Divorcing Google

Friday, March 23, 2012


This week, two class action lawsuits were filed by privacy advocates against Google, because under their new privacy policy, the company can pool user data collected from all of its web services into one place. Software researcher Tom Henderson reacted in a different way: he decided to stop using all of Google's services. Bob speaks with Tom about how he “divorced Google.”


Daniel Rossen - Up On High


Tom Henderson

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [13]

kamla patton

Don't know much about goggle just learning how to use it.

May. 23 2012 03:48 PM
Brendan Keefe from NY

@Rick from NJ: "Comment spam," eh? Pretty weak sauce. Sorry you only want to read stuff you already agree with, but adults like to discuss things they disagree about, too. Thanks, however, for echoing the Ghostery findings. (Which I did report a day before before you posted your comment, if anyone's scoring at home. ;))

@Tom Henderson" You say, "I have no vendetta specifically against Google ..." Really? Sure could have fooled me from this interview and your article.

Ah, well, if you're now saying that you see Google as "one of many," I guess I could interpret that change in tone as my having persuaded you to bend a little bit. We do, in any case, agree (now?) that the problem is not limited to one company but widespread, which was pretty much the point of my long response, which I hope you read.

Second point: All of this worrying about data-gathering by commercial entities is really starting to seem ludicrous in light of what the NSA, not to mention hundreds of police forces across the US, are doing. Links and excerpts here, if you want them:


Apr. 02 2012 01:55 PM
TomHenderson from Somewhere in the Midwest

Mr Keefe,

A wise man, looking at a mountain range once said: one mountain at a time. I have no vendetta specifically against Google, they're just emblematic of a new meme that seeks a quid pro quo of privacy for free apps. They're one of so very many.

Google, Apple, and dozens of others know the exact location you're typing from, and not a small amount of data of where you've been online (and off, tracked by your phone) as well as your many preferences, utterances, purchases, bank balances, and so forth. How much analytical information exists about you should scare you. It's not a small amount.

My use of Google was fun. Their apps rapidly work, altho they seem in "beta" forever. I've been able to replace all that google has done for me with other apps, almost all of them without cost as in free-open source downloads. I've also used a Mac for years with Microsoft Office, but I decided: no more, except in my professional endeavor as a researcher of apps and OS choices. Others may like them and want to use them and hurray.

There is a place where you really must look at the EULAs. You must weigh this against your personal philosophy, and make a decision. You made yours; I've made mine. Best of luck to both of us. This isn't about winning or losing; it's about a sense of personal liberty, and of what components these comprise, and acting on that sense.

Mar. 27 2012 02:13 PM
Rick from NJ

@BrendanOkeefe despite your OTM comment spam, the Divorcing Google story is eye-opening and empowering for people like me who value and respect privacy. Mr. Henderson doesn't have to take on all data mining and push-media enterprises to justify his actions. He's simply illuminating alternatives to Google. "Not evil" is a far cry from right for me. I don't relish being bended, folded and mutilated by data machinations and eternal archiving. So, I followed Mr. Henderson's lead by using the DuckDuckGo.com search engine to search without being bubbled or tracked and added Ghostery to my browser to find out who was tracking me, if anyone. Lo and behold on this very site, I see I'm being tracked by seven (7) technologies (addthis,chartbeat,facebook connect, google adsense, google adwords, new relic and the twitter button) - so I was able to use Ghostery to block them all.

Mar. 27 2012 11:01 AM
Brendan Keefe from NY

@Tom Henderson: Whenever someone in an online forum retorts by telling me to "do the homework," I take it as a clear sign that he's made up his mind about something, has been looking exclusively for data to support his hypothesis, and has concluded that the only reason others don't agree with him is they aren't doing their "research" with the same set of confirmation biases.

I did read your article, by the way. Sorry, but I don't think it adds anything to the impression that you created in this interview. I'll acknowledge that you do at least mention a few other ways you are being tracked (e.g., Disqus, Angry Birds, your cell phone, and telcos in general), but generally, the article only adds to my sense that you've made up your mind that Google=TheOneTrueEvil, while ignoring the myriad other ways private companies and governments are doing the same exact things you're so worried about from one particular company.

Here's an example of your inconsistency. From paragraph three ...

Due to the length and number of links, both of which would have run afoul of OTM's comment policy, the rest of my response is posted here:


Mar. 26 2012 01:08 PM
Larry from San Diego

Blocking third party cookies and divorcing from Google may provide the sense of reducing your exposure, but I don't think it makes any material difference. Your ISP knows everything you do on the internet and is required by law to store this for some amount of time. Google has a plain English privacy policy and the clear goal of giving us better ads, but the ISP's generally don't have any privacy policy and we don't have any idea what they are doing with the data.

Mar. 26 2012 12:12 PM
Dorothy from NYC

I blocked Google in my host file too - bye bye Google! Make sure you do this or they can sneak in! Don't miss them at all.

Mar. 25 2012 10:39 AM
Alden from Milwaukee

On an interesting side-note, journalist Dan Gillmore is currently working on a project about his attempt to ween himself entirely off of proprietary OS's & embrace the world of Open Source software. You can read a summary of the project here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/113210431006401244170/posts/Uz2mWZZ5rqY

Thanks to everyone at OTM for making the show a bright point in my week!

Mar. 24 2012 08:42 PM
Tom Henderson from Somewhere in the Midwest

If you're interested, you can read the article that I wrote for ITWorld, which is also now syndicated to other sites, at http://www.itworld.com/it-managementstrategy/259252/how-i-divorced-google?page=0,0 so that you can understand more than the six minutes in the interview.

I don't believe in boogeymen at all. I believe that privacy is a component of dignity, just as modesty is. Google's business model fights this concept. But read the details; it will help cast a context for the inteview Bob and I did. Thanks, Tom

p.s. yes, I still have a FB and Linked-in account. I can control these better than Google's digestion of my information. Look at the EULAs. Read the organization's legal history, do the homework. I have.

Mar. 24 2012 06:07 PM
Rick from NJ from NJ

It's an important story. Very eye opening. Ghostery, mentioned in the story, revealed trackers that were quite unknown to me and most certainly others. I have also been using the search engine that was mentioned, DuckDuckGo, and find it most effective and suited to delivering results that do not surreptitiously inject advertising and distractions.

People have a right to be let alone. Even Google acknowledges "this stuff really matters" in its notice as to its changing privacy policy and practices.

"The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." It's right there in the Bill of Rights. Ninth Amendment.

People who want to retain any rights of privacy they may have left had best assert them.

Mar. 24 2012 03:21 PM
Brendan Keefe from NY

Thanks for the mention of Ixquick, deGrene. I'll have to look into it, and I'll likely add to the grab bag of links I've been putting together, for people interested in being more private online.

If you or anyone else are interested, that collection lives here: bjkeefe.blogspot.com/2012/01/some-notes-on-privacy.html

Mar. 24 2012 01:53 PM
Brendan Keefe from NY

Bob: Glad you at least hinted at the ludicrousness of Tom Henderson's anti-Google hysteria, given that he's still signed up for Facebook and Linkedin, but I wish you had interviewed him more critically. There are more ways than it sounds like he's ever thought about that he's being tracked by those sites (and many others). Just to give an example of one question I would have asked: "If you're so worried about Google keeping track of what videos you watch on YouTube, why aren't you worried about Facebook (and Linkedin, and Twitter, etc, etc, etc) keeping track of every link you click while you're on their site?" (It's only a matter of looking at your browser history to see that you never go straight to the link you think you're going to, when the link is posted on a social media site. Details on request.)

Also, cookies are not "small pieces of software in your browser." They are small bits of text, kept in files on your hard disk, written and retrieved by your browser. If you're going to treat your audience as computer illiterate and therefore feel compelled to throw in little explainers, please get them right. We got enough people spreading FUD without you adding to it.

Which brings me back to Tom Henderson. Ah, never mind. There's no reasoning with people like who have latched onto a boogeyman. But sheesh. Between this story and the previous one about the cutesy attribution symbols ... slow week, huh?

Almost always, OTM is way better than this. So rather than go on and on, I guess I'll close here and just hope this week was an aberration.

Mar. 24 2012 01:48 PM
deGrene from Ohio

I feel the same as Mr Henderson; I have divorced myself from Google but I really haven't sacrificed anything in the process. The first thing I did was to change from IE to Mozilla. Once I made that switch I downloaded a browser called Ixquick Startpage. This browser bills itself as the most private browser on the Internet and exceeds EU standards. I made this my default browser and use only it for any searches I make. The nice thing about Startpage is that it will actually use Google's search engine while blocking its trackers, so you get the same results as you would if you had stayed with the Master Spy.

The reason Mozilla is important is because of an add-on it has called DoNotTrack, although it can also be downloaded for IE. I downloaded this onto my browser and a little green dot appears in the upper right hand corner of the browser window. When I visit a site that has tracking devices, it turns either yellow or red, letting me know that it has blocked them. It blocks social trackers, ad networks and companies. So far -- I've been using this for about a month now -- it has blocked 9,319 trackers.

I still have a Gmail account but, now, when I visit it, my little dot turns red and blocks any trackers on the site. I can visit any site I want and it will block tracking devices at all of them, as far as I can tell.

I have heard, although I'm not certain, that you can also use European search engines such as All The World. These engines adhere to a much stricter privacy code set up by the EU. I've tried All The World but its look was too different for me and it didn't produce the results I wanted.

There are ways to remain pretty private on the Internet -- you just have to do some research and figure out which products to use.

Mar. 24 2012 09:09 AM

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