has collected on you. It’s honestly kind of creepy to see how far it goes. I would definitely flip the ad personalization switch off. Will Google still be collecting information on you? Probably, but hopefully, it won’t be for ad purposes.
Google is such a big company. At this point, it’s almost impossible not to run into one of their services. But as you saw here, there are some ways around them.
Changing Your Search Engine:
- Google Workspace
- Microsoft 365
- AppleGuideWeb: Microsoft 365: What is the Best Way to Purchase Office?