What are the real risks to having a google account?
June 10, 2014 12:44 PM   Subscribe

What are the real risks to having a google account? What are the benefits to staying out of Google's ecosystem that outweigh the inconvenience?

After reading through this FPP about G+ and the various ways in which it sucks or doesn't suck, I considered my own internet presence. I have basically everything on my google account and it's hella convenient. I understand that they target ads to me and make money off of that, somehow.

What I don't understand is, besides the slightly weird feeling of having someone looking over your shoulder in that way, what are the risks to me? Am I setting myself up for some kind of exploitation or failure by not using my own email service, or keeping my appointments off gcal? I have read some of the previous askmes about alternatives but they mostly detail what to do once you've decided to leave google, and I'm trying to understand that decision.

I have no idea how worried I should be about the fact that a company knows an awful lot about me.
posted by Naib to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
If you use Google you might sometimes see ads that are clumsily targeted at you. If you don't, you will see ads that are slightly more clumsily targeted at you.
posted by Aizkolari at 1:13 PM on June 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

What if Google decides to shut down your account, say for "terms of service violation"?
posted by katrielalex at 1:21 PM on June 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Some comments in that thread highlighted some real risks that come into play if there are parts of your life you need to keep separate from other parts of your life. For example, if you are "out" as gay or trans to your friends but not to your employer. Or if you don't want your job search bookmarks syncing to your work computer.

Google (as well as Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, etc.) has a tendency to suddenly change settings in ways that either you have to spend time and effort learning about so that you can readjust your privacy settings back to where you want them, or in ways that you only realize after the fact like, oh I didn't know that other username was going to show up when I accepted my boss' calendar invitation.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:23 PM on June 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The ad targeting isn't an issue (I've never noticed it) and you can actually erase your whole search history. While Google will never ever erase it, doing so allows you to avoid predictive search, if that is a concern.

For privacy, there is nothing that Google has that some state agency doesn't have access to already. Indeed, Google is far far better about protecting your privacy from the NSA than your cell phone company or your ISP. Google is making things harder for the NSA by encrypting all data. That said, the NSA or whoever will still have access to your confidential information. What I am saying is that it's only incrementally more information being made available to "them." And Yahoo and Apple and Facebook all provide the same info. Your ISP, if you choose instead to use webmail offered by them, also provides any and all confidential information to "them." I guess you could roll your own web server and store your data in Switzerland...

For security, Google is neat (as is Outlook webmail) in that there is 2FA, which makes your digital more secure.

The only thing I worry about is losing access to 10 years' worth of email in Gmail. Although I am not certain, I think you can export Gmail mail via IMAP. But that's my only real concern at this point and time.

But given the nature of AI and computer science, who knows what the next 3 years will bring.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:35 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Google Contacts' relentless integration into Google+ means that if you add an e-mail contact who has a Google+ ID (so, a Youtube ID, or similar), their ID is auto-linked into your contacts. This isn't a problem if you never click through to the G+ ID, but the one time I did, I regretted it. A respected professional I know has some seriously squicky (bordering on professionally irresponsible, given his job) viewing habits. Now I can barely take him seriously, and I avoid him if at all possible.
posted by scruss at 1:44 PM on June 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

You can access your mail via IMAP. I run a script on my server to do a nightly backup of new email. I used 2FA but have an application password to use for the backup job.
posted by beowulf573 at 1:45 PM on June 10, 2014

One of the reasons why I'm avoiding Google is that we don't know yet what risks using Google now will bring us in the future.
What we do know is that there is a whole lot of information, and also different kinds of information, being aggregated in the hands of one party.

Personally I simply do not like that idea. Because I have no way of knowing what that information is, and I have no way of making sure it gets deleted, or even protected from parties I don't want to have it. It's out of my control.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:51 PM on June 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: There are going to be a lot of opinions on this. Mine is that you can remove most of the creepiest aspects by not having a Google+ account. They will relentlessly try to make you have one, but it can be avoided.

The other incredibly creepy things I've seen them do are:
1) It keeps wanting me to use Youtube with my real name, no matter how many times I say "Fuck no!"
2) Starting to "personalize" my search results without my consent or permission. This one is more just annoying because I may see totally different things when I google a given term than someone else would. This can be avoided by opening a Private/Incognito window in Firefox or Chrome before googling.

As far as the NSA stuff, Google has been as complicit as every other big company, so I'm not really buying their "fighting back" lip service. The government can get whatever they want with a subpoena and likely without one, but again it's no more true of Google than any other big company.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:06 PM on June 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

To elaborate a tiny bit:

Even assuming for a moment that Google itself is reliable and non-evil, I don't want then to have a lot of information about me that someone else may want to use in the future. Someone may steal it. Someone's government may gain access to it.

I'm not even a US citizen. Why should I trust the US government with my data?
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:40 PM on June 10, 2014

A respected professional I know has some seriously squicky (bordering on professionally irresponsible, given his job) viewing habits.

What's this? Google + lets you see other people's search histories? What?
posted by glasseyes at 3:03 PM on June 10, 2014

You can see what people post on Google Plus, and I think you can see their Plus 1's...? You can also look at videos that people "like" on YouTube.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:32 PM on June 10, 2014

I am a google account power user.

This is, as you say, mostly seamless and convenient.

But every once in a while I start to get nervous, especially from a product/business model evolution standpoint.

For instance today I wanted to open an excel spreadsheet someone had emailed me in google drive rather than downloading it and dealing with irritating laggy Excel. But since the last time I did this (a month ago, maybe?) google split "Drive" and what used to be called "Docs" (just one year ago!) into two separate products, one for cloud storage and the other for actually working with files. It took a few minutes for me to realize the difference and do what I wanted to do. So... how long before google doesn't support document editing at all, anymore? What happens when I'm in a pinch and suddenly discover I can't do what I need to do?

I've also had a ton of headaches with Chrome playing nice with my OS, lately, and am starting to wonder if it's not time to uncouple myself from the google mothership in general.
posted by Sara C. at 3:43 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding glasseyes:
A respected professional I know has some seriously squicky (bordering on professionally irresponsible, given his job) viewing habits.
What's this? Google + lets you see other people's search histories? What?

OP, can you explain how you saw someone else's viewing habits? That's truly terrifying.
posted by LonnieK at 5:07 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have no idea how worried I should be about the fact that a company knows an awful lot about me.

We don't know.

That's the problem in a nutshell. We don't know, and by the time we do know, it'll be too late for most people to do anything about it. So you need to weigh up current-you's convenience vs future-you's data being exploited and decide if it's worth the risk for you. The way I look at it is this: is there ever going to be a time where a single private company having access to my personal details, tastes, habits, appointments, locations, every email I've written or received, every document I've created or edited, and every internet search I've done for the last decade+ is going to be a good thing for me?

Personally, I lean towards no. That's why I don't have a Google account.

People like to defend Google by saying that no matter what you do, somebody has access to your data, and that's true. But I think the scale matters. Apple knows what apps I buy, but they don't have access to my email. My webhost could read my email, but they don't know where I spend my days. And nobody knows my search history because I use Duck Duck Go. By spreading out the crumbs of your digital life, you stop one person knowing everything. And I do think that's important, even if the NSA probably knows everything.

Google has a history of being cavalier about individual privacy. Even if you aren't worried about future data exploitation, I think it's worth asking yourself if even their current attitude towards your privacy is one you feel comfortable with.
posted by Georgina at 6:18 PM on June 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

  OP, can you explain how you saw someone else's viewing habits? That's truly terrifying.

  1. Go into Google Contacts
  2. Select a contact (or add one; you only need an e-mail address for Google to ferret out a connection)
  3. If they have a “Connected Profile”, click on it
  4. Under Links, click on YouTube. You can't see what they've viewed (certainly if you're not in their circles) but you can see what they've posted and favourited.
Now someone pass me the mind bleach, as I had to go see that again.
posted by scruss at 5:07 AM on June 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

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