How I got seduced by the dark side and failed to resist (and a sparkle of hope?)

I am not the biggest fan of google. Never was.  I loathe their hunger for information, any information, about individuals. I loathe the fact that they provide a single point of entry to a wealth of mineable information to the us government. I loathe how they have become a synonym for the internet. I was a strong opponent of anything google, and laughed at my friends when they got a google account to personalize their search results. Yet, by now I have become fully integrated in the google network. I have joined the borg. And I am even kinda happy about it.

Just try one for free

It started like so many addictions. You try one of their samplings. In my case, it started with google docs. I don’t remember what my first google doc was. I was participating in some project or the other and someone offered to share a document with me (and the rest of the team). Relucantly, I created a google account (with some feigned name and custom email address to keep up the pretence of anonymity) and went into the document. All went well, we shared information, changed the document collaboratively and that was it.

Yet, after a while, someone on another project wanted to share a document. So I created a new account, went in, and did the rest. Well, after a while I had 20 google accounts for as many documents. It became a nuisance, I had to log out and log in again to get to another document. So I crossed a line. I merged all the documents into one account.

Later, I bought my android phone (the HTC Dream aka G1) directly from the pusher. I created another google account to activate it, thinking I would miss out if I would use the phone without. I know that if you don’t use any of googles services, it is fine not to use a google account on your phone (after some hackery). But I was curious, ok??

So all went fine. I had my google docs account. I had my android phone account. I tried to take care and not leave any traces that would link the two together. I would never log in to google from my desktop with the android account and vice versa.

Meanwhile, I was running some web-based groupware suite to keep track of my appointments. This had some disadvantages though: it was clunky to use on my phone. Also, it was a nuisance to have yet another tool to maintain, keep track of security updates and what have you. I mean, an agenda should increase producitivty, right, not get in the way of productivity.

So I made a next big step, I decided I wanted to try google calendar. It came integrated on my phone by default and had a usable interface on the web so I could use it on my desktop as well. So after a few tentative test-runs I switched and decommisioned the groupware suite.

From there, it all went down-hill for me.  I started using google latitude to share my location on my blog during my trip through the US, used google voice to make cheap international calls from the us back home, started using google tasks to keep track of my todo items, initiated new google docs myself and even had a short period where I (unwillingly) experimented with google wave.

Antagonizing realization

But all this time I had stayed far from the one google service that symbolizes, for me at least, the summum of giving up any privacy one has: google contacts. I would not, never, share my contacts with google! But then  I wanted to upgrade my phone to cyanogen mod. Well, I actually had to flash the device because I broke the dalvik cache and it would not execute any app anymore. I had somehow deleted all the permission definitions. I could not even install new apps anymore. With no sensible way to backup my contacts, I started to contemplate the uncontemplateable: google contacts! Because of course, google apps still had all the permissions they needed.

So I broke. Synced my contacts, flashed the device and restored them again. And discovered how convenient google contacts actually is. I am now even looking into integrating google contacts into mutt.

And there you have it. That is the story of how I turned from a decent google opponent into a fully integrated cell of the great google information collection agency. I use google services to organize my life. And I like it.


Now, some people, when they hear I am addicted to google services, sigh “Oh you fool, I can do without just fine!”. Yeah well, that’s nice for them. But those are either the people that are impossible to work with because they always forget what they promised to do by when and need constant reminders to get even the silliest little thing done. Or they are the people with nice unconvoluted lives who generally are not that full of initiative or commitment.

For the rest of us, the people who operate on the same high level of energy as myself, tools like described above are essential to keep track of the many things going without keeping it all in your head and going insane. Some use apple’s crap but most are also on google.

I would love to kick this habit!

But their applications are so damn easy to use. They do what I want, without getting in the way. They are not overly complex. They don’t require me to maintain a server, keep track of security issues with the zillion of dependencies and keep an eye on the hardware. I can access them from wherever I want, on whatever device I want. I get reminders on the desktop and on the phone, so that whatever I’m doing I’m not going to miss an appointment.

Now, I can see a few ways out here. The first would be to reverse-engineeer some of their protocols. This should not be too hard, as it all works browser-based. It just takes time.

Another thing I could imagine to prevent google from looking at your contacts and tasks would be to write custom applications to access those but store everything encrypted. Looking at google tasks for example, I could simply write a desktop application and an android application that both use the same encryption algorithm and key to store each individual task encrypted. I could build an android contacts store to store my contacts encrypted, or on another server. It just takes time.

And oh, I could try and implement the google calendar backend protocol in a relatively simple daemon that would not require lots of dependencies and thus would be easy to maintain. Then redirect calendar traffic from my phone to my own backend server, and use sunbird as a frontend. It just takes time.

And there you have it. Google’s services are there. There is no open alternative for any of those services that is as easy to use, as integrated as googles services, cross-platform and without the hassle of maintaining dozens of packages.

Who knows. Now that I am aware of my problematic addiction, I might work up the energy to start a project to provide a more open alternative with privacy and encryption as the driving design forces, instead of data-mining and dollar signs. A suite where you have a choice to host it yourself, or on community-operated servers. Or perhaps even a non-profit that you pay a little amount towards keeping the software and hardware running for you.

I could see this kick off. Now all I need is a little time (or money so I don’t have to worry about making a living while making this work).


By the way, in case you are wondering: I’m not entirely stupid. I do make my own backups of everything I stuff in their cloud.

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