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Google Has Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking (propublica.org)
513 points by scribu on Oct 21, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 288 comments



The marketers and advertisers have finally won. Google hasn't been an engineering company for the last 5 years maybe, but this confirms it. It's like Facebook, they're beholden to the non-developers and non-software engineers who frankly don't care about other people's privacy and only see the dollar bills.

So glad I'm evaluating other email providers and use Privoxy for ad-blocking.


This isn't a neat split along the lines of "All developers good, all marketers bad". What has won here is the pressure to grow, and the acceptance of society and governments to let them do it by any means. We are all complicit in this.


True, it's time to make a change and start educating family and friends about this issue and the alternatives.

I always believed Google was successful because it was pushed and advocated for by geeks, I feel that those days are coming to an end.

I use DDG and I think it's a pretty solid alternative, although it requires a little more effort when looking for certain things. Non-tech types have been curious about why I don't use Google, they seem to be getting the tracking is not good thing.


> I always believed Google was successful because it was pushed and advocated for by geeks, I feel that those days are coming to an end.

Those days ended the day Google went public, and quite possibly well before then.


I think the change happened when Eric Schmidt left and Larry Page gave his "more wood behind fewer arrows" speech, which meant engineers down product managers up.


Maybe, but I want more details on what exactly is happening though.


The two things I miss when using DDG: 1) The ability to easy filter results by date at 1 year 2) A last update date on the result.

There may be a way to get these things from DDG, but I'm haven't had the time to look for them yet.

Still DDG is pretty good, and obviously will get better the more we use it.


!year gets you some of the way there


That doesn't work for me. I can do `!syear` or `!gyear` to filter on Google or Start Page, but not with DDG results.


if you type

    !year girugamesh
vs.

    girugamesh
you definitely get two different sets of results, one general, and one discussing the term in retrospective (with urls denoting /2016/ for example). I think they don't highlight it well, but the filtering is definitely going on.


For me at least, searching on an iPhone in the UK, I get the standard results query URL. The results are the same as when I search for "year girugamesh" (i.e. without the bang).


I use DDG at work and the sheer number of times I just resort to sticking !g in front of the query in order to find what I'm looking for is bemusing.

It's also a self fulfilling prophecy though - as my threshold to scroll through results on DDG has dropped markedly from when I first started.


Try using !s instead. It brings you to startpage.com, producing Google results without the tracking.


> True, it's time to make a change and start educating family and friends about this issue and the alternatives.

You can't just educate everyone. The law need to change to make this sort of thing illegal. Personal data should be limited, and controlled by the person involved. You should not be allowed to sign it away.


Can you elaborate on DDG when you said:

"it requires a little more effort when looking for certain things"

What type of things?


Not OP, but:

1. Older results. DDG's recent (<~5 year) results are pretty good. Going older than that for online content, not so much.

2. Books and journals. Google Books, Google Scholar, and Google Ngram Viewer are phenomenally useful tools, no doubt about it. There's no single resource which can substitute for them. Worldcat (library search) is good, if you've got access to various search databases (usually via an academic library) that's useful, and content access itself is possible (with questionable legality) via Sci-Hub and LibGen. The Internet Archive has less content, but greater legality.

3. Specific technical queries are generally less well answered by DDG, but easier to direct (via bang queries) to the appropriate source. StackExchange, Debian, Debian packages, Ubuntu, Microsoft KB, etc., are (I think) all covered. The ease of filtering from a general case to a specialised search is a real win.

4. Date-bound searches. I very frequently want to look for something between specific dates.

5. Less-prominent content. I use various sites (Ello, Reddit) as filing cabinets of a sort, and being able to search my own posts there is useful. Reddit's post search is good, Ello's not so much. DDG doesn't index (or retain) Ello results well.


I'll certainly agree with #3 in general being less well answered by DDG. It seems to me to be mostly with compound terms and having to manually use +'s and "'s to enforce terms.

Given there's no tracking (feels a bit odd saying that nowadays with any kind of seriousness), do they monitor which queries people use !g for, and try to optimize their engine for these?

One feature I do like though (I'm not sure if Google etc offer this nowadays), is they'll often provide the top-answered StackOverflow answer in response to a query above the search results. That has proven handy a fair few times, esp. for some of the shorter answers (e.g. arcane command lines, git invocations etc).


Google does, but DDG has done it earlier as far as I remember.


Automatically proposing the best bang query would be awesome. It should be doable to predict the best bang from the query.

Google does something like this when it shows images or scientific articles on top of other results.

DDG could even predict that it needs to fallback to Google in last resort.


So ... the best bang for the buck? ;-)

DDG's auto question-answer stuff is pretty good. Not quite as polished as Google, but IMO far less annoying. Google thinks it knows better than I what I want. DDG seems willing to allow me to provide reasonable prompts. "Weather" and "what is..." queries, for example.


Happy to say I have switched as well and happy to say it works well as well (ok, sometimes with liberal use of the + and "" operators and once in a while a !g, but overall very usable).


> time to make a change and start educating

When it comes to this, it's too late. The dollars have already won in the highest court.


Complicit suggests the majority of users are informed. We can't even get people to use good passwords the majority of the time, what on Earth would make you think they're knowledgable about their privacy?

They aren't complicit, they're ignorant. Capitalism breaks down if the customer has no idea what they're buying.


They aren't complicit, they're simply powerless.


You're right, it's more like "some developers bad, all marketers bad" :)


It is not engineering vs advertising. Developers are not some kind of perfectly pure and moral people, and engineering is not an end in itself, it's always to serve some other purpose.

There is no such thing as a tech/engineering company.


"Don't be evil" ... ?

It's not about developers being perfectly pure and moral, it's about an organisation holding themselves up to a standard that they have set themselves.

And a standard which I expect them to meet and exceed.


> And a standard which I expect them to meet and exceed

Then you're a fool. If you want to slam people for not meeting standards, they'll have to be objectively defined. There's no sense of "evil" you could ever hope for people to agree on.

Your complaint is similar to the chorus of people complaining that they voted for "hope" and Obama let them down. They should have known that would happen when they saw that his slogan was "hope".


Being cautious and careful with my information is an extremely basic standard considering the position they are in.


What exactly is that standard?

Google is a massive company that provides immense value to billions, and they do much of this for free (monetarily to you as the end user) while providing advertisers a great platform that allows for efficient matching of products to consumers. That is a fine standard for a company in my opinion.


Google has never been an engineering company, it's a search company with an engineering-focused culture and an ad-driven monetization model.

Please don't paint broad unsubstantiated strokes over all "non-developers and non-software engineers". You mention Facebook as an example that's not engineering focused but fail to mention that their equity structure is such that Mark Zuckerberg has control effectively through the votes his shares represent which means MZ, an engineer/hacker, is responsible for the decisions of the company.

Google is not a company whose mission it is to preserve people's privacy. They are out to solve search and organize information and in order to reach their goals, they have to find a way to attract the best talent in the world. This requires making tradeoffs in order to get the capital required to invest in changing the world in the way they think will be better.


Search is one of the most technically complex engineering problems out there. A search company is by definition an engineering company.


Having worked for a company designing nuclear power plants, that was very much a financial company where even the tiny sales department had far more power than the very large engineering department ... I would disagree that complexity of a problem makes companies engineering companies.

The engineers at sister companies who were working at the time on an offshore gas terminal were in the same position. Those companies are very much not engineering driven.


I'm moving off gmail today, gonna just register my own domain and set up a server somewhere. I think that and hangouts are the last ways they got me, looking forward to deleting my account.

It's so strange to be old enough to see the same mistakes of the AOL days repeated again at a much larger scale. I don't want your garden, I want my privacy, thanks.


Meta-comment: Your post isn't unreasonable, but it seems your throwaway name killed it for you...


"isn't unreasonable" but it's a profoundly selfish sentiment. It's almost a given that the people reading this are totally immune to this. We all use adblockers as the default.


Zoho Mail + Personal Domain = Free, No Ads. Company makes money by providing good-enough email product, encouraging you to use their other for-money good-enough SaaS products.


"gonna just register my own domain and set up a server somewhere"

..... only to find that you have problems delivering email to Gmail users, who are everywhere. :/

I experienced this same problem when moving to a new hosting provider and IP set. couldn't sent mail to Google properties/hosted accounts until my IP's email reputation score was high enough to be approved by whatever lurks in Google.


Everyone's talking about switching emails, but realistically how difficult do you think it will be. Changing it for all the services you use and informing everyone? Or are you just planning on setting up forwarding for a while... (Asking because I'm trying to make the switch myself)


I switched to Fastmail about 2 weeks ago and their POP retrieval feature made it really easy to get all emails from from my old account. I just updated my email address with a service when first using it after making the switch. And I reply to emails from my new address.

I was looking into ProtonMail and Riseup as well. There are lots of good alternatives to Gmail.


I've switched to Fastmail and still have my gmail address. It's just another folder and it get's fetched via IMAP. I also added the mail as an identity, so I can still answer to people with my gmail adress.

So no need to inform everyone, just use your new address when you're asked.


You can do that for other services but I do not see an easy alternate to Android.

People are moaning about Microsoft tracking with Windows 10 which is mostly on home devices. In reality Google is worse, they are tracking us 24x7 via our smart phones.


I am using (and hating hating hating hating hating) Android. I've been watching for alternatives.

1. Cyanogen Mod: This inherits too many of Android's fatal flaws.

2. FirefoxOS: Oh well. (It's dead, Jim.)

3. Ubuntu Mobile: It's still alive, though small.

4. Windows Mobile: Not my thing.

I may head to a small-form-factor notepad. I really like the concept of a folio-format tablet + bluetooth keyboard, though nobody seems to be making a general 9-10" device. I prefer this to an integrated & hinged laptop, or a smartphone type device, especially in WiFi-only capabilities. The basic hardware of my device is acceptable. The OS, lockdown, user-hostility, surveillence, intentionally broken crap, and App store ecosystem dyfunction are irredeemable.


I have high hopes currently for Plasma Mobile - https://plasma-mobile.org/


Thanks Look really interesting.


https://jolla.com/jolla/ is still a thing


Windows Mobile has some of the issues you mentioned, but why isn't it your thing? It's a beautiful OS.

Plus your post made me a bit sad again remembering webOS. How I miss it!


1) I'm a Unix kid at heart.

2) I can't forgive Microsoft the 1980s and 1990s.

I'm leaning toward the idea that a terminal and emacs is about 99% of what I really need.


Have you heard of F-Droid?

> Cyanogen Mod: This inherits too many of Android's fatal flaws.

For example?


Is Cyanogen mod wed to google services?


The OS [mostly] doesn't matter. Google Play Services does most of the tracking job, see https://microg.org/


If you don't install GApps package, no.


I recently moved to using https://mailbox.org/ to host my email under a personal domain name. I've been very happy with their service. (not affiliated with them whatsoever)


I've been happy with https://fastmail.com/


I second the recommendation for FastMail. Excellent service, they even support push email on iOS (AFAIK they're the only company outside of Yahoo to have that for IMAP), and I love all the work they're doing to try and push email forward (such as JMAP).


> Google hasn't been an engineering company for the last 5 years maybe, [...]

Well, Google is hyped here on HN (a technology forum) a lot, also in the positive sense. So perhaps HN should start hyping different, more ethical correct, companies?


>> the non-developers and non-software engineers who frankly don't care about other people's privacy and only see the dollar bills.

If the developers and the software engineers cared about other people's privacy and saw anything beyond dollar bills the nons' would not have anything to sell.


This is not how corporations work.


> Google hasn't been an engineering company for the last 5 years maybe

I think Google always was an ad company, using technology to push ads and never a engineering company using ads as a source of income.


Have you forgotten the years they went providing Google search without a single ad?


Which years were those? Google has been putting ads in search results since at least 2000. Are you talking about 1998-2000?


Yes. Those are years, plural, when Google the company was not putting advertisements into search results. They may have always monetization via ads when they decided to turn it into a company (Larry and Sergei did not think about ads when they were developing the initial product, but I'll concede that they likely just hadn't ever considered that they'd be able to turn a research product into a company at all), but they inarguably built the product before selling one single advertisement.


So then would you say Google was a search company and is now an ad company?


It's still a search company. What search engine do you use? Who has built a better web search product than Google? I admire DuckDuckGo and am hopeful for them in the future, but Google is simply still the best search engine out there.


Google is absolutely still doing real engineering. However, on the web side, I tend to agree with you. The core Google product is now ads-first. Their real engineering efforts have just shifted.


You're being way generous. It's more like 15 years.

But, anyway, moving to another company won't help. Unless it's something that is specifically prohibited by contract (and not unilaterally editable), companies will eventually do it if it makes them money. Individuals have zero leverage.

What we need is a massive corporation for all people that will negotiate contracts on our behalf. Oh, wait, that's what governments are for? Governments are so 20th century.


> So glad I'm evaluating other email providers and use Privoxy for ad-blocking.

I find it to be not that easy to find good alternatives.

In the long run good products require money, and money is massively flowing at advertisement currently.

That's why the big players are Google (ads), Facebook (ads), and I suspect that's why Microsoft is starting to massively collect user data (from Windows 10).

Building good competition requires money flowing at them, and people don't seem willing to pay for such products.

The only alternatives I see currently are:

- A change of rules (laws) regulating advertisement and personal data.

- A change of the funding system to give more opportunities to people to unite and bootstrap their own initiatives (basic income?).

- A subscription-based subset of Internet were you pay $10-$30 each month and can access to a high-quality service providers (news, email providers, etc).

- A major actor benevolently sponsoring such efforts (states or other wealthy entities with funding capabilities).


It's not easy to find good alternatives if you require that your email be free. If you're willing to pay for email (and really, if email is important to you, you should be paying for it) there's a number of excellent providers. I recommend FastMail, but I've seen people talk about a few other good ones too (though I forget the names).


I, for one, am an enthusiastic paying customer of Fastmail.


Seconded.


it's working quite well, along with the ad nauseam propaganda saying that "ad blockers = stealing content." That if you use anything to block ads, you're "entitled" and "you don't deserve to see that content."

Yet Google still finds itself held in such high regard that criticism of their advertising tactics are dismissed as trolling in many cases. And here we are.


Why do you think none of the marketers care about privacy?

Why do you think all engineers do?

For the record, I'm an engineer, have almost nothing to do with web development, and my honest opinion is actually against so-called privacy advocates. At the same time, a lot of marketing people that I meet actually argue against me on this.

If you see a corellation between a profession and political opinion, it does not signify causation.


Off topic question: If I was to find a job right now, what's the best "engineering company" I can work for?


Google. Ads or not, it's the best 'engineering' company to work for.


do you think marketers are the ones building the ad platforms? A bunch of developers knowingly go work for Google to work on this sort of stuff.

"But they offer sooooo much money" is not a moral argument.


It's Friday night, just on my way out of the office and I have to read this?

FUCK GOOGLE.


Earlier:

  We will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with your
  personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in
  consent.
Now:

  Depending on your account settings, your activity on other
  sites and apps may be associated with your personal information
  in order to improve Google's services and the ads delivered by
  Google.
So opt-in becomes opt-out.


To opt out, or "Pause" as Google is tellingly calling it, from the article:

   To opt-out of Google’s identified tracking, visit the
   Activity controls[1] on Google’s My Account page, and
   uncheck the box next to “Include Chrome browsing history
   and activity from websites and apps that use Google
   services." You can also delete past activity from your
   account.
[1] https://myaccount.google.com/activitycontrols


In typical Google fashion, I can't tell if this will actually work or not. Some of the settings were in-between "On" and "Off". WTF did that mean? And then some of them seemed to imply that I had to accept a cookie to make them not work. Well I browse privately and use ad blocking, so does that mean they'll track me across a single session but not multiple sessions? (I ask because cookies work in a single session, but when I quit, they are deleted.) It also seemed to imply that the settings were only for that one browser on that one computer. I want it always off for everything. WTF? I don't think a typical user can understand the implications of these settings and make informed choices about using them.


There are more tracking settings here for "Ads based on your interests" and "Control Signed-In Ads" (Ads based on your interests on websites beyond google.com):

https://www.google.com/settings/u/0/ads/authenticated


Mine was already unchecked.


Mine was unchecked but the same settings on my phone were on.


I turned everything off years ago. Still off today.


Me too, but I'm not sure what it means. Do they stop collecting the data or do they just stop using data for ad targetting?


That specific setting controls the latter.

There are separate controls for data collection (e.g. turning off Web History).


To be honest, google is far past the point where i'd trust them that when I "pause" tracking or delete history they actually do so and not just show me an interface which says so.


I'm sorry you feel that way. Google does work really hard to ensure every user's settings are honored.


> So opt-in becomes opt-out.

Hum, not exactly. With these new TOS, you can't assume that their will be a clear way to opt-out. ("it will depend on your account settings" is rather vague)


But examining the settings, it is not vague at all. Until such time as it actually is impossible we should probably actually consider the whole picture.


I'd just like to draw people's attention to a little bit of conflict-of-interest research some Stanford University researchers published a few years ago:

Currently, the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users. For example, in our prototype search engine one of the top results for cellular phone is "The Effect of Cellular Phone Use Upon Driver Attention", a study which explains in great detail the distractions and risk associated with conversing on a cell phone while driving. This search result came up first because of its high importance as judged by the PageRank algorithm, an approximation of citation importance on the web [Page, 98]. It is clear that a search engine which was taking money for showing cellular phone ads would have difficulty justifying the page that our system returned to its paying advertisers. For this type of reason and historical experience with other media [Bagdikian 83], we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers.

http://infolab.stanford.edu/~backrub/google.html


This really is an important point.

Somehow in this new age of technology companies we have forgotten that corporations, in the long run, will always converge on what is most profitable, regardless of the values of their founding team, who will eventually retire or have their influence diminished.

For that reason, I always pay more attention to a company's incentives than I do what they say about values. If a company derives the vast majority of their income showing me targeted ads, I can expect that that will take priority over any notion of privacy, and we all know that privacy is the bane of targeted advertising. Unless there is some seismic shift in Google's core business in the next several years, we should only expect more moves like this.

And as we head into the new era of "intelligent personal assistants," let's keep in mind which companies are pushing this most aggressively: two ad companies and one that wants us to make it easier (perhaps even not a conscious activity?) to buy things from them. It does not take a lot of imagination to see what these assistants are most interested in assisting us with.

That's why, for all of the valid criticisms of them, I still use Apple products. I'm just more comfortable with their incentives, which are, as of now, mostly to sell me shiny new hardware. Sure, this has led them to do some things that annoy me like lock down their iMessage platform so I can't use it to communicate with my Android-using friends. Still I'll take that sort of behavior over a wholesale disregard for my privacy.


Someday someone should write a modern Faust based on Brin and Page.

Yes. Incentives matter. Google thought they could ride the tiger. The tiger's riding them.


> “Some new features for your Google account.”

Oh, yeah, I remember that. I totally clicked "Ok, whatever."

How does one not be herded like cattle by the corporations, without making a full time job of resisting it?


> How does one not be herded like cattle by the corporations, without making a full time job of resisting it?

Legal protection is necessary, and that's what works in other industries. It's not a fair negotiation, between a company's teams of engineers, management, and attorneys on one side, and a lone individual on the other. Financial firms, for example, can't just put whatever they want in agreements or do whatever they want.

EDIT: The solution of informed consent doesn't work. Consumers don't have time to become informed, which requires not only reading every click-wrap agreement but understanding the technology (remember the solution must work for all users, not only the HN crowd but people who don't know what a web browser is), and understanding privacy and its consequences, and then starting that process over again to find an alternative that meets their needs - for every technology in the stack. It's unrealistic in theory, and in practice obviously doesn't work: Almost nobody, even the HN crowd, is informed.


People need to start thinking of web forms, solicitations for email address, etc. like people used to think of the Columbia House record/CD club.

There may be an instant-gratification payoff, but you'll regret it at leisure.

Or, would you take a free sample to munch on if they first presented you with a 34-page legal agreement?


People rarely regretted joining Columbia House, so I'm not sure what you're referring to here. They really did give you a billion records for a penny, and all you had to do was opt out every month (or opt in, they had a lot of really good records in that catalog in the 90s at least.) They relied on people repeatedly forgetting to opt out, not the blatant subterfuge of modern business models.

http://www.avclub.com/article/four-columbia-house-insiders-e...


I'm sure there were more than one person who liked it, so yes, I suspect it is true to say 'people' rarely regretted it. I know I did, when I joined them on a lark in college.

They were literally a joke (several, actually) at the time. Consumer reports was overflowing with complaints. The only people I knew who didn't regret it were the ones who were cheating.

> They relied on people repeatedly forgetting to opt out, not the blatant subterfuge of modern business models.

I understand that others see things differently, and if you liked them, great for you. But businesses who rely on customers making mistakes about their own best interests are slime, in my view, and in that of many others.


Funny you should say that, because I loved Columbia House. Not just the cheap initial CDs, but the "surprise" CD picks they sent my way (94-99). Come to think of it, most of my CD 'collection' came from CH. Once listen.com launched (later Rhapsody, now Napster), I never bought another CD again.


Well, my wife and I just ordered dumb phones and an AWS 2FA key fob (remember those?) which will be here this weekend, we're selling all our screens except one family PC. I sold off my Oculus Rift and gaming PC a month ago. We're going to have to buy a flashlight, GPS or maybe just a map book, calculator, a CD player, a Blu-Ray burner, a day planner, a wristwatch, a kitchen timer, get a library card, a shared calendar on the wall, and we'll go from there. I'm excited but also nervous about it. A few months ago I spent 90% of my free time staring at a screen. I yelled at my wife if god forbid she wanted to spend time with me and not just shut up and watch whatever video game I was playing.

I figure it's a start.


I recently did this same thing as an experiment for a full year. No mobile phone actually, no music, no movies, no games, so a little more extreme.

The strangest feeling will come after you “reset” but everything and everyone else around you is still connected. That’s when you notice how different things have become.

Good luck. It’s a nice feeling actually, nothing to be nervous about. It gave me perspective and changed how I respect time and other people. I also appreciate technology a lot more, but it’s now in balance.


Just curious - why so extreme? There's never been a time in my life where there was "no music" and "no movies." Back in the 1970s we had record players and 8-track tapes and the radio. We had movie theaters and they even showed movies on TV from time to time.

As a musician, the "no music" part is really disturbing to me. It sounds like a strict religious cult at that point. I mean, even before I could walk or talk my parents would sing to me sometimes (I'm told).


I'm not the person you replied to but I've considered allowing nothing but live music. Maybe buying and learning to play an instrument. My very distant family (only met them once at a reunion) are farmers and they entertain themselves by playing their own music and have a band. It'd encourage me to actually go to concerts rather than have the instant gratification of electronic media. For me, at least, its about forming habits against that instant gratification digital media provides. We've decided on an middle ground, we're going to start buying CDs (which are really cheap these days!). I don't remember the last time I listened to an album all the way through instead of flipping from song to song. Even with movies, we were watching "Meet Me in St Louis" and it was interesting to learn that before TV people would put on skits for their family rather than passively being presented with a movie. We'll still be watching movies (in theaters) but only sometimes.


Not everyone is into music. Months go by sometimes when I have my head down working on a project that I realize I haven't listened to music the entire time.

Then there are times I can't go an hour without playing something. Losing music for a year though wouldn't be a noticeable change in my life.


I should clarify, no recorded media in the home or with a mobile device. It wasn’t a protest of strictly modern technology, as some of these things have been around for ages in other forms.

If I wanted to listen to music, I went to local shows. That was the mentality.


I'm okay with the fact that I spend more than half of my waking hours staring at screens.

It's the web I worry about.

(And maybe smartphones, but I've yet to own a smartphone. And, speaking of screens, I don't particularly like LED back lights: I use only fluorescent back lights with my computer.)

Some things I do to reign in my use of the web:

I wrote a command that disables my browser (by compressing /applications/firefox.app/contents/macos/firefox).

I wrote another command that uncomments any commented-out lines in the last paragraph of my /etc/hosts file (then restarts the browser to flush certain caches). Both of these "minor roadblocks" or "speed bumps" are easier to deploy than they are to undeploy.


I admire your dedication and would be interested in hearing more about your experiment in the future. Maybe some kind of update in the future here on HN?


Thanks for the kind words. I was with a group of developers in person last night and mentioned this plan casually and was amazed by how many questions everyone had. I'm start to feel like this disconnect is, paradoxically, going to result in me spending more time on social media talking about and setting up meetup groups with like minded people. I don't want to bury my head in the sand, and I'm not a Luddite – I just want to be more intentional about how I'm spending my time and go to sleep happy with how I've spent my day.

HN was a big part of the inspiration [0] and the few articles I've read about Tristan Harris have filled me with a desire to reclaim my life. We're in sort of a planning stage right now and are realizing there's quite a few things we're going to have to buy, which seems intimidating, but it'll be nice that my egg timer or flashlight won't become out of date in a few years. I was looking at a wristwatch [1] I feel embodies how I'm feeling I should live life lately. It seems a little silly at first but it really struck me as a timepiece that makes a particular statement.

We don't form memories of what life was like at 12:07 PM or 12:09 PM, at most we need to know the general time of day. I feel like even the exact time of day might be too much information. I've started checking email at work once a day and disabled the always visible clock in OSX and have yet to have any issues with this. If someone really needs me real time they'll come talk to me or send me a message on Slack.

I'm thinking about blogging about my experience, but it feels like that might be against the spirit of what I'm trying to accomplish. Then again blogging is a different sort of communication than writing 144 character responses, and may be appropriate to get the word out.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12678325 [1] https://www.slow-watches.com/


Sharing your experience is a great idea. But I can see your concern with blogging it. Maybe just write in a physical notebook instead?


Sounds like they're trying to save their marriage after "screen addiction" became a problem. I had the same problem with video games. I ended up swearing off video games that didn't have an ending and have been all the better for it.


My marriage isn't in shambles or anything like that. Just not great. We just feel like we've been on autopilot for years. It never really "became a problem", it was just always a problem. We were both glued to our screens. We never did anything. My daughter is 18 months old and will sign and say "birds birds" because she loves birds and wants to watch videos on Youtube. If we turn it off she starts screaming she's so upset. Even that small amount of screen time causes behavior changes that we've found to be harmful.

I started with games that don't have an ending but realized I didn't personally have the self control to stick to it. Especially with a small child every minute is precious and I'm not going to get to have all these "firsts" again. This was really, really tough though. Maybe when I'm older with more free time I'll jump back into video games, I bet they'll be super cool and even more addictive by then.


I have similiar issues with games. I dread open ended ones - Witcher, Skyrim - because of the prospect of them never ending. But it's worse than that because the least resistance in gameplay and I will abandon the game. For instance, I've haven't been able to play more than 10 minutes of Cities: Skylines because it gets overwhelming.

At least now I accept that I don't have to finish games. That it's ok to even uninstall one after a couple of hours of play if they don't bring me any more joy.

Also, there needs to be a category of game guides for those of us who prefer small quality gaming experiences over fillers.


Please consider Board Games as an alternative to Computer Games. There has never been a better time to get into the hobby - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKgz-UBEhss :)


Figured it'd be this video or the Shut Up and Sit Down New to Board Games video before I even clicked on it. Nice :)

But yeah. Board games are the best way to free yourself from screen addiction, in my opinion. And there's tons of interesting board games out there nowadays.


Seconding this. There are boardgames that are simple enough for small children, but are still interesting enough for adults. You can find casual games that you can play in five minutes while waiting for the bus, or you can find a game that'll occupy your family for an entire extended weekend.

And if we're including things like D&D and Pathfinder, that's easily months of entertainment.


I used to play non-ending games throughout most of my teen years. I think that taught me a lesson, because I started to get very depressed. I don't play that much games anymore, and when I do, I try to stick to something relatively short and with clear endings. First person shooters that I can finish in a weekend are good.

Addictive open ended games, sandboxes and competitive online games quickly lead to severe existential depression so I just don't play them. Sometimes people ask me to join them on MMOs. I have to refuse.


Maybe take a look at Gamebooks? Inkle's remake of the Sorcery! gamebooks [0] were something I was playing and enjoying quite a lot. I'm giving that up too for now, maybe I'll reintroduce it later. I was amazed to find out that physical gamebooks are still a thing and being published. If you encounter "resistance" in the game just turn to the next page.

I'd suggest if you're really dreading games so much, try giving them up for 3 weeks. That's about how long it took me to stop freaking out that I wasn't spending every waking moment playing Diablo 3 or literally ANY game. I felt really awful. It really surprised me how negative my initial reaction was, but lately I've been finding myself reading books for pleasure again, and I'm going out with my family more often. I realized I was implicitly choosing video games over spending time in the real world with actual people.

[0] http://www.inklestudios.com/sorcery/


Thanks for that link. That looks pretty interesting. Is that the same Steve Jackson that does the Munchkin / Illuminati card games?


Yep! If you check "Gamebooks" on Amazon you'll find all sorts of physical games. I think they popped up in the 70s and 80s and you use dice, sort of like a single player D&D game.


What about a camera or camcorder to capture memories with your daughter? That seems to be missing in your original list. Would it be digital or film?


Right that's also on the list! Might buy a DSLR or something. Also going to probably end up buying a cheap atom-based server to set up nextcloud or owncloud for storing and serving those images online to family. Part of this is also to get out of the endless subscriptions to cloud services and host all our own stuff.


Yep there's something to be said about being addicted to screens and how it changes our attention span and focus.

I've been trying to use my long commute to work to increase focus and be less agitated by distractions.


I'm just trying to grasp that second sentence.


They may be commuting by bike or foot.


missed a comma there!


Please write this up in a few months to share your experiences.


That's my plan. I'm hoping to find other people in my city (Kansas City) that want to start down a similar path. I want to write more but I'm at work and really need to get a few hours of productivity in today. I'll make sure to keep track of my experiences though!


I can't tell if you are being facetious or not but I applaud your efforts if you are being serious but your detailed post made me laugh, so true about the kitchen timer and a calendar on the wall. Back to basics. At least you don't need to charge them.


I've looked into going back to a dumb phone in the past. If you don't mind, what phones did you order?


Sure! We ordered these phones. If they're really awful I might buy some Nokia phones, but they're more expensive. We wanted talk, text, and MMS (just in case), but that's it. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O5EU7TQ/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_HHLc...


Thought this was satire, but then I saw your other comment. Good on you two.


I'll be honest, I wrote all this out and read it to my wife before posting, and we both laughed at how crazy it sounds. It's the aggregate of lots of little decisions in the past year and we're not solid on any of it yet. We'll be using tech for a lot of things still, we'll have a server with our personal images, and I'm looking at some Arduino stuff for home automation things. I don't think tech is bad, just a lot of it is designed as a feedback loop of addiction.

I just read about noprocrast mode on HN, I might turn this on too. I guess it lets you spend 20 minutes on HN every 3 hours.


Until you open up incognito windows to get around the noprocrast. ;) It's still a good hurdle and a tiny reminder even when I bypass it, though.

> I don't think tech is bad, just a lot of it is designed as a feedback loop of addiction.

Totally agree with this. I turn off all most notifications on my phone and tell people that if they really want to reach me, a phone call or SMS is still the best. I've also been calling people more because generally we can arrive at solutions in a minute of talking instead of 10 minutes of half-minded replies.

Sometimes I feel like the best balance of technology/attention was around the early 2000s when things weren't totally vying for our attention. When there was a clear distinction being being online and offline. When you would type "afk", then go do other stuff uninterrupted.

Of course it's easy to romanticize as that's also the era when I personally started surfing the information superhighway.


Best of luck!


Use alternatives? For example, https://duckduckgo.com for search.


And if their search engine does not deliver what you're looking for, use the bang !sp to use Startpage, a search engine that fetches results from the Google search engine but does not give any personal user information to Google's servers. Startpage's servers are in the Netherlands.


Simply !s works too.


Unfortunately their results are pretty abysmal.

https://www.startpage.com/ or ixquick is a better option in terms of results.


Startpage is nice, too. I personally really like DDG, though.

I think people react that way to it because it is more literal, a la Google several years ago. I prefer that; I'm used to it and find that Google frustrates the hell out of me when I'm looking for something specific because of all the 'help' and the heavy bias towards recently changed pages. There have been times when I simply couldn't find things with Google that were much easier to locate in DDG.

Still wish there were an engine with a clone of Lexis-style searching. Yes, you have to learn how to use it. But it is incredibly useful.

And that's all before getting to Google's increasingly invasive behavior, and the reason why I refuse to use Chrome, block a lot of their utility-domains, etc.


Interesting, usually the searches I find Google is better at are very literal, but also very obscure things. Like when I'm trying to find a specific error message or obscure (often outdated and unavailable legitimately) pirated material. Maybe it just amounts to having more stuff in the index.


I've used them for years now and their search is rarely insufficient. When it is, I make my search more specific or I hop over to another engine for that specific search.

Really, I just like using products of companies that try to do "the right thing". Anything from the Mozilla Foundation and DuckDuckGo are two examples.

I'd say I do a Google search once or twice a month.


Same here. Been "ducking" for years now. I used to go to google when I couldn't find stuff on ddg, but lately I've noticed if it's not on ddg, it's not on google, either! I'd say about 1% of 1% of the time I find something on google that I couldn't find on google.


DDG has been my preferred search for years. I'd tried it pre-Snowden, off-and-on. Since Snowden or before it's been fully acceptible:

1. Results close to as good if not better than Google.

2. No tracking.

3. Bang searches. With the "too clever by half" search dialogs many sites are implementing (Wikipedia, Internet Archive, Google Ngram Viewer) it's often superior to the native on-site search as I don't have to set focus 2-4 times to actually type in the bloody search dialog.

4. No tracking.

5. Did I mention no tracking?

6. Proxy bang searches, e.g., StartPage.

7. Search customisations -- light page (good for console and commandline search), night mode, and others.

8. Unmangled URLs. I can copy/paste URLs straight from DDG. No-can-do with Google.


> 6. Proxy bang searches, e.g., StartPage.

Or even Google.

I've seen comments online about DDG providing only an illusion of privacy. I haven't dug into this deeply. From what I've read this comes down to DDG (including bang searches like !g and !sp) stripping identifying information, which provides protection from tracking by entities like advertisers and social networks, but not law enforcement or agencies like the NSA that may have legal options or extralegal access. Is my understanding generally correct? Any corrections/additions/clarifications appreciated.


DDG don't track your IP or log activity against you. Bang searches are simply redirects as far as I'm aware and thus !g is equivalent to typing straight into Google.

But if you're using Google through DDG you're probably missing the point.


Using Google through DDG is useful because of the bang searches. It's actually faster for me to get to, say, image, scholar, books, ngram, or maps (though I prefer OpenStreetMap) searches from DDG than it is through Google's own web interface.

It's faster to do that, in further irony, on Firefox rather than Chrome (on Android), because Chrome/Android doesn't allow specifying DDG as a default search engine.

(I prefer Firefox for multiple features including extensions (adblock, hul-fucking-lo), and Reader Mode, but motherlovin' heck is Firefox every laggy and slow on Android...)

I'll run a DDG search, for all the reasons stated above, then re-run it to Google if I must. It's still faster than finding Google's search page and entering a search (and clicking past multiple nags and seeing multiple distracting animations).

Two more reasons for Google:

1. Specific date-bounds on search.

2. Counts of results by domain (Desktop only)


Has DuckDuckGo email and an app suite?


Do you want them to? So they can eventually turn into Google? Diversify and avoid cloud apps and closed source applications as much as possible.


Why does your search engine need to provide email? The two are pretty unrelated.


Just switched to FastMail this past weekend, and I recommend it. For an app suite, I recommend Sandstorm.io.


I've heard good things about both https://www.fastmail.com and https://protonmail.com so would be good to hear your experiences after a bit more use.


I've been a FastMail customer since their beginning. I will not use anyone else as long as they exist. I have several accounts with them. Very much worth the money.

Rob, Bron, and the FastMail guys are the best in the world at what they do. I have zero affiliation with FastMail except for as a happy customer. And with these guys, you are the customer, not the product. The do email, calendaring, etc. better than any other company out there. I've been in IT for 3 decades and I can tell you that the level of quality and care the guys at FastMail deliver is so very, very rare. Money more than well spent.


Recently I started a "paper evaluation" of paid, privacy protecting (to a good extent) email services. I found Fastmail to be quite expensive if one needs multiple accounts. Providers like Protonmail and Tutanota don't support IMAP or any other way to download mails (the web interface and apps are the only choices). That makes it very difficult (or impossible?) to move to another service and take one's older mails along. Protonmail does not support custom domains, whereas Tutanota does.

The cheapest solutions I like currently are posteo.de and mailbox.org. I have not started using either of them, but plan to move soon. Posteo does not support custom domains (it is heavily privacy focused and refrains from collecting or storing customer data as much as possible). So your only choice is to use one of many posteo.x domains for the email address. On the other hand, mailbox.org supports custom domains. Both support IMAP, web mail, migrating email from other providers, etc. Both these services and their websites are worth a look, IMO.


Protonmail doesn't have pop/imap/external app use. I've heard it's coming in the following months.

It's great apart from that, but this is a fairly big negative if you want to use a bunch of email accounts. There are some other negatives as well, but apart from this, it seems ahead of the pack.


> Protonmail doesn't have pop/imap/external app use. I've heard it's coming in the following months.

I checked perhaps a week or two ago and found that this has been in the "it's coming" stage for a couple of years, and Protonmail didn't seem to be willing to disclose when this may finally come (they may have good reasons for that).


Yeah, ProtonMail was the other one I considered, but the price for storage wasn't nearly as compelling, and both had reasonably strong privacy stories. And now that I'm in FastMail, I'm really amazed at the flexibility and control it gives you, especially with connecting your own domain and stuff.

Back in the day, Gmail's driving appeal was it's pro features, and I'd argue that FastMail makes Gmail look basic. Also, I've opened two support tickets this week to ask questions and got responses within an hour or two.


ProtonMail lost any cred when they paid to have some perps stop DDOsing them. Have their engineers or their Web host never heard of blackhole routing? Smart router engineers know about the concept of blackhole routing offensive traffic. It takes a couple of minutes and it works wonders.


Could you explain your use case with Sandstorm? I find their homepage to be ambiguous/not really sure what they're offering.


Yeah, so I do all my documents and spreadsheets and stuff on Sandstorm Oasis, which is their managed offering. I can do a bunch of other stuff on it, and it's easiest to figure out the extent of it by just trying the demo yourself (https://demo.sandstorm.io) and checking out the apps and stuff. But in my case, I mostly use it like I used Google Docs and Trello before, that I can easily control my data on, and migrate to a self-hosting solution easily later.

Sometimes it's hard to explain Sandstorm because they have a wide variety of good use cases for it, and there's really not a lot of comparable software packages to it. (It's like ownCloud but it's not like ownCloud, it's like Docker but it's not at all like Docker, etc.)


Curious: why use the managed hosting if you are a privacy enthusiast? Or are you just a sandstorm enthusiast? Why? Became nits not Google? Just curious since your every comment is about it...and it looks like you are wearing Google glass...


Heh, the Glass picture is really old. I used to be quite the Google fan, a few years back. Then I paid a bit more attention to the cost, and have been moving away since.

The managed hosting for Sandstorm is a good step in the direction, because it's very easy to me to move between Sandstorm servers, but I'm not super confident on running my own right now, and it's still in early development as a platform. But Sandstorm on their servers runs the same as Sandstorm on mine, and unlike leaving Google, where I have to figure out how to transplant my data from their proprietary apps to other apps, I can move my apps and data perfectly between Sandstorm servers.

I do place a high degree of trust in Kenton Varda (founder of Sandstorm.io) specifically to keep Sandstorm doing what they should. If I ever feel that trust is misplaced (and I keep a close eye), I'll move.


No, and that's a feature.

Google's path to the dark side hit a major milestone with Gmail, and the fact that you now had a reason to personally and identifiably log in to your search engine provider.

No, no, no, nope, fucking bloody hell no!

I'm thinking it's hard time to give https://Sandstorm.io a really good looking at.


tutanota, protonmail, fastmail, scrypmail.

If Google is part of your life, it's too late for you.


Just don't have Google account and clean cookies and history regularly[1], forbid saving 3rd party cookies (built-in in Firefox) and noise your canvas generator [2], block 3rd party JS, CSS, media and fonts [3], control your referals your browser sends on each click [4] use VPN or Tor on startup. You don't need to bother with those tools, they will just work in background (µBlock requires some configuration).

[1] https://addons.mozilla.org/en-gb/firefox/addon/expire-histor... [2] https://addons.mozilla.org/en-gb/firefox/addon/no-canvas-fin... [3] https://addons.mozilla.org/en-gb/firefox/addon/ublock-origin... [4] https://addons.mozilla.org/en-gb/firefox/addon/refcontrol/


My Google account only runs in a separate browser. But I still do the things you mentioned (privacytools.io). For YouTube I'm using a RSS reader (no account) through a 3rd-party but I think they can still easily identify me.

I hope I can fully remove Google from my life in a few years.


I've also found it helps to use different Firefox profiles for different things, like hobbies, going to banks, going to anything google, programming stuff, etc. I have noscript, umatrix, and ghostery installed on each profile. I don't have it in front of me at the moment, but there is a Firefox command-line switch to bring the profile manager up when run.


Excellent list, here's one you may not know about which locally hosts 3rd party libraries (such as jQuery) https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/decentraleyes... to plug that hole while restoring some enhanced functionality. This alone got me back on Firefox.


Google do provide a privacy checkup screen where you can review and tweak your settings: https://myaccount.google.com/privacycheckup/1

And you can opt out of ads here https://www.google.com/settings/u/0/ads/authenticated


Start paying for your services from companies that exist by charging. Don't do business with ad companies.


Any good search engines in the paid space?


Nope!


Yeah, get a G-Suite account and you're free from Google using your data for advertising purposes.


I got the screen today: http://i.imgur.com/HClXUy3.png

It only tells you that it will actually result in less privacy if you scroll down and read the fine print.

That’s seriously misleading.


Class action lawsuits.


A recent podcast (TAL? Radiolab?) just discussed the retreats Google has made over time with respect to privacy and intrusive advertising. I tried to find it - someone have a link? This very much continues the theme. It is important to note how much Sergey and Larry hated advertising and the belief they held that any advertising based search engine would inherently corrupt itself.


http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/10/17/498...

They say what your last sentence said, so I'm guessing this is the podcast you're thinking of.


There was recently a bit on NPR (Here & Now?) about how Facebook did not shy away from this type of advertising, whereas Google balked at it initially after public outcry. It seems they have finally caved in.


I'm curious what bothers people most about the privacy issues?

Strangely I don't care that Google (and others) know about me. I probably should but I have just sorted have accepted the lack of privacy today.

What really bothers me isn't the privacy its them using that data to create a completely unfair advantage to continue the oligopoly that is quickly consuming all markets.

I used to be such a capitalist but as of the last few years watching what companies will continue to do to not just grow but grow exponentially with unfair and unethical leverage in every direction.

I'm curious if others share that feeling or is that just me. Or is it just invasion of privacy?


At this moment, in your life, for most things you 'dont' care'. But can you conceive of a reasonable period in your life, in the life of another, or at some point when you would care, or when it would be valuable for another to care?

If you can conceive of such a moment, then you must care now as well. Once the switch is flipped it is always on. It will become increasingly difficult to turn off. Just for that moment in which you or someone you care about actually do value their privacy.


I do too.

People tend to want decentralised alternatives partly for privacy, partly for competition, partly for resilience (hurricanes, wars).

Lots of arts people I speak too also talk about cultural diversity - the lack of competition is part of that.

Capitalism has always been regulated. More than 10% of any market used to mean a monopoly. It should still.

There's nothing wrong with capitalism. What's wrong is the weird idea that a democratic state shouldn't/doesn't regulate it to stop extreme outcomes.

I run Redecentralize which is where I've got the needs from http://redecentralize.org/about/


Do you have a reference on that 10% = monopoly definition?


This data stays forever. It will be there in decades.

What if Google tags someone as homosexual and in 50 years, we get a new extremist party that claims that information for a genocide? Google knows a LOT about you. Your weird porn fetishes, your political affiliations, your religion, your beliefs. Your friends, family and THEIR political affiliations.

It sounds impossible but it's not. Take a look at 1960’s Afghanistan to see how a country can really change in a few decades.

Imagine for one second that this goldmine of information existed in 1942. Who can say how 2042 will be...


A good recent example of this is LiveJournal. LJ was bought by a Russian company shortly before the Russian government decided to go all-in on homophobia.

Neither possibility seemed remotely likely during the salad days of LiveJournal in the early 2000's.


The other examples in this thread are useful, but here is another:

Google wants to serve you "effective ads". What does that mean?

It wants to serve you ads that you see and take some new action or think something you didn't before. In other words, Google wants to manipulate you to do things you otherwise wouldn't do.

It is very much in Google's interest that you spend money with its advertisers, think things its advertisers want you to think, and do things that its advertisers want you to do, and in such a way that you don't realize you are doing it.

Do you want to make them better at that?


The entirety of social discourse and information sharing is to influence behavior. Personally, I don't agree with your unstated assumption that having someone else influence your behavior is automatically bad. Hell, you're doing that right now with your comment.

That said, there are plenty of other reasons to value privacy other than not wanting to be served effective ads.


The question here is, "Are Google's advertisers really the ones you want to influence your behavior?"

What interest of yours do they have in mind? What interest of society's?


Well, their interests are to make sure you see ads that are relevant to your interests, because advertisers are only happy if they actually sell whatever it is they're advertising. And on the face of it, seeing content that's relevant to your interests instead of content that's not seems like a good thing for users (completely ignoring for a moment all the scummy ads that prey on fear or ignorance to sell bad products). Speaking personally, if I have to see advertising, I'd rather see advertising that interests me instead of advertising that doesn't. However, I am not willing to sacrifice my privacy to do so.


It bothers me because it can be used against you in the future.

Have you ever searched for information on an ailment that might disqualify you from anything if you actually had it?

Have you ever spoken ill of a government official or policy?

Have you ever visited a location where government dissenters have visited before?

Have you ever searched for a history book about revolutions?

Any of these activities could be shared with other companies or the government and used against you in the future, if things should turn sour. People die in other countries where dissent is not allowed. Is there a reason you trust your future life to a marketing company in the present?


If we accept the small invasion of privacy now, and accept it as the norm, what are the implications for the future?


It doesn't really bother me if the internet knows that I recently bought a nice soldering iron on Amazon or that I play D&D with my friends. I kinda view the internet as public and I don't really have huge privacy concerns about information I put in public.


Other people have legitimate concerns about others knowing what they bought on Amazon or do with their friends. In some jurisdictions, buying what seem like normal products to you and I is illegal. Some people live in areas where others knowing they are gay, transgendered, conservative, atheist, etc. will get them fired or literally killed. It's great that you don't have to worry about that. But others do, and it's getting to the point where, "Then just don't use the internet" is simply not possible. Even, "Then just don't use Google's services" is impossible when their ads and tracking are on literally half of the top 1 million sites on the internet.


Yeah. One of the promising things about the internet, very early on, is that it gave people communities that they couldn't have in the real world because they lived in areas hostile to gays, or trans people, or... It's hard not to wonder if we're going backwards sometimes.


That's fair but I don't think that how other countries react to what people do in public it should affect how companies act in mine. Ovarall yt's hard because it's unreasonable to expect someone to just not use internet services that are so convenient but it's also unreasonable to expect companies to ignore all this lucrative data that we are literally giving to them. Currently it's a Catch 22 that I've made my peace with but I understand if other people haven't.


The problem is, you're not making a transactional choice. You're not just choosing the internet for you, you're affecting the internet for everyone.

I also think assuming that you know this can't hurt you yourself is naive, but it's just easier to point to people in more vulnerable spots.


I remember when large swaths of the Christian communities around me (and the one I was a member of) condemned D&D for 'causing' Satanism. There was serious paranoia going. Actual Jack Chick level fears: https://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0046/0046_01.asp

It's not entirely implausible that, within your lifetime, your country's leadership takes a turn to conservative Christianity, and the mere fact that you actually bought D&D material will have some negative consequence.

Now obviously in this case I wouldn't worry about it, but I'm just trying to point out that even something as 'innocent' (to us) as D&D is considered actively dangerous by a non-significant group of people who are also generally more comfortable with imposing their views on others (because it's not theirs but Gods).

One thing that took me a while to understand is that the problem is not primarily that your behavior is essentially public, but rather that it's recorded and stored 'forever'.


People that are politically interesting (for states and others) have obvious reasons to protect their privacy. You need politically interesting people to fight for your rights.

You want to protect your privacy so that in the event that you become politically interesting, they don't have a backlog of your data. Furthermore, you want to protect your data to not be dissuaded from any (even subtle) actions that you might take if you weren't affected by a chilling effect.

You want any person who hasn't been previously cognizant of the dangers of privacy to not have that hang over his head, in case he becomes politically interesting (even not on purpose, like could be the case with whistleblowers), or become politically interesting, like an activist, journalist, etc. Any free society needs this. To do this, everyone needs to have privacy.

Finally, even for the first group to have privacy, everyone has to have it. It's not something you can just give to specific people.

I'm assuming you know that there are plenty bad things can be done with data, if someone is willing. I hope that's evident. Not mentioning what criminals could do with it, or how corporations can abuse people with it. As they routinely do.


Yes, I'd like to see some good (not-too-hypothetical) examples of the bad things that could happen to a person because of privacy invasion. Perhaps in the accessible form of a movie (so it can spread more easily). Any references welcome.


States have and will routinely harass and otherwise dampen the efforts of activists, dissidents, even journalists. I think examples of that are easy to find. Furthermore, they can't really have good privacy unless everyone does.

For a general case of the harms of privacy invasion, I recommend reading relevant chapters off of Schneier's Data and Goliath. Brilliant book.


Don't understand why it bothers you. Big corporations have unfair advantage either way. Small players already need some special treatment to level the field.

But privacy is more about power and governments getting access to the data companies collect is the worst thing that could happen.


> Don't understand why it bothers you. Big corporations have unfair advantage either way. Small players already need some special treatment to level the field.

So to make it fair we should give small players special treatment while continuing to have big corps have no restrictions.

Which small players get to receive the treatment? Why not make it simpler and have more restrictions on big corps?

> But privacy is more about power and governments getting access to the data companies collect is the worst thing that could happen.

I'm not sure I follow what you are saying. These companies at this point are bigger and more powerful than most countries below the G8. I have exactly the concern you are mentioning.

While people generally like that google, apple, fb don't give data to the US government I can see it equally bad that they keep it to themselves and use it to leverage the government (they are already doing it with money).


For people who didn't read the article but want to opt out of this tracking:

To opt-out of Google’s identified tracking, visit the Activity controls on Google’s My Account page, and uncheck the box next to “Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services." You can also delete past activity from your account.

Links from that paragraph:

* Activity controls: https://myaccount.google.com/activitycontrols

* My account page: https://myaccount.google.com/

* Delete past activity: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/465


Looking at the My Activity details is actually pretty creepy. Starting today working backwards, Google includes "Used Phone," "Used [my launcher]," "contacted [messaging site]," "Used [alarm clock app]," several overnight repeats of the messaging site when I received alerts, my Chrome-based website visits from yesterday, my foray into Android Settings yesterday, etc.

It all serves to make me happy that I'm using Firefox with uMatrix as my daily driver, and only use Chrome (with uBlock Origin) for the rare things that I can't get to load properly because of all the cross-site dependencies.


Using firefox? Did you tick "Send analysis data to Mozilla"? If yes, Mozilla has the very same information about your browsing habits and all clicks and actions you performed in Firefox too.

It's just that Google shows it to you, rather than not telling you anything.

Any sufficiently big Android/iOS app has the very same system in place so that they can see what people are doing with their app and anticipate interesting features, down to the location of your finger when you touched that button, the wifis you were seeing at the time, the battery level etc.

Admitedly though, Google has such a wide reach in all your day-to-day life that they gather an immense amount of data.

But don't be fooled, anyone else is also doing it. And they are far less open about it.


> Using firefox? Did you tick "Send analysis data to Mozilla"? If yes, Mozilla has the very same information about your browsing habits and all clicks and actions you performed in Firefox too.

That is blatantly false. The policy page here describes what is sent for each data feature in Firefox:

https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/privacy/firefox/

Mozilla does not have tracking cookies scattered through-out the web tracking you. Google via Google Ad's and Doubleclick does (as does Facebook via their social features).

Neither the Chrome browser nor Firefox sends "your browsing habits and all clicks and actions you performed" to their respective companies. If you turn on History sync, the clients encrypt all this data before uploading.

Disclaimer: I work at Mozilla.

edit: Chrome can send all history unencrypted to Google if you ask it to, under Privacy Checkup, Web & Web App Activity: "Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services". Supposedly this is to make the search more relevant. This was unchecked for me by default though.


> Chrome can send all history unencrypted to Google if you ask it to, under Privacy Checkup, Web & Web App Activity: "Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services". Supposedly this is to make the search more relevant. This was unchecked for me by default though

Starting today, that is on by default, and existing users get a screen asking them to enable it – I just got it pushed to my Android phone, asking me to enable that.


If you go to about:telemetry in Firefox, you can see exactly what data is being collected.


I think most people here understand that everyone is collecting data about usage of their apps. The thing people are getting wary of is having all your habits, regardless of app or platform, in one place.


The difference is I trust Mozilla and I absolutely do not trust Google. Mozilla is not in the business of abusing my private data for their profit. If they say they are only using that data for debugging, I believe them.


can you provide a link ?


Google seems no better than Facebook when it comes to privacy, and I'm not just talking about how far they're willing to go in tracking users, but also how they are willing to lie and violate their users' trust so they can collect more data.

Facebook is now getting into trouble in the EU for breaking their promise about not sharing WhatsApp data, and yet Google still goes ahead and does this. I hope the European Commission adds this as one more charge against Google.

Without real enforcement the companies will continue to do whatever the hell they want.


And when that happens every American on HN will go "look at that old crusty EU, getting in the way of progress again with their bloated regulations".


The free market fallacy.


I'm starting to hate the word "fallacy". What's the free market fallacy? The idea that not everything that's driven by free market is great? Why call that a fallacy, why not just call it being wrong?


A fallacy is really any argument that is wrong because of wrong assumptions or faulty logic, but leads to a believable result anyway. The free market fallacy is a fallacy because people who believe the free market solves problems base this claim on the assumption that human beings are rational and have access to all information.


Cool.

Yes they deliberatly block chrome extension on mobile chrome, as then ublock usage on mobile would explode. Together with myth of mobile ads.

Do not evil. Riiiight. As long as it does not hamper our profit.


Some googler will come in and say "That's not our motto anymore, dummy". To which I'll say - Think about that. Is saying, "Well, we can be shitty now that our motto no longer prohibits it" really a good excuse?


No Googler will come and tell you that since "Don't be evil" are literally the first 3 words of the published Google code of conduct: https://abc.xyz/investor/other/google-code-of-conduct.html

I'm not sure why you think this has changed.


> I'm not sure why you think this has changed.

Actions speak louder than words.


Is "Don't be evil" something that really needs to be said anyway? Couldn't have set the bar much lower.


Privacy is evil?


Well, I've seen it on HN before, where people are called out specifically for stating that it is (was) Google's motto.


Technically "Do the right thing" also inherently suggests not doing evil. Though the full motto should probably be "Do the right thing for Larry Page's yacht budget".


Yup, use Firefox for Android if you want proper mobile adblocking. In fact it works on several download sites which fail in Chrome for some reason.


On mobile, rooting and using a hosts file to block malicious/ad domains is better anyway.


True to some degree, but rooting can be a pain on devices that make you do it again after an update.

For me, the bigger issue with a hosts file is that it doesn't cover conditional cases. For instance, there are times when I want to read some comments or play a video, or even unblock a single page element, but otherwise I want to block that stuff entirely. Facebook comments is one example.

My recommendation is still to do both. Hosts file covers other apps nicely like stupid in-app banner ads, while using Firefox or something with ad-blocking extensions still lets you browse the web without breaking some sites entirely.


If you root, you won’t be able to use Android Pay (an advertised feature of the device) anymore due to the recent changes to SafetyNet that now trigger if even the bootloader isn’t locked.


Well, we have root access. Can't we completely stump and destroy this stupid safety net? This should have a very high priority for anyone who cares about open smartphone systems.

There should be a safety net remover that simply strips all safety net API calls off a program and inserts all valid flags by default.


The issue is the way it happens.

SafetyNet actually sends its results to a Google server, which validates that they’re properly signed, and then sends a message to the backend of the app.

The only way to successfully break it is by emulating or replacing SafetyNet on the device, but as part of it runs in TrustZone, that’s not easily possible.


I haven't ran into this and my phone is rooted. Is this for specific android versions or something?


Rooting isn't supported on many devices.

E.g., my Samsung Galaxy Tab A.

Fuck Google. Fuck Samsung. Fuck Android.


This is why we need the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Article 8 covers personal data, and can blocks things like this.


[Disclaimer: shameless plug, and also previously announced as a Show HN a while back]

I would like to mention my search engine as another privacy-focused alternative: https://solveforall.com/

1) Does not track user activity. Hosted in Canada. 2) Does not leak referrer to visited sites 3) No ads. Will be considering affiliate links, a paid API, and/or "good" ads -- ads people want that don't compromise privacy 4) Integrated feed reader which also provides search results 5) Activation codes (like DDG bangs, so ?g instead of !g) 5) Plugins written in JS/data to be searched can be added at any time. 6) Deep search -- get results from the search results page of several sites at a time. Try https://solveforall.com/answers.do?q=rx+480&client.kind=web&...

There clearly a lot more work to be done, and I plan on open sourcing this soon, but please try it out and let me know any feedback you have!


The UI on the left side could use some work. I followed your link, search for Ars Technica and then spent about a minute trying to figure out why it was showing me electronics. Everything feels just a bit too large and control information should probably all be above the page (at least a summary.)


Excellent feedback, thank you! I will work on this.


I use google and have chosen to give up a lot of my privacy to use their services.

One thing I was never willing to do though, and I had an instant emotional reaction to not doing, was allowing them access to all my email.

They can have my GPS coordinates at all times, my web search history, etc, but they can't get into the inner workings of my life and my thoughts.

So back before I had any real use for it I just registered myname@myfirstandlastname.com and used that for my email address. It felt like a natural move. It does bother me still that a lot of the people I email do use gmail, so google still ends up siphoning of a lot of the contents of my email.

I see a lot of people talking about FastMail instead of GMail, but I don't know why more geeks don't register their own domain name which has several advantages (including looking better and more professional). The one downside is that mail search sucks. I'd love to get some decent search without giving up privacy somehow.


FastMail has incredibly good domain name configuration for custom domains. I just set it up this week. The problem is most users don't have the skill or time to manage a well-maintained email service. I'd like to, but the risk of losing important email is too critical to risk. (Even making the cutover to FastMail, I was super nervous!) And unlike Google, FastMail has a strong privacy strategy.

But what I did do, about a year ago, was move my email usage over to an address at my own domain, which was then forwarded to Gmail. By lessening the references to my Gmail account, it made it easy to switch elsewhere. ...I just repointed my domain to FastMail's email service.

And because I control the domain name people send email to me on, it's easy for me to move it again in the future if I have a problem with FastMail or find something better.


If you're being targeted, can you really protect your domain/DNS from all points of attack? And does domain privacy protection really covers all of your personal data, forever?

The more I learn the worse I feel about my digital privacy and security. The one thing I do right now is to compartmentalize my accounts and services, but I can't help to think it's only stopping smaller fish from getting/triangulating my data.

Tin foil hat apart, I also don't like to give away my data for free.


+1 for fastmail. lots of domains to choose from and i also use my own personal domain for email


More and more changes that do not bode well for google, first they changed it to where they can track what numbers you dial, then they tried that with your google chrome history and tabs if you synced it to your account and now this? People wondered why i stopped being a google evangelist after 2014.


Do you, or anyone else here, know of a good, privacy-conscious personal information management system? Other than Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, or Apple?

Having a system that manages such critical info in a seamless way is huge. I'm acutely aware that free services are not truly "free," so if there is a good alternative that has a reasonable premium subscription plan, I would seriously consider it.


No the thing is i've had to learn all of this the hard way. using opera with a custom sync phrase, as well as using the opt-out addons that google provides. Canvas blocker, Ublock origin, and cleanlinks to get rid of the UTM strings on links. Oh and not using chrome whatsoever.


Ah, I just read further in this thread, and it looks like a number of alternatives are already being shared. https://www.fastmail.com/ looks pretty interesting.


This is yet another reminder that it's important, especially for HN readers, to continue to give support to groups such as Mozilla and their Firefox platform. The more widespread Google and Chrome usage is, the more Google can push these changes with little to no resistance.


I wish I could pay Mozilla to host my custom domain e-mail, encrypted files and any other services they could offer


Just to give you and idea of how big of a deal this is, go to https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity and check what third parties could learn from you, with your name on it.


Like I have told under other similar discussions. Something in ToS has no relevance if data is collected. If data is collected then it will eventually be used (against you).


That's a good point: is this change retroactive (will old data be associated)?


Consider the path of least resistance - is it easier to just take one action across data, or multiple actions based on data age, user opt-in, and EULAs? Engineers are lazy, after all, and it's fairly easy to change an EULA.


There have been several such retroactive changes, such as using GMail’s data to train the models for Inbox before, so it’s likely.


Does anyone know the specifics of Google's privacy practices for G Suite (formerly Google Apps for business)? They claim no advertising, but do they use your data for anything else, and do they still build shadow profiles? If you're already buying 1 TB of storage for Google Drive, then you can instead sign up for the $10 month G Suite plan and get 1 TB of storage with ad free versions of their apps.


It says so in their TOS, but if you're wearing your tinfoil hat you have no reason to believe that they're honest about that.


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