Friday 1 August 2008

Degoogling My Life

I've recently started using Google Analytics for my blogs. Yes, I'm watching you watching me.

A few interesting things have emerged from setting this up and from looking at the data it produces. The first is that Google applications are easy to register for, own and use. They make it easy to let them host your data. The second revelation is that a website can collect a surprising amount of information about you as you meander around the Interblag.

Let's go backwards and look at second things first - collecting information about the people who land on your site. Here is a quick summary about what I know about you when you visit this blog:

  • your browser and OS;
  • screen colours and resolutions;
  • flash and Java versions;
  • network location and host name;
  • connection speed;
  • the length and depth of your visit (the pages you read and time you spent);
  • language used;
  • referral sites (search engines, other sites or if you came directly to my blog);
  • and where in the world you are.
There are many valid reasons for wanting to know this useful information. It makes it easier for software engineers that build web applications to know about and cater for the different technologies in use out there. It helps us serve the majority when building a site by knowing what is most commonly used.

This information is collected using a simple script call that looks something like this, which is generated for each of your sites:

<script> type="text/javascript" var="">gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." : "http://www.");
document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost + "' type='text/javascript'

<script>pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("xx-xxxxxxx-x");

Now back to the idea of making it easy to give your data to Google. I often roll my eyes at friends (geeks mostly) who avoid getting a Google account at all costs. They don't want a huge company to have so much information about them. Another good friend of mine believes that no matter why information is collected, it will be used for evil. Combine those too ideas and even with a company that promises to do no evil, you may get a little nervous.

Google knows a lot about me. I use their email; docs; feed reader; blog hosting and editor; photo library; web analytics tools; webmaster tools; and their oxygen. OK, not the oxygen but they might own shares in it. They use this information to provide advertisers with targeted advertising. I imagine they have a setup like Gringots, with the servers that store the history of all our virtual wanderings. I like to believe it is protected and will not be used in a bad way.

Of course, I'm not going to jump up right now and stop using google apps due to a passing over-thought paranoia. They are easy to use. Easy to start using. They use one id and one password. They let you do what you want to do without worrying about how. They are free.

As for how easy it would be to degoogle my life, I'm not sure. What are the alternatives?

Email: I could get mail through an ISP and bring it down to my laptop. It already comes to my crackberry;
Docs: Easy, Office on laptop. Everyone has that these days. How would people collaborate on the documents though? hmmm...
Feed Reader: Use Firefox but that doesn't move with me. Maybe another web reader.
Blogging and Analytics: Easy, host a web server running WordPress or use a hosting site and track everything through feedburner.
Photos: I already use flickr and facebook for that too.
Oxygen: It's free.

Will I be doing this any time soon? Probably not, it all seems like a lot of effort. Maybe one at a time. First I need a universal id. Let's see how it goes.


Sammy Larbi said...

Of course, Google recently acquired Feedburner, so your SOL there too. =)

Damana Madden said...

hmmm... that is a fly in the ointment. Any other suggestions? :)

Sammy Larbi said...

I didn't know of any, but lists a couple. I didn't click the links to see if they're still around though.

sriram said...

Short of a government request, what are the chances that a human is going to look at your individual data? For all commercial purposes, it is always aggregate stats. Do you care if your data contributes to aggregate stats? As for the big brother, it doesn't matter if you use a different service provider for each thing. All they need to do is to ask for a log from your ISP and then demand information from each provider.

Damana Madden said...

Sriram, the interesting thing is that I'd trust the gov more with my information than a large multinational company.

In reality, Google makes it too easy for me to use their stuff so I won't leave. I was just thinking through what giving them all that information could mean and how difficult it would be to decentralise.

Kellie said...

Literally a year ago, my gmail acct was hacked. At that point I realised how much access someone had to my life, such as scanned passports, the email to reset my ebay password with and buy things automatically via paypayl (I stopped it before it happened thank god) etc. Unfortunately, back then the: "help me gmail people, my account has been hacked" group didn't work and it was only because I knew someone who worked within gmail, that it managed to get sorted.
Fast forward a year to now, and even after that hellish incident, I'm similar to you and have docs, igoogle (the ONLY homepage to have imho!) blogger, etc etc, and I wouldn't have it any other way. It would be such a pain in the ass to contemplate having to do everything separately that even having my account hacked didn't stop me continuing with the google love!
My take is that resistance is futile ;) and only through cohesion of apps do you get a truly worthwhile online experience. I want everything there in one login, at one glance, in one place. But that's just me... :)

Damana Madden said...

K&M, I hear ya and feel much the same. It's convenient and simple so why change now? :)

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