Did you know that Google owns Android, Waze, YouTube, Pixel phones and Chromebooks? Did you know that almost 90% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising? There’s hardly any part of your online life that isn’t somehow tracked by Google. By using Google’s email, calendar, docs, search, browser, cloud storage and even phones, we are allowing Google to know just about everything about us.
But there are viable alternatives that will respect your privacy. Daniel Davis from DuckDuckGo (a search privacy-first search company) will help us understand how and why Google tracks us, and then provide practical replacements for Google’s most popular services and products.
Daniel Davis is a Community Manager at DuckDuckGo, the Internet privacy company helping you take control of your personal information online. DuckDuckGo has its roots as the search engine that doesn’t track you, and has expanded to protect you no matter where the Internet takes you.
How to Live Without Google: https://spreadprivacy.com/how-to-remove-google/
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TRANSCRIPT OF FULL INTERVIEW
Carey Parker: Hi everybody, welcome back to Firewalls Don’t Stop Dragons. I got another great interview show for you today. I know I’ve had three interviews in a row. It’s not normal. Usually I try to go back and forth, but it just hasn’t worked out that way lately. I’ve got some great people available for the reason I just couldn’t pass it up.
Carey Parker: Today we’re gonna be talking with Daniel Davis from DuckDuckGo and DuckDuckGo, if you recall, is the privacy centered search engine that’s an alternative to Google search engine and that is what we’re going to be talking about today. So we hear all the new stories about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and all the things that have been exposed and all the things that Facebook knows about you. And what we really need to realize is that all of that just pales in comparison to what Google knows about most of us. Google is all up in everything that we do, and I think you’ll actually be surprised to learn that all the different ways that Google is in our lives.
Carey Parker: And so as all these scandals around privacy been coming around, I finally just decided personally that I’ve got to extract myself from Google, and they have some great products. These free products that they’ve had that I have used for many, many, many years are honestly great functionally, they’re wonderful. And because like Facebook because everybody uses them, it’s just so easy to share calendars, to share documents to … email of course is not quite the same because at least emails are standard that many different services support, so you don’t have to both be on Gmail in order to send email, which thank God. But, anyway, there are just so many things that Google’s part of lives and we’re going to cover that in the interview, So I’m not going to give too much away now.
Carey Parker: But the point of this interview, what I tasked Daniel with and they’ve got an article at DuckDuckGo about how to get rid of Google, how to live your life without Google products. And it goes through all the top Google products and gives you a really viable alternative. But to me that wasn’t good enough. What I wanted to know was, okay, if I’m deeply embedded in Google and I’ve got all this data and all my friends know my Gmail address and I’m sharing Google calendars with people, it’s not just enough to know here’s an alternative, but how do I actually switch from one to the other? And so we’re going to talk about that today with Daniel Davis and let’s jump right in.
Carey Parker: He’s got some really great info and we’ll start off talking a little bit about what the real background is here, what Google knows about us, why they know so much about us, and why it’s should be concerning to all of us. And then we’ll get into some practical issues of how do we switch away, what are the real alternatives to Google. So I’m dying to know and I’m sure you are too. Let’s talk to Daniel Davis and let’s figure out what the real alternatives to Google are and how we get there.
Carey Parker: All right, today we are excited to have Daniel Davis back with us, he is a community manager at DuckDuckGo, the privacy preserving search engine, which we will talk about specifically during this show and he helps users take back their privacy, not just when searching but in the wider internet as well. Welcome back to the show, Daniel.
Daniel Davis: Hello Carey. It’s good to be here again.
Carey Parker: Yes. Awesome to have you. I’ve been wanting to do this show for a long time now, mostly because I want to get this advice for myself. But I know that because I need it and I’m supposedly a security privacy guy, I know that the audience needs this as well. And we were going to be talking about how to kick the Google habit or a or habits really plural because I don’t think most people realize A, how many things we use every day that are actually owned by Google and B, how much Google really knows about us. Facebook has gotten a lot of heat over the last year, so for all the information they’ve gathered and shared with third parties. But I would think that that has to pale in comparison to the sheer volume of information that Google has collected about us. So first question to you is, assuming I’ve done nothing really to prevent tracking, which is probably most people, what does Google know about me and where is it getting that information?
Daniel Davis: Wow. What a question to start with. Where do you start? I mean, okay, the easy answer. Oh, and that’s everything about you. But obviously that’s not really helpful. It depends on the products you’re using, but assuming that you’re just like everybody and somebody sends you a link to a YouTube video and you click on that and then you got to a phone from your provider and it’s got Android installed, maybe you don’t even know what Android is. Just recently got my parents-in-law a tablet and I’m sure they’ve got no idea what operating system even is. And then within that, use various services and using Google hangouts to chat with your family or using Gmail for your email address. So many different ways that information is all been collected even those different product names by effectively one company. And one thing that I should say as well, it’s not just Google services, but a lot of people are unaware of things not branded as Google being owned by them, and I just mentioned youtube. You might think, oh, you know, we all know youtube is owned by Google.
Daniel Davis: We’ve been doing some research recently as surveys of different areas of privacy, and one of them was seeing how many people knew that. And it turns out 45 percent of the people we surveyed did not know that YouTube was owned by Google. So if you’re listening to this podcast, and I think by nature you’re probably quite a techie person and maybe not representative of the whole population at large. So we are sometimes surprised that so much of the population is outside of our sort of techie bubble and really, really don’t have what we would assume to be basic technology. So we were surprised at that figure.
Daniel Davis: We’re constantly doing more studies and we’ve looked into how many people don’t know that Waze, the navigation system is owned by Google. Turns out that just over half. That’s not been released yet, that bit of a spoiler there.
Carey Parker: I’m surprised it’s that high to be honest, I’m surprised that many people know.
Daniel Davis: Oh really? Okay. Yeah. The next one as well is how many people realize that Nest is owned by Google. And that’s was something that we may look at in the future because yeah, I figured that’s going to be pretty high as well.
Carey Parker: And chrome, of course, Google chrome, the most popular browser on the planet. It says Google right on there, but a lot of people just call it chrome and they may not realize that it’s Google even though it’s got a Google log in. So there’s that. So, I mean, you think about it the chrome, the browser, is basically … most people consider that the internet. I mean, that is their portal for the Internet and everything. What most people do on their computers now involves the Internet, so your prime portal to the entire inter-web is owned and operated by Google as well.
Daniel Davis: Yes, exactly. So when you think about what kind of data that Google can extract through this, well, it’s effectively, there’s no limit, but some of the sort of highlights of it would be a particular location. So through use of Google maps, through Waze for example, through Android, obviously they can track your location pretty much everywhere, and I’ll explain it in a minute that really high detail. Not only that, but Android apps, many of them owned or monitored by Google, they can track not just your location through those, but the things you’re interacting with and sometimes also your activity.
Daniel Davis: So there is an App for permission that can be enabled within Android apps where it tries to work out what you’re doing so it can figure that you’re not moving and the phone is a vertical, therefore you’re probably standing up and if it’s at a slight angle, it can work out are you probably sitting down, I don’t know how it does it, but there are different results that come out of … when a developer uses this is feature, it gets a selection of results and it can be lying down, standing up, on the bicycle, in a car, something like that.
Daniel Davis: We announced … we told people about this earlier in the year and people report it back, “Well, yeah, this is, this is pretty accurate. It does a good job of guessing.” Otherwise, the data, the other types of data that they can collect about you and probably are, is obviously when you’re using things as well as where, but also who you’re interacting with. And with the text messages, that’s obvious thing, also the contacts on your phone, so Google obviously knows whose phone number you have consequently then has their phone number, so it’s not just your own privacy but it’s other people’s privacy potentially leaking there. And text messages within Android, are not encrypted by default, so potentially the content of your text messages obviously who you’re emailing and receiving emails from and then you’ve got photos. And Google’s got a very clever algorithm for working out if people are in photos or if dogs are in photos and you might go and add tags and descriptions to that effectively just telling them a whole more lot of stuff just in case they come out everything for them.
Carey Parker: Yeah. And even that, to me it just seems that just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, so Google chrome, if you use them for your browser and probably whether or not you actually … because Google has the option to log in to the web browser. Probably whether you do that or not, it’s not just tracking the Google sites you go to, they have access to every website you go to. So there’s that, and location, people think, “Oh, you know, who cares about my location.”
Carey Parker: But your location information could say so much about, what places you frequent, easily tell you where your home and your work are, it can tell you where your loved ones are, it can with whom you associate because if I know your location and everybody else’s location, I know when you’re close to those people and how often you’re close to those people. I know what bars you hang out at, I know when you like to go to see the movies, I know what church you go to, which means I know what your religious affiliations are. If you maybe you go to an LGBT bar, that that says something about you. Your location is so much more than just where you’re at any given time. The history of your location paints an unbelievably detailed picture about you as a person.
Daniel Davis: Exactly. And I’m very glad you brought this up, and I promise this is not planed between us. Just I think 24 hours ago, so New York Times released an article called Google Knows Where You’ve Been, Does It Know Who You Are. And the reporter here … it’s talking a little bit about the recent, I suppose you’d call it a scandal where it turns out that asking Google to not store your location history or not record your location history didn’t actually stop it from doing that. So following up on that, it’s this reporter has investigated further. There is a Google feature called Google Takeout where you can take out your Google data and obviously at first glance, it looks very, very complex and it’s gonna take some effort to go through it. So because of that, a high school student … I should name him actually, Theo Patt, is his name.
Daniel Davis: Back in 2014, he made a sort of mapping tool where you basically give it the file that you’ve got from Google and it will then show your location on the map and you can zoom in very, very closely and it sort of highlights. It’s like a heat map, it highlights different places that are listed in your Google history. And so you look at it and you think, Yeah, okay. Yeah, pretty much … let’s say I live in New York, New York’s going to be a big sort of glowing blob because that’s where most of my time, sure. This reporter then zoomed in further and further and the level of detail is really surprising in this article. They tend to go visit family or whatever quite regularly, so they have the particular airport that they go to a covered in purple, the purple dot. But then they can go in closer and see that generally they use gates C18 and C25 except when they go to C9 to use the bathroom just next to the gate.
Daniel Davis: I don’t know, for me that’s pretty scary. And then you mentioned church as well, the religious affiliation, that’s a very good point. This person as well, they saw a sort of blob over their local church, which they only go to once a year for the family Christmas service. But even within the church, it shows roughly where they sit in the church. It feels like somebody has been sort of walking around with you, watching you, following you to the bars that you go to and yeah, that’s Kinda creepy.
Carey Parker: And one of the other things we’ve covered on the show before with some of the folks on the EFF is law enforcement. In fact, in Raleigh, North Carolina, was famous for this. There were a couple of articles written. There were the police who basically said there were some … we believe there was … I don’t know if it was a fire that was set or a crime … I think it was a murder that was committed and were having trouble finding suspects so they went to Google and said, “Tell me everybody who was in this radius of this location within this timeframe that you know about?” And I don’t know, I can’t remember if Google resisted this or eventually gave it … I think they did eventually give up the info.
Carey Parker: But I mean, think how powerful that is. If I can go back … the creepy ones are … think about. Well, if I want to discriminate against people, show me all the people that frequent this LGBT bar or show me all the people that went to this protest rally or things like that. There’s some serious issues that can be tied to that.
Daniel Davis: Yes. That’s discrimination against people and it could be flipped around – show me all the people who fit this category because they’re most likely ones that I can persuade with my dollars to vote for me in the upcoming election or whatever.
Daniel Davis: I just wanted to say a further point about that. So Google has this data and people might think, okay, fair enough, Google’s got it, I don’t care, they’re just a big company, just trying to make money with their algorithms. That’s fine. Law Enforcement, okay, maybe they’re trying to do the right thing and that that’s okay. But the person who made this sort of analyze of this data, the high school student I mentioned, he started getting lots of requests from people to analyze the files of people that they know.
Daniel Davis: So I’ve got this file of this person and I want to find out where they’d been. Can you help me to analyze it with you with your tool? So the data that is collected in my opinion, is unlikely to stay with the company that’s collected it forever. It’s digital data. It’s not going to decay. It’s going to be there forever. Would it always be secure in the hands of the company that’s collected it? And that’s very difficult to say.
Carey Parker: Yeah. That’s the other thing too, is you got to realize that this is forever. I mean, if you do, and I’ve recommended to the audience before and I’ve told them how to do it, go download all data. If you look at that data, it is everything. It goes all the way back to the first day you signed up at Google. So for many of us, is I don’t know, 10, 15 years ago, whenever that really got going, and that’s going to go on for a long time after. So, what if someone says, “Where were you on the night of so and so 20 years ago?” They could find out.
Daniel Davis: Yes.
Carey Parker: Okay. So why do they do this? Why does Google collect all this data?
Daniel Davis: Well, the short answer is the money. It’s for revenue. Google is effectively … we maybe think of them as a search company, as we’ve explained earlier, they now have so many different products and services. Search is just one part of that. And nearly all of their revenue comes from advertising. So they have an advertising company, they just happen to have lots of products and services that are a way for them to keep selling more advertising. And it’s not just the direct ads that we see, but it’s also the ad networks. So we see ads on other websites that Google doesn’t own, but the ad is provided through a Google ad network. And sometimes it’s not even called Google, it’s called DoubleClick. That’s another company that Google owns.
Daniel Davis: So this is what it’s all for. The more Google thinks they know about you, the more they think they can make money through advertising. Talking about DuckDuckGo now, we have a different position. On our search engine, we show adverts only based on the keyword. So you search for a car, we might show you an advert for a car. And we don’t have a personal profile, but we’re still able to show ads that are pretty relevant to what you’re searching for. That one search. And yeah, we’re profitable, we’re doing well with this business model, we think it could work for others, but for some people it’s never enough.
Carey Parker: And I think that’s a really important point. I think when some people get all hooked up on privacy and they get all worked up, they hear this, “Oh my God, Google’s tracking everything I do. Why did they do this?” I don’t want any of these, get these ads which are annoying and often creepy because I go to one site and I’ll look at something and then I go to some completely different site the next day, and all the ads are about the thing I searched for yesterday or the site I went to yesterday. People are picking up on this.
Carey Parker: But it’s not just. So the fact that this information is gathered in the first place, we’re hoping that Google does the right thing with it, they’re not going to abuse it. We’re hoping that they’re not going to give it over without at least a warrant issued to law enforcement or intelligence agencies. But what if it’s stolen, what if it gets loose? I mean, look at all the cases we’ve had where this data supposedly kept by a company and even if that company swore not to abuse that data, what if it gets loose?
Daniel Davis: Yeah. I mentioned earlier that there seems to be quite a lot of people who want to know where people within their family or people they know, have been in the past. So there’s a lot of maybe intent out there, even if it’s not just individuals, if other companies get a hold of this data, they can then use it for changing prices for things for example. And we saw an example of this, I think it was staples I believe, several years ago now, they charged different things on the web because of where they thought you were or because they thought you were using a Mac or something like that.
Daniel Davis: So basically based on the profile, other companies could be tempted to change prices and charge you more for things. That’s just a obviously a monetary thing. But there are so many different aspects. So you’ve got the creepy side of it. You’ve got the legality of it. In some cases you’ve got the financial side of it. There are many different reasons why we don’t want so many companies or especially one company or two company having all this data concentrated in one place.
Carey Parker: Now of course Google will say, and especially after things like the GDPR and EU privacy regulations have come around, they will say that we’re wide open, we’re very transparent. And they said this about the location data. There was a place you could go in Google, as you mentioned, that said, location tracking history or something, and there’s a big button where you can turn that off. Well, it turns out, as you said, that there was … there’s also a web app, something or other activity or something that just happened to also collect location data, meaning that when you turn off the big button that says, don’t track where I go, there were still things in Google that we’re tracking where you went.
Carey Parker: Yeah. And that’s actually … go ahead.
Daniel Davis: I was to say, so there’s transparency. And going back to the location history, I think to a certain extent there is transparency there, it’s just hidden in so many different … sorry, not hidden, it’s located in so many different places that it’s very difficult to discover. So yes, location history, you can switch it off, but there’s also this other setting in this other place and oh, it’s all accessible to everybody, just very hard to join all the dots together and actually work out that you need to do all these different things to achieve your goal.
Carey Parker: Yeah. And I want to make two quick points on them and then I want to dive into the practical part because that’s really what I want to get to. But I don’t want to forget to mention two things, so first of all … and I’ve been trying to get somebody on the show to talk about this notion of what we call a dark pattern. And the dark pattern is how they obfuscate all these settings and they make them sound benign or helpful like there’s a … and they’re always pre check; that’s another dark pattern. Is that these things are always all opt out, they’re set by default when you sign up for these things and you’ve got to go and find these things and turn them off because they’re arguing that this is all for your benefit, these are all making our services better. We want to customize your experiences. That’s a common euphemism, right?
Carey Parker: What that really means is we want to track the hell out of you so that we can give you better ads. Oh, and as a byproduct of that, we’ll also make these other services do some nice things for you. So point one. Point two, I talked about this a little bit on our show a while back, Lexus Nexus is one of these data brokers, big data broker that is collecting a lot of this data. Another one that you don’t even hear about it because you don’t interact with them directly. But they’re going to all these public data sources among others and gathering these massive dossiers on everybody and using that again to sell to marketers so that they can target you. I ordered because you can.
Carey Parker: I ordered my Lexus Nexus full report, and this is kind of like the Google download, but it’s so much worse because they actually sent me … I got my data and they sent me over 300 printed pages. That was my report.
Daniel Davis: That’s a book!
Carey Parker: It is and I tried to look through it, and it’s so hard to visually parse. I mean if at least they had sent me a file like this high school kid, I could have probably written a quick parsing routine that would have gone through and found some salient data. Find some way to process it and munch it down into a report that kind of says, “Okay, this is what they have on me.” I think this is intentional, right? They want to send you a completely indigestible tome of a paper that makes no sense to you anyway. Another dark pattern. Okay, so there’s that. I will talk about both those things at a future episode, but for now while I have you-
Daniel Davis: Just want to jump in and give you some material for your dark pattern episode?
Carey Parker: That’s right.
Daniel Davis: The way things are phrased, well if you disable a certain setting, it might say disable this books and then it explains, but that means you won’t be able to use this particular feature. So it’s trying to dissuade you. And the ways as well, I’m thinking of Amazon here. It pops up the thing, do you want to have 30 months free prime membership to get a free shipping and the button doesn’t say no, it says, “I don’t want free shipping.” So it really discourages you from pressing it.
Carey Parker: Yes.
Daniel Davis: Words to that effect.
Carey Parker: Yup. Okay, so Google has all these products. We’ve talked about them then. So let’s say that I’ve decided, okay, I’ve had enough, I’ve got to assert myself, I’m going to … and realize that for most people, it’s not about choosing, “Hmm, what email service am I going to pick? Oh, maybe I won’t pick Google, I’ll pick something else.” Because everyone’s already picked Google. We’re already in … myself included, we’ve been in deeply embedded in these wonderful free services and I love these services.
Carey Parker: I will admit fully that they are great Google calendar, Google docs, Gmail, I use these things all the time and they’re just fabulous services. But they’re tracking me and it’s driving me nuts and then so, Gosh Darn it, I’ve made up my mind that I want to do something different. How practically do we do that? We’re so embedded in these things, we got so much history with these companies. Everybody knows my Gmail addresses. Everybody I share calendars with also has Google calendar. That’s the way it works. We both have Google calendar, so we can see each other’s calendars. If I want to extract myself from this without somehow convincing everybody I know to do the same thing simultaneously, how do we do that? And that’s why I brought you here. It’s a tall order, but I’m gonna see if I can get this from you.
Carey Parker: So let’s walk through some of these big ticket items, the ones that most of us are deeply into and see if we can practically figure out how we extract ourselves from these and what we go to, what are the alternatives that maybe are better for privacy? I don’t care where you want to start, you pick.
Daniel Davis: I’d like to get the easiest out of the way first, if that’s okay. I’m going, by the way, from this article we’ve written called how to live without Google and we list not alternative to every single product and service, but the main ones that you said that it’s very easy for us to use automatically.
Daniel Davis: And so the easiest one is search. Google search is not something you have to be logged in for, it’s not something that is difficult to escape. It’s very easy to switch to a different search engine. You can choose a search engine that doesn’t record your search history, so it’s not sort of building a profile of you. Each search you do is effectively anonymous. And there’s a good one out there called DuckDuckGo.
Carey Parker: Yes.
Daniel Davis: So that’s worth giving a try. It’s very easy to set it as your default search if you’re not sure how, we also have an extension, which we install it as your default search engine as well. The extension protects you in other areas as you browse other websites as well. It gives you privacy protection all through the web.
Carey Parker: And I’ll put a quick plug in for that before we go on. I made the switch myself about, oh, I don’t know, a year ago maybe. And I’d used DuckDuckGo from time to time, but I finally said, you know what, I’m finally, I’m just going to make this switch, I’m going to change my default search setting in my browser and I’m going to put it on my phone. And then you came up with that wonderful extension and I’ve been using it for quite a while, and it is really very, very good.
Carey Parker: I will tell you right now that I used it maybe three, four years ago and I thought, I don’t know, it’s really hard to get away, But I have not noticed a really the difference. At this point it’s wonderful, it’s a very, very valid competitor to Google and the privacy is certainly worth it.
Daniel Davis: Oh Great. Really happy to hear that. Thank you. Thank you.
Carey Parker: All right, so what’s the next? Gmail. Let’s talk about Gmail. So that’s another big one. A lot of people have used that, and I’ve used it since its inception and I’ve got so much Google email out there. What are my alternatives and then how do I make that switch?
Daniel Davis: Yeah, Gmail is hard because it’s used by so many people and it’s not just if yourself or anybody you email who has got a Gmail address, Google is effectively potentially able to access that conversation as well. At least the metadata of that conversation if not the content itself. So Gmail is tricky, but I think it’s important.
Daniel Davis: There were fortunately several new email alternatives that have put privacy as part of the feature set and we’ve been using FastMail actually up and using FastMail personally as well for a long time. FastMail was not set up to be privacy centric, but it’s an independent company that to my mind at least through the content they put out and through the way they’ve responded to me and I’ve actually met one of the developers there as well, they really instill trust in you.
Daniel Davis: So I encrypt my emails with separate software. So they don’t offer encryption by default unfortunately, but everything else, I just have so much trust in FastMail. And they also have a calendar feature and contacts. So we use email internally as well, every DuckDuckGo.com email address goes through FastMail and we’re very happy with that.
Carey Parker: This is something we should probably cover up front early on as well as many of those other services, the reason the Google services are “free” is because you are the product. These things do cost money. Google hires a lot of people, they’ve got a lot of servers, they’ve got a lot of overhead. All these Google products do costs money so they’re not … they can’t be free or the company would be underwater. So the way they make the money is off of you and off of advertising. FastMail, and it’s probably some of the other products we’re going to talk about, costs money, right?
Daniel Davis: Yes, you’re right. So FastMail don’t have a free tier, they have a cheap one, their lowest one … I’m just checking now, is $3 per user per month, so you have to pay if you want to use FastMail, but there’s no alternative. There are some relatively new ones out there. And ProtonMail is what I’ve seen, more and more people using recently. And they do have a free layer as well as paid levels. And they also provide encryption, especially if you’re communicating with somebody else who uses ProtonMail. Then the email is automatically encrypted. It’s stored … I think it’s Switzerland where they’re based.
Carey Parker: That’s right.
Daniel Davis: So some people might see that as an extra reassurance. I think rather than location, it’s all about how much you trust the company. That’s the main thing for me. They could be located anywhere, if you don’t trust them then doesn’t mean anything. So ProtonMail is one that a lot of people are starting to use.
Daniel Davis: Tutanota is another one as well, a quite similar. So there are options there and yes, you’re going to have to pay for some of these if you really want to move away from Google. But even so, as I said, ProtonMail, they do still have a free tier and they’re supported by people who use their paid tires.
Carey Parker: That’s right.
Daniel Davis: One thing I also wanted to say about paying in general, so the initial reaction might be, well, why would I pay for something when there’s a free alternative? But we’re seeing this trend as I said, I’ve seen more and more people starting to use ProtonMail and pay for it, VPNs as well. VPN is a service that you can use to give yourself added privacy on the Internet, so your IP address is changed, potentially your location has changed. So websites can’t see who you really are basically.
Daniel Davis: And some people use that to try and get around blocks for watching Netflix outside the US or whatever. But more and more people I’ve seen are using it just to protect their privacy. And VPNs are paid services. I think there might be some which are free-
Carey Parker: There are.
Daniel Davis: No, don’t touch those.
Carey Parker: That’s right.
Daniel Davis: Because they’re free because they track you basically. So we’re seeing more and more people take, not just taking action. And again, we’ve done research on this, more people are taking action to protect their privacy. But more and more people are realizing that it’s okay to put money in this because the payoff for you at the end is well worth it. The privacy that you’re getting is worth it because now we’re seeing how much the abusive privacy by free companies is really costing us.
Carey Parker: Absolutely. And the other little icing I’ll put it on that cake, is not only … think about what privacy is worth to you. And a lot of people still have this notion that there’s nothing about me that’s interesting, I don’t care. That’s completely the wrong way to look at it. And what I always say to people that is go watch Glenn Greenwald’s Ted Talk on privacy and that will change your mind. So if you haven’t done that already, go do it.
Carey Parker: But the other aspect of this is not only is what is your privacy worth, but what does privacy as a concept worth as a society? So paying these people money shows people like Google and other companies that people do care about privacy and they’re willing to pay for it. And not only will that benefit the companies that are currently offering for paid services, but it will encourage other companies and perhaps even Google some point and maybe they’ll decide, well, okay, for 50 bucks a year we’ll promise not to track you on these services as long as you pay us 50 bucks a year. And maybe we can start the ball rolling toward that, but if nothing else, you’re at least kind of making the market for these products and encouraging other people to follow suit.
Daniel Davis: Yes. It’s interesting you mentioned privacy as a science will benefit them because privacy is also, we believe, the foundation of for example democracy. If you can’t keep private your decision of who you’re going to vote for, you could be influenced, you could publicly do something different to what you would do privately because you know that people are watching you. And that changes things dramatically and enables bad actors to overly influence us. Similarly, with the medical care or medical questions, if we think somebody’s watching or recording what we’re doing, we’re going to be reluctant to search or research sort of embarrassing medical issues and that could be also a serious problem if spreads through society
Carey Parker: Yeah. And one of the points, then I’ll move on after this. I don’t want to get too philosophical. But one of the points of Glenn Greenwald makes in the Ted talk is that for societies and democracies to mature and grow over time, they’ve got to be able to push the boundaries, and in some cases, break the law or at least break mores and things that are taboo. Like, I mean, look at racial dating, right? I mean there was a time when that was a taboo. LGBT, being in that community was very different now than it was even 20 years ago. Anyway, so there’s that angle.
Carey Parker: Back to the practical point because I … and I told you that I was going to grill you on this, so it’s not just enough to say, okay, you use FastMail, you don’t use Google. I’m already using Google, how do I get from Google to fast? I’ve got all this email in Google, is it gone? Is it lost? Can I still get to it without accessing Google? Do I delete my Google account or do I just deactivate it? What do I do as far as trying to get other people? How do I change my email address? From a practical standpoint, if I say, “Okay, tomorrow I’m going to do this, I’m going to sign up for FastMail, I’m going to pay them money.” How do I practically go about switching from one service to the other?
Daniel Davis: Yeah. This is a very good question. One of the first things I would recommend is having your own domain name, and this might sound a little bit complicated, but again, if you’re listening to this podcast then it’s likely that you know what a domain name is and I think you can be able to do it.
Daniel Davis: So let’s take me as a personal example. I have my own personal family domain name, which you go to the web page, it doesn’t say anything, it just says welcome. It’s a white page that says, welcome and that’s it. So I don’t use it for anything except email. And I did have a different provider many, many years ago, switched to FastMail, but the domain name stays the same. So if anybody emailing me, it still comes to me and they don’t see any different. I just had to request a switch from the email providers.
Daniel Davis: I believe that many of these email providers have guides for you on their websites and some of them might even offer the ability to purchase a domain as well. But especially if you’re using one of the paid packages, then it’s going to have support for a domain, maybe even multiple domains. You could have one for each person in the family potentially.
Carey Parker: Yes. Good point, and then they do. In FastMail, I’ve actually already found that for FastMail, I’ve been using it for a while. I just haven’t completely switched away from Google. But yeah, so basically what you’re saying is you would go to like one of the popular ones will be like GoDaddy. I don’t think I’d actually personally recommend them, Hover.com is somebody I like to go to. But if you go and buy a domain name, the first year is like I don’t know, 10 bucks a year and then after that it’s maybe 15 bucks a year. So it’s a small thing.
Carey Parker: But then you’re right, you own your name. Careyparker.com actually someone else took that, so I had to go get Carey-Parker. Yeah. Find something somewhat unique but something you’re willing to live with for a long period of time. And yes, that’s a great point. So if you buy your own domain name, now your email is that email for the rest of your life … well, at least as long as you’re willing to pay for that domain name, you’ll never … even if you change your email provider under the cover or you don’t like FastMail anymore and you want to go to ProtonMail, you’re right, these services do offer a thing that says, I own this domain. You prove that you own this domain and then an email that goes to that domain, goes to that service. And you’re right, so now it doesn’t really matter what’s under the covers anymore, you can switch them Willy Nilly. It’s a great point.
Daniel Davis: Yes. Another benefit of doing that. Now, some people have mentioned to me that Gmail has a feature where you can make any kind of inbox. So you could have Carey Parker plus podcast and that would be like a sort of separate address you would give to people specifically about the podcast and then you can close that address if it started to get lots of spam for example.
Daniel Davis: I do the same thing with my domain, so my personal domain, I have it set up so that if somebody emails me not at my regular email address, then I will still get it in a certain inbox even if it’s not my regular email address, but it’s the same domain, if that makes sense. Which means that when I sign up for something, let’s say I sign up for a Yahoo Service, I can use the email address, Yahoo at my domain and it will still get to me, and if ever I want to change it, block it, forward it or whatever, I can do that. So it gives me a lot of control and flexibility and a lot of protection actually, when I’m signing up for this one time service that I’m likely never going to need again, I don’t want to give them my personal real email address so I give them this other one on my domain, which I can control and just ignore after 30 days or whatever.
Carey Parker: Yeah. That’s a great point. So what about all my historical emails? What do I do with all the emails I have in Gmail right now?
Daniel Davis: I think it’s a good idea not to think of this as a complete switch, so on this day I’m suddenly going to drop my Gmail and I’m suddenly going to start using 100 percent this new one. I think on a practical level, if it were me, I would keep the Gmail for a little while and go back and look and see. In particular, this is useful for seeing there might be somebody that just communicates with you occasionally or you forgot to let them know your new email address or if you’re not using your own domain. So it’s worth keeping it for a little while just to go back occasionally and check who you might need to let know. With the old emails, that’s completely up to you. There is a feature, I think in FastMail for importing … it’s called IMAP email, so the emails, if it’s IMAP, it means it’s kept on the server, on Google server. And so they have a feature where you can transfer old emails over if you give them the credentials.
Daniel Davis: So effectively it is possible for you to have all your old emails in the new service and then you could go and delete them all from Gmail.
Carey Parker: All right. So moving on, Gmail is a big one. And you did say that FastMail they’ve got contacts and calendar as well. The context is pretty straightforward because it’s my contacts. I generally don’t share them with other people. What about calendaring though, for the calendar? Like for instance, I’ve got several of Google calendars that I share with my family so we can keep tabs on each other, and they’re all color coded and we’ve been using this system for years. Now, if I want to go to a FastMail calendaring system, is it in any way compatible or do I have to suddenly tell all my family, “Okay, you guys all need to get FastMail accounts too, so we can all switch.”
Daniel Davis: I haven’t used Gmail calendars, so I don’t know how it compares. There are multiple calendars within your account. So for example at DuckDuckGo, we have a couple of calendars. One is for the calendar for meetings and things, one is a calendar for individual holidays and vacations that we put in there, and anybody can access that.
Daniel Davis: They do allow you to export the data so that you can put it into your software. So I use Thunderbird from my calendar software. I’m giving away so much personal data here. I use Thunderbird from my calendar, and so I just drop in the URL that FastMail calendar has and then automatically it then stores the data there. So it shows the data there in my Thunderbird calendar. And so I’m able to synchronize multiple calendars on the separate software because FastMail uses this standard, this sort of worldwide standard for calendaring.
Carey Parker: All right. So let’s talk about … how about Android most? I mean for most people there’s only two options, right? There’s IOS which is Apple and there’s Android, there’s not a whole lot of other choice. If I’m an Android person, if I want to switch away from Android, what other choice do I have?
Daniel Davis: IOS is probably the one that everyone is thinking of and obviously for that, you have to buy an iPhone. And so there’s a certain amount of cost involved there. But there are many benefits I believe to using IOS and Android. And we talked earlier about how text messaging on Android is unencrypted by default. On IOS, it is encrypted by default.
Daniel Davis: We also have some tips on our blog for both Android and IOS, protecting their privacy. One of them is for setting a password or passcode for the phone. If you do this on IOS, it automatically encrypts the whole device. Now as a user, you don’t see any change, you just type in your passcode and you access your phone. But from a … let’s say a bad hacker’s point of view, if they want to get your phone, they can’t access the files on it, even if they’re connected to a computer and they used special software to get in because everything’s encrypted, everything just looks like random letters and numbers. Doesn’t seem to make sense.
Daniel Davis: Whereas with Android, if you haven’t gone into the settings and encrypted the phone, somebody could take your phone, plug it into a computer and they get access to your files. So that’s one big difference between the two. Obviously with Android as well, Google is so much built into it that it’s very hard to escape the services. Even if you don’t use a particular Google app on there, it’s not uninstallable, it’s going to stay there and it’s still potentially tracking you. And there have been … there were reports that even if you don’t use the map for example, Google is still tracking your location from your Android phone.
Carey Parker: And I will say that … and I have talked about this many times in the show is … I admit, I’m an Apple fanboy for a long time, but I think I could still say objectively with a straight face that Apple is a very different company than Google. And Apple is … in Apple, you are not the product. And you pay a lot of money for that, but it’s part of the reason you’re paying for that money is because … I think because of that. Yes, there’s an Apple tax, there’s sort of a status symbol thing to it that Apple products tend to be expensive, but they tend … their attitude definitely seems to be, we don’t want your data, we don’t even want access to your data because if somebody comes for it, we don’t want to even have the capability to give it to them. That’s a very different stance.
Carey Parker: And from a security standpoint, Android devices unfortunately they’re getting better, but it’s so hard to keep them up to date and today’s hacker friendly or hacker mentality world we live in, you’ve got to keep up to date. And there’s so many different layers and fractured market issues that keep Android phones from getting the latest and greatest software, Whereas with Apple, that’s one walled garden homogenous system, but man, when there’s a security update, everybody gets it right away.
Daniel Davis: Yes. Very good point. Yeah. Apple doesn’t have the same incentive that Google does, so Google has to make money through its advertising networks based on personal data because that’s their business model. How else are they going to do it if they can give the stuff away for free is the argument. Whereas Apple, they charge for it, so the incentive is not there. I’m not saying that’s everything, but looking at the company’s incentive and how they make their revenue, I think it’s important when making these decisions.
Daniel Davis: I have an Android phone and exactly as you just described, I can’t update to the latest version because it’s now too old and not supported. Obviously that’s the same with IOS, but I think the cutoff date seems to be much, much tighter with Android. It seems to be much sooner where the … and actually it’s not really Google, it’s the individual providers of the phones. They decide, we’re not going to support it after two or three years or something, which is really disappointing because being able to keep your phone up to date with the latest security patches is so important.
Daniel Davis: Having said that, we should not leave Android without talking about Google free versions of Android.
Carey Parker: Really? Okay.
Daniel Davis: This is tricky because in pretty much all cases, nearly all cases, you need to install the software yourself. But there are two versions of Android operating system that I’m aware of, one is called LineageOS and it used to be CyanogenMod and that’s what I put on my Android phone. There’s another one called Replicant as well, which is … So Lineage is effectively Google free, after you’ve installed Lineage, you can install Google apps if you want to. But it’s perfectly usable as the LineageOS itself with an F-Droid for example, for the Play Store equivalent. It’s got loads and loads of great open source software on there. I don’t know about you, but some people have the open source software or it’s something that somebody made in their free time and it’s not very good. It’s pretty far from the truth these days that the quality of apps that you can access through F-droid is very high.
Carey Parker: Are these phones that you have to buy with this OS on, they’re some special phones or do you have to jailbreak your phone and then install this OS on top?
Daniel Davis: For almost all people, you’re going to have to install it yourself, which is the big hurdle. Now, there are one or two small suppliers out there who will supply you with the phone with this installed already. And there’s one … and I’m sorry, I can’t think of the name now, but there is one I saw the other day where they sell refurbished Samsung Galaxy S2 and S3 phones with Google free open source Android version on them. And I think in that case, it’s not LineageOS, I think it’s another Android distribution called Replicant, which doesn’t include any non pre software on. So any software that is not a purely open source, and they have very strict criteria for that, is effectively excluded from the phone. So there are two options there. It is possible to find companies that will supply you, but your choice of phones is going to be quite narrow and it might be an older phone, but it is possible. And once you get there, from my experience, the phone is then very, very usable. You still have maps, you still have all the things that you need.
Carey Parker: So you mentioned maps. Let’s wrap this up with just a few more of the big heavy hitters, the things that people use on Google all the time. Let’s talk about Google maps. So what are my alternatives to using Google maps?
Daniel Davis: Well, if you’re on IOS, obviously you’ve already got Apple maps, but there are many, many apps that will provide maps that are not sourced from Google. And OpenStreetMap is probably the next most obvious one. The OpenStreetMap themselves, they provide a website that they have very, very good mapping service, but because their maps are effectively open source, there are also included in various other apps. So you can find apps that use OpenStreetMap but then add additional functionality. For example, there’s one, I think it’s the IOS and there might be an Android one … no, no it’s on IOS as well, and that gives you navigation features and stuff as well.
Carey Parker: So these are apps that you can download for your phone because most people use it in the phone, but also websites you can go to as well?
Daniel Davis: That’s correct, yes.
Carey Parker: All right. What about Google drive? I actually use this a lot. Between Dropbox and Google drive, I keep all sorts of stuff “in the cloud” so I can get to it from any computer and share it with other people. Google drive has got … it’s like a whole office suite, right? It’s got a word equivalent. It’s got an Excel equivalent. Is there another service I can use besides Google docs?
Daniel Davis: I see what you mean, yeah. I’m going to split Google drive into two. So one is the sort of the file synchronization part and internally we use something called Resilio Sync that’s R-E-S-I-L-I-O Sync, which used to be … I think BTSync was the name. And it’s peer to peer file sharing. File sharing sounds as though it’s going to be available for everybody, but no, you can indicate exactly who you want to share certain files or folders with. So we use it and it’s absolutely … there’s everything that you need. So Resilio sync is a good option for that.
Daniel Davis: Another thing that I think maybe earlier this year Mozilla came out with, if you want to share a file with one in particular or just certain people that you send an email to, kind of Dropbox equivalent in that sense is Firefox Send. It’s something to do with the browser. If you go to https://send.firefox.com, you can drop a file on there, it will upload it, encrypt it, give you an email address … sorry, a link to then send to somebody by email. They can download it and when they sort of access it from that link, it decrypts it as well and then Firefox or Mozilla will then delete that file after 24 hours. So it’s encrypted temporary file sharing for large files. So I’ve used that and it’s very good.
Carey Parker: I have too. I have actually recommended it to a lot of people like for the time you want to send your tax files to your tax guy; that’s a great service for things like that.
Daniel Davis: Exactly. One point I should say is that if you send the link by email, in some cases the email might not be encrypted, so you might want to send it by messenger. We might need to about that later, but messenger is such a Signal, Signal is the messenger. IOS text messages are encrypted as well. So that’s one thing to be aware of when you’re sending very sensitive links by email.
Carey Parker: Yes. And you could either pre encrypt it, which I’ve got a blog article on that or actually send.firefox.com has a password option too, you can put a password on the file.
Daniel Davis: Oh yes. Good point.
Carey Parker: Okay. Let’s lead right into that next one then.
Daniel Davis: Oh, actually, sorry, I have forgotten to mention the second part of Google drive, which is the actual file creation, the docs or the spreadsheet or whatever. And I don’t think we mentioned this in our blog article, but we use Zoho.
Carey Parker: Yeah. I’ve heard that.
Daniel Davis: Internally. And I’ve not really used Google docs very much books, so I can’t provide the accurate comparison, but it does everything we need. We use it mostly for the spreadsheets, online spreadsheets, where we share a spreadsheet, we … for example, our social media, we keep our social media content that we’re going to post in a spreadsheet on Zoho docs and we can comment on it, we can see changes that each other have made. It’s very, very convenient. So I think that’s a good alternative.
Carey Parker: I suppose we should have been mentioning this along the way, which of these services require payment? Like, does Zoho, is that a for pay or is that free? And if it’s free, why is this not have the same problems that all the free Google services have?
Daniel Davis: That’s a good point – https://docs.zoho.com. I’m just going to check. So they do have a paid service, which is how they make their money, and I can’t remember if they have a free version as well … oh they do. Okay. So they do have a free version for up to 25 users, which is going to be enough if it’s just for family use, that’s fine. And then they have a higher paid tires for businesses.
Daniel Davis: So again, the incentive there is not for them to just collect and sell all your data because they have got a business model that it’s just basically a regular subscription. So again, we’re looking at the incentives just to help us with our decision. Going into some of the other ones that we talked about, iOS we mentioned, that’s something you have to pay for. And consequently the maps with Apple is free, but then you are kind of paying through buying the hardware effectively.
Daniel Davis: OpenStreetMap is free, which you would think raises alarm bells. Okay, how are they making their money? But in this case, it’s actually an organization. It’s a nonprofit organization and it’s open source software. So it’s kind of an exception to the rule, if we look at it’s not a company that’s trying to make a profit; it’s an organization that is trying to provide something that it believes the world needs. And very often powered by volunteers by the way.
Daniel Davis: So I’ve done it myself, you see a gap in the map around where you live and think, hey, there’s a street there, it should be on the map. So you can go in and maybe with your phone and you sort of track your way along that road and then you can upload that data to the to OpenStreetMap itself and it will add that that road to the map.
Carey Parker: I’ve often wished that with … I’ve been a Garmin user for a long time, and so the actual physical dedicated GPS device in the car which is going away because everyone’s using their phones now. But there’s been so many times when I’ve been driving down a new road, not drive back and forth every day because it’s like a new road around my house, it’s like they should just figure out that I’m not going off road, just paint in a road there. Let’s just say there’s a road there.
Daniel Davis: Yeah. You’re not driving through a house, so maybe there is … you take every day, so maybe there is an idea.
Carey Parker: All right, let’s wrap up with one more because you mentioned it and then we’ll sign off. So we talked about messaging and you’d mentioned Signal. Where does signal come in and what would that replace?
Daniel Davis: It may replace the builtin messaging on Android in particular because it’s not encrypted by default. Google Allo is Google’s messaging service, I think still used by some people. There are also other messaging services that are out there. There’s WhatsApp, there’s Telegram, and we feel that Signal offers the highest trust out of all of them. It’s end-to-end encryption, it’s recommended by people who really know their stuff, Bruce Schneier is one for example. And for me personally, when he recommends something, I’m really going to sit and take notice.
Carey Parker: Me too.
Daniel Davis: They also released a desktop version as well. So now it’s a messaging … it’s different to some other messaging services, you don’t have to be on your phone to use it, you can install the software on your desktop as well.
Carey Parker: Yep. I use that all the time, and it’s really nice. And I was really happy to see them when they came out with the desktop app. All right, we’ve covered a lot of ground, and I really it and it’s really going to be hard to extract myself from the Google ecosystem, but I’m on a mission, I’m going to try and start knocking them off, and start doing it myself, and that means you could do it too. And I’ll end it here. And I will definitely put a link to the article on how to remove Google; your wonderful article on that, with links to a lot of these products that we just talked about. So you can actually go get these things to try them out. Most of them are at least free to try. And you can check them out and maybe get some new friends to do it too.
Daniel Davis: Thank you. And I have to say it’s actually getting easier, the more these stories leak about what Google has done. The other day we found out that Google has partnered with MasterCard to use offline data. So your offline purchases and now linked with your online data. The more stories we get like this, the easier it gets to say, “Okay, I’m going to try a bit harder to just use some of the alternative services.”
Carey Parker: Yes, yes. Yeah. In fact, I’ll be covering that new story in upcoming show. It’s just so creepy and Google hasn’t gotten really busted with the big ones yet, unlike maybe Facebook with Cambridge analytical and these things, but it’s gonna happen. So now you’re well armed and you can go out there and you can tell everybody, “Oh yeah, I knew that. I switched away from Google a long time ago.” And look really cool.
Carey Parker: All right, well thanks so much, Daniel, it was really good talking to you and DuckDuckGo is doing some wonderful work and I know you’ve got some great stuff in the hopper that I want to bring you back when those things are revealed and we can talk more about those as well.
Daniel Davis: Oh, yes, that will be great. Yeah, I look forward to it.
Carey Parker: All right, take care.
Daniel Davis: Thank you very much. Bye.
Carey Parker: I want to send a special thank to Daniel Davis for coming back again. I think he’s been here three different times now and it’s always wonderful to talk to him. And DuckDuckGo has got some great products and they keep coming out with even more and he recommended some really good alternatives there, and I strongly encourage all of you to take a look at them and like myself, I’ve actually moved to some of these already kind of in parallel and I’m still using some Google products, and now I’m ready to stop using those Google products and focus directly on these other alternatives that are hopefully much more privacy focused.
Carey Parker: And it’s such a shame because if these services were there to serve us, if we were not the product, if we were truly the customer, they could be doing some really powerful things. And it’s just a shame that at the end of the day with that they’re providing this services, it’s not for our benefit. Well, as it stands, it will be for our benefit, but at the end of the day, there are there to make money, and that Google’s an advertising company. And so the way they make money, unfortunately, what they’ve chosen to do is to make money off of knowing everything about us. And it’s just too creepy. It’s way too creepy and it’s just … it didn’t have to be that way. We’re going to have to find a way to strike that balance as a society with these technology companies, and all this technology could be used for so much good, but unfortunately right now we’re at cross purposes.
Carey Parker: And so give these other ones a shot. And like I said, during the interview, it’s important to try them and where you can, to support them because it’s important that not only these companies understand that we are willing to pay or go through some extra effort to preserve our privacy and stand up for what we believe is important. And maybe some of these other companies will start getting the message and maybe will finally shift away from this stuff and privacy will be the norm instead of the exception. And we can really start using this data, this wonderful data, and these wonderful tools to benefit ourselves instead of for profit and for advertising and all these other reasons that are unfortunately counter to most people’s privacy.
Carey Parker: I just want to remind you before we go real quick that the new third edition to Firewalls Don’t Stop Dragons is out. It’s bigger and better than ever. It’s 400 pages long. It’s got full color pictures in it this time, which is really neat. It’s got over 150 tips in it, all sorts of different things that will help keep you and your family safe and sound and not just secure, but also keep your data private. Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between privacy and security. Most companies out there are trying to protect your security. That’s something that you can both agree on, it benefits you both, that’s a win-win. But when it comes to privacy, however, in some companies like Facebook and Twitter and Google, unfortunately there’s a direct conflict of interest there, they want to know all sorts of information about you. They do these dark patterns. There are there to trick basically into giving them as much information as possible and they don’t want you to be able to opt out. It’s just kind of sad.
Carey Parker: Anyway, so the book is as focused on privacy as well, cybersecurity and there’s lots of great tips in there. So check that out. It’s available everywhere, I believe at this point. And it makes a great gift too if you’re the tech person in your family and you get tired of answering all these questions, well just hand them a copy of this book.
Carey Parker: So that’ll wrap up another episode this week and stay safe out there. And of course, this week in particular we’re thinking a lot about Hurricane Florence and all the people along the east coast that have been hit really hard by the storm. There’s been a lot of flooding, and of course, a lot of the high winds and things along of that nature. Hope everybody out there manages to stay safe and pull through this one. I’m actually North Carolina, right now myself, and Luckily where I’m at, it mostly passed us by; we didn’t really get a whole lot of a wind and rain here, but boy along the coast they really got hit hard. So hope everybody out there did pull through this one okay. And as always, stay safe and don’t get caught with drawbridge down.