Today I closed by Gmail account for good. This is why.

gmailThis 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 ÔéČ1 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.

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5 comments

  1. Mary

    Thanks Jon – some good and practical suggestions here. I find dropbox really useful for all the documents relating to my role as a school governor, pretty well all of which are technically in the public domain anyway (or could be if anyone asked) so no issues there. But I now know where to start – time for a digital spring clean!

  2. Jon

    @bb – yes, I know AdBlockPlus is no panacea either. The problem with this whole issue is trying to make decisions about things that are just grey – there are no clear black and white decisions here.

    @peter – yes! Their office is less than 1km from where I live as well. It’s almost as if I am shopping locally ­čÖé

    @mary – I’d not try anything to move away from Dropbox for a start. I have the fewest fears about their data use as a company, and getting ownCloud to run is a bit of a mess.

    Leaving Gmail – and switching to Posteo or Mailbox.org – is very easy, with two caveats – it of cost costs you a little each month, and also if you’re heavily reliant on Gmail filters or integration with Google Docs you may decide against this step, but it is the one where I would start.

    After that you need to think about your phone and/or tablet, and work out the steps you can take from there. If you’re on Android this means trying to escape Google’s embrace – so using K9 mail instead of the Gmail app, and using CalDAV and CardDAV for calendars and contacts, rather than syncing these via Gmail.

    If you’re on iOS the process ought to be similar – use the default Mac Mail app, and sync things using CalDAV and CardDAV, rather than via iCloud.

    When it comes to Twitter – use a Third Party Twitter app (like Tweetbot (for iOS) or Fenix (for Android). This restricts the amount of data Twitter can harvest about your use of the service, and also frees you from ads.

    Facebook – it’s pretty damned hard to find a way to use it that doesn’t leave you open to all kinds of issues. Unlike all pages you’ve ever liked to give it as little data as possible, lock down your privacy settings and especially data transmission settings as far as you can, and assume *anything* you post there is public. But it’s a hard one!

  3. Mary

    Jon, I really admire your stance on this, and the extent to which all your data choices are so thoroughly thought-through. I’d love to do something similar, and, given the time, I imagine I’d be technically capable. But… that’s just it: time. How much time do you think it would take someone – let’s say a standard but cautious user of gmail / dropbox / Facebook / Twitter etc. to make the changes you advocate? And if you had to restrict your suggestions to the top three things you can do to reclaim your data and your privacy, what would they be?

  4. Peter Cornelius

    Congratulations for your change to http://www.posteo.de und your decision to pay not anymore with your data but with a little bit of money to an interesting and innovative german company based in Berlin !

  5. bb

    Maybe you will think about the use of Adblockplus too http://www.digitaltrends.com/web/adblock-plus-accused-of-shaking-down-websites/