Bleats

It’s Definitely Possible To Avoid Google’s Data Collection, But You’re Not Going To Like It

Maybe it's just easier to wait for civilisation to collapse?

By this stage you are doubtless aware that you are constantly and forever handing valuable data about yourself to our tech services, most notably Google. And you might have wondered what you can do about it – and the answer is that you won’t like it.

Short answer: so many things that we more or less have to use in our day to day life only work if they are sending data back. So suddenly our devices are very expensive bricks.

On the plus side, it’s easy to do things like not hand out home addresses online – getting things posted to Australia Post’s 24/7 parcel lockers means, at best, they know which is your least inconvenient post office.

And there are a number of services which will help delete your online footprint, including hiding your email behind ever-changing proxies and concealing your phone number, but using the relies on handing access to your data over to such services to scrub.

One of the big problems is that Google’s products are increasingly the default option.

And that’s not a huge problem with, say, web browsers – you can choose an alternative to Chrome, like Firefox, and it’ll still have similarly functionality – but it’s not great with things like search.

Hiding is… tricky.

Put bluntly, something like DuckDuckGo is better in that it doesn’t collect your data – but because of that, it also doesn’t work nearly as well. And there are no easy alternatives for, say, Google Docs. And when you think online video, who do you go to: YouTube, owned by Google, or… what, Vimeo?

(Also, you know that Google and Facebook can still see your data in “incognito mode”, right? Good.)

And while there are other free webmail services – Outlook, Zoho, Mail.com. Yahoo and so on – they don’t have the sorts of additional services Gmail offers. But they are definitely doable.

And make no mistake: your email contents are on Gmail’s servers, and they help determine the ads you see. So… um, hopefully you haven’t written anything you wanted secret, because nothing gives a secret away like suddenly being served ads for pregnancy services, say.

Things get even trickier if you’re trying to hide from Big Data across the board – even if you’re not obscuring your face all the time from the terrifyingly accurate facial recognition software now available.

Obviously having an iPhone is out, or an Android phone. Also, you’ll need to not use services like Uber or Menulog. And obviously you’re saying goodbye to things like Amazon Echo or Google Home. Adieu Spotify, Netflix and Stan, and so long Fitbit.

Similarly, avoiding social media is an obvious necessity if you want data secrecy. However, you can still end up there in other people’s photos – and the slightly creepy thing is that Facebook can still work out that you exist and a lot about you – likely location, age, gender, sexuality, income level – based on your friends without you even having to be on Facebook or Instagram.

It turns out that sure, we’re all marvellous individual snowflakes, but like real snowflakes we’re actually really similar to one another.

Spoiler: There Is No Incognito Mode For Your Saucy Video Viewing, Google And Facebook Know

Nothing pure can stay.

So, as a savvy internet user with a keen appreciation for the human form, you’ve been confidently swapping to incognito mode in Google Chrome whenever you feel the need to… um, explore your innermost imagination. Groinally, we mean.

He gets it.

And you’ve been quietly confident that your salty secrets have been safe, and you know what heartbreaking news is coming next.

Yes, it turns out that those companies which have lied to you about how secure your data is and whether or not they’re collecting and using it have been lying to you about the security of your data and collecting and using it. WHO COULD HAVE GUESSED???

A new study entitled Tracking sex: The implications of widespread sexual data leakage and tracking on porn websites is currently in pre-print, in which researchers from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Pennsylvania looked at data tracking tools in porn sites and found there are loads of them, feeding data back to companies like Google, Facebook and Oracle.

And incognito mode stops that data being stored on your computer, it’s true… but not from these data trackers.

And because few porn sites are encrypted it means that other companies can presumably exploit site security to access said trackers themselves.

And why is this an issue? Let’s look at the study’s abstract:

“We identify three core implications of the quantitative results: 1) the unique/elevated risks of porn data leakage versus other types of data, 2) the particular risks/impact for vulnerable populations, and 3) the complications of providing consent for porn site users and the need for armative consent in these online sexual interactions.”

In other words: people can be outed, this can be devastating for particular groups of people depending on where they live, and this is being done without clear consent.

Honestly, people. VPNs. Get onto it.

You're About To Pay Stupid Amounts For Streaming TV So Enjoy It While You Can Still Afford It

How much TV is too much to pay for?

So, how many streaming services do you currently pay for? Follow up: how many are you willing to pay for every month?

Is is a lot? Because you’re going to be faced with a future of dropping close to a grand a year to watch a the bits of you like on a bunch of competing and non-comprehensive different services.

[insert cash register sound for each click]

You’ve likely heard that Disney+ will be launching in the US in November with a catalogue that includes all the Disney-made stuff and all the franchises they’ve bought up in recent times. So Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, The Simpsons, Family Guy… rather a lot of stuff, in other words.

A visual metaphor for you and your money.

Meanwhile Apple have just announced Apple TV+, which appears to be banking on creating a compelling slate of its own original programming rather than buying anyone else’s catalogue.

Add that to the existing services here and who the hell has the time to watch that much TV a month and pay the $70 a month you’ll need for all of them? We have to sleep sometime.

And there’s a question about whether it makes business sense either. Sure, size isn’t everything… but Australia’s not the world’s largest entertainment market.

That’s us, right there.

Netflix was the first on the scene, with Stan the first specifically local service.

They’re the big two, at least until the new ones appear. Amazon Prime is still a niche option but one that’s making inroads, as is the pricey YouTube Premium, and HayU is for reality TV obsessives only.

And Game of Thrones might have kept Foxtel customers dedicated to the nation’s only dedicated pay TV service, but its foray into dedicated streaming TV was also the first to fall over. Anyone have memories of Presto? Anyone?

It’s OK. It’s in a better place now.

Throw Disney and Apple in the mix and a) someone’s going to have to fall over, and b) viewers that want to see all the stuff they like will be paying through the nose for the privilege.

And that feels unsustainable long term.

Think back to when you first signed up for Netflix. Were you thinking “oh my god, I have billions of hours of entire series to watch for chump change!”, or were you thinking “I can’t wait until I have half a dozen services each offering four shows I like and demanding a permanent subscription to access”?

Strong former.

And Australia’s broadcasters have risen to the challenge of the new viewing habits by creating their own decent-to-good quality on-demand apps.

And given that availability, how many viewers – especially moneyed older ones – are going to respond to the choice paralysis offered by half a dozen different options with “sod this, I’ll stick with the free TV options and go the movies if I want to see a movie, thanks”?

Now, there’s a decent chance that Disney+ (and Hulu, which is also owned by Disney) might choose to go with a partnership with, say, Stan (which already has their content up until October) rather than dump a lot of money creating their own service in an already crowded market in the hope of making a loss. But in any case, things are about to get tight.

In the meantime, let’s watch the end of the golden age of TV. And maybe stock up on cheap DVDs just in case.

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