Google (or should I now call it “Alphabet’s Google”?) as a service and as a family of products have essentially taken over the Internet in terms of how many people use it. We’re constantly told to diversify ourselves and never put all our eggs in one basket in every facet of our lives; pensions, banking, news, information etc. Yet when it comes to online presence we’re more than happy to lay ourselves entirely at the doorstep of Mountain View, CA.
For years we’ve said ‘Google it’ instead of ‘Look online for it’. Nobody says that a product is part of ‘The Alphabet Inc. Family’, but a part of ‘The Google Family’, despite the former being truth because of the name recognition alone, and the mindset the brand name evokes. We’re a long way past the days of ‘Don’t be Evil’, and given the recent firing of Jason Damore over his emotionally bland (but factually correct) memo that was circulated internally and then leaked (as an aside, how much is on the table for the person responsible never being fired over this?) alongside the outright, thankfully temporary, Google-wide ban of Jordan B. Peterson, it gives the wary pause for thought.
But it shouldn’t be just the wary that are taken aback by the brashness and blatant leanings that the web’s largest company has, both politically and ideologically; it should be everyone. The poster declaring that ‘You’ve had a bit too much to think!’ is becoming chillingly accurate. Every person that has all of their online eggs in the Google basket should be concerned about the G-Man potentially knocking on your door with the G-Ban.
We all had something of a choice when we became literate with technology, though our previous experiences may have coloured the decision. Where should my content live online? There are typically four answers to this;
- All in with Apple. iCloud, iPhoto, iTunes, iPhone, MacBook and iPad. The choice to live inside Apple’s ecosystem usually traded off freedom for security, trusting Apple’s judgements on apps and content on your behalf.
- All in with Google. Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, Android OS, and the Chrome Browser. With Google, the answer was the opposite; freedom to decide where and how to use content, with the security of data becoming a user concern beyond the obvious connection and encryption.
- Homebrew. Run your own email server, local document editing that stores in the cloud, with any browser or phone OS you want. For some, this is the ideal solution as it is entirely in the user’s (hopefully capable) hands, both in terms of security and freedom.
- De-centralised. Pick and choose out of whichever apps do the best job, and find a way to knit them together. I personally don’t know anyone that does this, but it’s a possibility.
Of course, there are other answers (Microsoft with OneDrive, Office Online, or Amazon with Prime-related offerings), but these are the main four used by most.
I went for the Google Option, and have been using solely Google services for about six years. I got a free version of Google Apps before it became G Suite, meaning that beyond this site being hosted, most of the operations that I use my domain for are being dealt with by Google. I’ve been happy with this structure, but what if I got hit with a Google Ban? What changes would I have to make to my online day-to-day to get a sense of normality back?
- Google Search Engine – Thankfully, I wouldn’t need to change anything here. No personalised search results? I’m OK with that.
- Gmail – This is where it hits hard. I would lose all my emails for the last seven or so years. I’d be able to redirect back to my own hosting’s webmail to catch everything sent in future, but I’d have to lose all my conversations and attachments.
- Calendar – Gone. My shift list for work would be lost, and I’d have lost some functionality in my blog because most calendar plugins and widgets hook into Google Calendar. I could remake something similar but it would take time, and would have to be self-hosted to have any connectivity outside of the calendar suite itself.
- Docs/Sheets – All my documents would be gone, most importantly my budgeting spreadsheet and wage calculator. There is no local storage option unless I already had Offline Storage enabled and had copies to hand. Then converting them to a non-Google format, followed by saving them to OneDrive or Dropbox. The spreadsheets I use weekly would take days, if not weeks to remake.
- Drive – This wouldn’t affect me as hard as it should, as I primarily use Dropbox because I used it prior to Google Drive being available in the UK. I would lose some files, but not many, and certainly not any that I would miss not having a copy of.
- Photos – Never use it. Would not miss, but those that use it as an intermediary would have other options like Flickr, or even Facebook.
- YouTube – Back in the day, a Google ban wouldn’t cause a problem here because YouTube’s sign-ins were separate, but you could link one to the other without risking a cascade. Now, thanks to Google+ integration, it’s another thread in the weave that would be cut. I would lose a lot of entertainment value from this, but at the same time I could find other ways around it.
YouTube appears to be it’s own entity, however. It’s bans can either come from a Google ban, or just a YouTube ban, and with the monetisation model for YouTube drying up people are posting to places like Minds, VidMe or even Dailymotion.
Oh, and Google+?
My point is that with Google being such an integral part of most people’s online lives, that it should concern users of their service that not only do the people running the company possess such a harsh political leaning, but that they flaunt it so brazenly because, to quote the Matrix, “They are guarding all the doors; they are holding all the keys”.
Aside from the fact that they fired someone for citing facts in a level-headed, internal memo, aside from how ex-employees are now outing the subversive strategies of hiding ‘controversial’ search results and aside from how they can literally make or break an online endeavour with a single line of code or a single checkbox, they can do the same to your online life, because you (and I) have put them in that position.