This morning I closed my Gmail account. For good. This caused some interesting reactions among my friends (notably Andras), so this blog entry is an effort to explain why I have taken this step, and why I am adjusting my online and purchasing behaviour in some ways.
I need to underline at the start that I am essentially a pragmatist when it comes to these things – I am not going to make technological choices that inconvenience me. I have nothing against Google itself because it is large, or successful, or American or whatever else – that’s what successful companies do in order to maximise their profits. They grow. We cannot begrudge them that.
The starting point then is not a problem with Google. It is a quest to maintain some better control of my data, and how it is being used. Google needs to scan my e-mails to work out how to serve up adverts to me – that’s how it can raise the money to pay for the server space I use. It has probably got to be ever more intrusive with its ads, as with tools like AdBlockPlus savvy users like me can avoid seeing any ads anyway. But out of sight is not out of mind – or out of someone else’s data mine at least.
So I want to take back control, and store my e-mail on a server where no-one else can – legally – look at it. This is the reason I have moved to Posteo. I pay €1 a month for 2Gb of storage. Mailbox.org is another, similar service.
I am aware there are a few things that might discourage such a decision – Gmail’s filters are excellent, and integration with Google Docs is good. The latter I have seldom used, and the former I have found a way around by running a second mailbox on my own server that’s OK for notification and newsletter e-mails I only want for the record, but is not reliable enough for my main e-mail.
When it comes to security, I am PGP-encrytping my e-mail using GPGTools on my Mac, and iPGMail on my iPhone. You may also, incidentally, also notice that the pages of this blog are now SSL-encrypted too. I do not subscribe to this “nothing to hide so nothing to fear” line when it comes to surveillance – I’ve had enough arguments with border guards over the years to know that legal authorities do not always know what the law is, and so I am going to make it as hard as possible for anyone to intercept my communications as I can.
But back to the pragmatism point once more. Regular readers may recall that I bought a Fairphone (that runs Android) in the summer last year. After 3 months I abandoned it, mostly because of the phone’s hardware flaws, but also in part because of the software. It is damned hard to use an Android phone without also using Google tools. So much for an ethical choice – to jump out of the Apple lock in, and then straight into the arms of Google! I am, essentially, more efficient with a Mac + iPhone combination, but here too I have tried to decouple things a bit – I am using Posteo’s CalDAV and CardDAV sync for calendars and contacts respectively, rather than putting this data on Apple’s iCloud.
I am also still using Google Maps, and Google Analytics, and Chrome on my iPhone. On my Mac I have switched back to Firefox as my main browser.
However the process does not stop there. I have left WhatsApp (because it is owned by Facebook) and use Threema and Telegram instead. I am in the process of leaving Dropbox and running ownCloud on my webserver as an alternative. I may eventually conclude that Linux on a laptop, and cyanogenmod on an Android phone might actually be efficient enough for everyday use, but I am not there yet.
There are some things I have not yet changed. I am still on Facebook (although I accept everything posted there is public), and I use AdBlockPlus to avoid seeing any adverts in the browser version. I am still on Twitter too, though there I swear by Tweetbot (Mac | iOS), a third party app that also means I can avoid ever seeing any advert ever. Yes, I am free-riding here, but I have no way to directly pay to use these services – I’d pay $5/month for Twitter if it meant not seeing any adverts, and have argued for that, but as these firms do not want to offer such a model, I will henceforth do what I can to avoid the advertising.
So to conclude: my aim is to control my data as well as I can, and to share my business among as many companies as possible, avoiding lock-in to any one company as far as I can, and prioritising open standards. However I am not willing to make my life more complicated by doing so – I still need to be efficient in my work with my computer and smartphone. But Gmail I can live without.