Categories
Computers

Chrome Privacy

New changes to the way Google’s flagship application, Chrome, make it easier to stay on top of what Google is getting, and what you may be revealing to third-party sites. Another feature to be ignored by the masses, and questioned by people who still don’t trust them.

While, on their face, these changes make Google Chrome a little closer to other browsers in the privacy aspect. It still doesn’t feel like a genuine attempt at helping the user. It just so happens that keeping others away from their users, while still giving them privileged access to their data is something that dove-tails with their goals, for the moment. Still, they’re trying something Firefox and Safari take very seriously. Who knows where this will end up.

The Ecosystem of Google

Within Google’s sphere of influence, there is a lot to like for your average user:

  • Single sign on to lots of different first and third-party applications, like Docs, Drive, Gmail, GSuite and more
  • High quality web-based applications
  • User account data sync when you use Chrome or a Chromebook including passwords, extensions, preferences, wallets, subscriptions, etc.
  • Integration with your Android Smartphone
  • And much more

I won’t say that I haven’t been tempted to jump ship and join up with Google. I have an older Chromebook, and when I was signing into Google services, it was amazing. I could blow the thing away, and be back up in short order, everything back in place. If I weren’t so enamored with Linux and the Libre software movement, I can easily imagine me being either a hardcore Apple user or a hardcore Google user.

By and large, Google has ‘won’ this generation of smartphone, browser, search and advertising systems. The literal billions of users tied into those systems is no small feat. Even organizations like Mozilla and Microsoft often have to bend slightly to accommodate Google’s whims. This is a really weird time.

While no man lives forever, the same can be said about Google. They’re constantly killing services that don’t provide enough user telemetry or subscribers. Often, it feels like a gamble to use any one of their services because it’s just as likely to be killed a few months down the road. Other than their bread and butter, it’s a hard sell to build a business off of anything Google does.

Shiny Chromium

It’s hard to say that Chrome is a bad browser. The architecture, based on Apple’s WebKit (which, itself, was begot by KDE’s KHTML engine), and is screaming fast, well integrated on most platforms and can be used without the same UI. A feat that Mozilla has only weakly attempted in the past. The support for web standards (driven by a cabal of browser makers, such as it is) is pretty top notch.

The biggest problem with being such an 800lbs gorilla is that everyone starts to ape you. Sites target Chrome-features only, or support only Chrome are becoming more commonplace. A chilling throwback to the days of IE vs Netscape Navigator. The old beast has been felled, long live the new beast?

As I mentioned before, even titans like Microsoft bend to Google on occasion. In an attempt to hang on to browser users and tie them into their own ecosystem, Microsoft released Edge with the launch of Windows 10. A new browser, better, different and faster than their absolutely decrepit Internet Explorer (which still sees regular use in enterprise…). Try as they might, they could not edge out this competitor like they did to Netscape before. In this new Microsoft, they’ve adopted Chrome’s “Blink” engine and rebranded it as the new Edge. Same as Chrome, but different packaging.

History makes ready to repeat itself. What are we willing to do to make it fair, open and available to all? Firefox used to be all the rage, can we make it that way, again?

Categories
Computers

Google Docs Chat

Now, however, with the ever closing scope of security, schools are trying to wrangle kids from having more digital distractions in the classroom. Of course kids have found a way around it — using a legitimate tool.

You know, I’ve said it in the past: Google has too many chat programs. They’re barely finished spinning one up into a fully-functioning service when they abandon it for another. Such is the way of Google, I guess. Glad I’m out.

Categories
Computers Rants

Google The Conqueror

The open web is dying. Corporations are moving, almost silently, across the landscape, tweaking pieces here and there, closing doors and setting up walls. Chief among them is Google. The once proud standard-bearer of openness and standards, now a hunched, twisted reflection of itself. “Don’t be Evil”, it’s one-time motto, now a mocking phrase with a Wikipedia-esque “[Citation Needed]” attached to it.

Google has, by and large, won. The vast majority of browsers run some version of it’s Blink engine. Even that is an almost prophetic echo back to when they forked the WebKit engine from Apple; breaking compatibility. Now they forge forward, ignoring standards, intentionally breaking or slowing competitors down in whatever way is most effective while also giving them sufficient cover.

They publish new formats and standards, like WebM/WebP and SPDY in the name of speed and efficiency, when in reality they’re just looking to push the discourse of the web deeper into their own territory, where they can control more aspects. They offer free tools, like Public DNS to beleaguered Internet users trying to escape out of the, somehow even worse, ISP experience. CDNs to developers and website operators promising faster user access and lower bandwidth bills for the small price of adding further tracking methods to their already frighteningly powerful panopticon of surveillance tools.

People eat it up, too. Free email, office, calendars, contacts, voice chat, search and a whole raft of other services? All I need to do is sign up and agree to let you paw through everything I do? It sounds too good to be true! Tie it all in with your cheap smartphone and ChromeBook, also powered by their tools, and suddenly you’re enjoying the connected life with all of this sweet stuff. All it cost you was your privacy. Haven’t you heard, though? Privacy is dead. Besides, I’ve got nothing to hide…

Categories
Awesome Computers

De-Google

Today starts a new day. After 15 years of having an old Google Account, through the closure of so many applications (some more useful than others), I’ve finally shed my Google Account. This was following several days of planning, reconnaissance and account cleanup to ensure that I wasn’t going to hamstring myself by doing it. I waited for several more days to see if Google’s Takeout tool would provide me with a final dump of everything, but alas, it took longer than I have patience for.

I have to say, it feels a little freeing, a little nerve wracking and a little anti-climactic. Deletion of the account was fast, almost too fast. I do feel good that I am no longer feeding my information Google directly, and I’m doing what I can to block side-channel attempts at collecting my information. I know it’s not entirely possible, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Going forward, I think I’m going to be much more cautious with my account creation. Services should be carefully considered before signing up, and only if self-hosting or securing is deemed too difficult or time-consuming to do so. Owning your data should be more important than the convenience aspect.