I’ve tried to dump Google and Facebook. But it’s been p…


Over the past month I’ve tried my best not to use Google. I deleted my Facebook account. I’ve gone through all my phone and iPad apps, closing down the “permissions” that give them access to my calendar, camera, contacts and location. And I’ve switched to DuckDuckGo as my (home) web browser. Like millions of others I was astounded not just by the Cambridge Analytica revelations, but the industrial-scale data harvesting by Google revealed in that extraordinary article by Dylan Curran in the Guardian.

After reading it, I picked a random day in 2014 to find out what Google had on me – and was astonished at the intensity of location tracking and snooping on all my movements.

But my trial separation has been tough. I’ve (almost) completely finished with Facebook. But living without Google has been far harder.

My partner calls me “iPaddy” for the amount of time I spend on the bloody thing – mostly reading and checking news sites. But a good thing about the iPad is that in “settings” it’s simple to switch out of Google and into DuckDuckGo as your default browser.

DuckDuckGo, if you don’t know, is the search engine that promises not to intrude. “It’s sort of creepy that people at search engines can see all this info about you,” it says. Unlike Google, it doesn’t attempt to track you. It doesn’t store IP addresses or personalise your search results according to what past data it has built up on you.

But does it work? There is nothing I’ve not been able to find while using it although, as I haven’t put every search request into Google and DuckDuckGo at the same time, it’s not an entirely scientific comparison. Results are displayed and ranked in a similar fashion to Google. There are ads, but you can go into settings and turn them off.

The biggest drawback was mapping – DuckDuckGo puts you through to Apple’s service – although images aren’t great, either. Until you are off Google, you don’t realise what a beautiful thing its mapping features are. And my determination not to give away my location means I’m now assailed by pop-up boxes once I click on a site. Last Sunday I searched for films at my local Omniplex cinema. Google would probably know where I was, and send me to the page with listings appropriate to my local area. Now I have to click into the general cinema site, click past the location pop-up request, then manually select which cinema is my local. But these are small gripes and I’m very happy to continue with DuckDuckGo on my iPad.

Changing ad settings has been enlightening. We’re warned that if we turn off personalised ads, we get a weirdly untailored experience. You do – but so what?

Cutting free from Google on a smartphone is another matter. If, like me, you have a company paid-for Android-based phone linked to Gmail, you can hardly hide from Google. But I’m not prevented from turning off location services, and since my phone is the main way it tracks me, it’s a small triumph.

I was never a Facebook fan, so deleting it was entirely painless. But it doesn’t let you go without a fight. It said it would hold the door open for me to return, and not delete all my data, should I come back within a short while. It worked. A week later I came back on, as I needed to contact a Facebook group for work. But that has been the sum total of my Facebook life since. But then there’s WhatsApp, which has become the key way our wider family connects. It is, of course, owned by Facebook. Some companies you can’t escape from.

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