I have been using GMail for my primary personal email address since 2004. Like many, I was intrigued by its slick user interface, incredible spam-blocking capabilities, state-of-the-art tagging system, and seemingly endless storage. Best of all, the service was free. Sounds like a great deal, right?

A few years later, Google came out with Google Documents, which became Google Drive. Now we could store all of our important Word-like docs online, or even our Excel-like spreadsheets. I have used this technology for about five years.

A wise man once said, "If you receive a service for free, you are not the customer. You are the product being sold." It's a market-aware interpretation of the old adage "There is no such thing as a free lunch."

Of course, I knew all along that neither service was truly free in the pure sense of the word. GMail accounts were supposedly scanned by software that would create keyword summaries of the contents. These summaries would be used to determine which ad campaigns would be most relevant to each GMail subscriber while-- taking Google's word for it-- keeping the actual contents of the users' email accounts private. This would allow Google to sell advertising space at a premium while sidestepping any potential privacy concerns.

At the time, I didn't care what Google did with my personal correspondence. I'm a boring person. I don't engage in crime. I don't have deviant appetites. I'm just a regular person with an 8 - 5 like most other people. But in light of recent events, its become clear that Google is using their status to assist the United States Government in building a global surveillance system in derogation of our Constitutionally-guaranteed civil liberties. In light of this discovery-- that Google and other big tech companies are building the Tools of Tyranny for profit-- the previous "who cares" rationalization can no longer stand.

Government Snooping Exposed

We have been warned for years that the United States Government has been building a massive data surveillance operation, the likes of which exceed George Orwell's worst nightmares.

What does any of this have to do with Google?

Yesterday, Edward Snowden, a 29 year old NSA contractor and ex-CIA employee, went public with his information on the U.S. Government's massive-- and flatly illegal-- data mining apparatus. Snowden revealed, among other bombshells, a classified document indicating that online services and social media companies have been providing the NSA with direct access to their servers. This document clearly states that Google has been providing this access since January of 2009, with Facebook following in June of 2009, and Apple being the most recent addition in October of 2012 (and yes, Microsoft, Yahoo, PalTalk, Youtube, Skype, and AOL are doing the same thing):

Leaked NSA slide describing direct access to commercial servers

Bear in mind that all of this occurred in spite of the widespread public outrage that erupted when the Bush Administration's extrajudicial wiretapping program was made public in 2005. Yet according to the government's own documents, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, Google, and Facebook continue building the infrastructure of digital tyranny.

If there is any doubt that this information is being used for corrupt and illegal purposes, consider that even the author of the USA PATRIOT Act considers the NSA's PRISM program an overreach. Also, consider what we have learned in only the last year about an administration elected on the promise of being "the most transparent administration in history":

It's clear that Americans have little reason to trust the government with the boundless powers they have granted themselves. But Big Tech isn't listening.

What other options remain?

Turn Them Off

The only principled resistance to the surveillance nightmare being rolled out before us is to refuse it to the best of your ability. That means logging off for the last time.

Of course, none of us can starve the beast alone, nor can we be completely consistent in our refusal. But even 80% resistance is infinitely better than nothing.

Effective this week, I am deleting my Google account.

  • I will now be using a privacy-respecting comapny, Startpage, to run my web searches.

  • I already scheduled my Facebook account for permanent deletion (I always hated it anyway).

  • I haven't used any Microsoft online services since college. I enjoy the occasional X-Box 360 game but, in light of the creepy always-watching / always-listening design of the new X-Box One, I will not be buying any more of their junk.

  • I haven't used AOL since high school.

  • I have a grand total of one YouTube video.

  • Due to my job I might be forced to remain on Skype, but I will actively work to find a replacement.

  • Realistically, I'm sure that AT&T is just as guilty as Verizon in turning over telephone metadata to the government surveillance creeps. At this time, I have no realistic alternative to keeping my cell phone service. But, rest assured, when I find a reasonable alternative, they will be losing my business as well.

This is not the empty protest of some luddite. I am a professional web developer that has, until this time, used Google extensively. I expect to suffer some inconvenience and even lost business for making this decision. I accept whatever consequences may come as the price of liberty.

Considering the fate that awaits Edward Snowden, and that he understands what will happen to him as a result of his courageous disclosure, my inconvenience over the loss of Google is but a pittance.


10 June 2013