23 September 2018

Google Dragonfly

Last week I went back to using an IMAP client. Google had decided to eliminate Inbox after coaxing me into completely reworking how I handle mail. Gmail’s web UI isn’t a reasonable alternative, so I went back to IMAP. Lesson learned, no more new Google products for me. But as I was adjusting to that, it emerged that Google had done something far worse.

I’m a pretty cynical person, and when it leaked out earlier this summer that Google was going to launch a censored search engine for China, it didn’t surprise me. Yes, back in 2010 they left the Chinese market rather than be complicit in government censorship. However, the cynicism they have displayed in sucking up to Trump, funding Breitbart and providing video streaming for Alex Jones had already convinced me that they were willing to overlook ethics in return for money and eyeballs. Sure, they started to take action last month — but that was at least two years too late.

But in spite of my low expectations of Google, the followup story shocked me. Not only will Google censor its search results, it also plans to tie users’ mobile phone numbers to every search, providing the Chinese government with a log of who searched for what. And as if that isn’t bad enough, they’ve also built a system which will allow the Chinese government to edit the search term blacklists directly, and even edit the information shown on search results pages.

Searching for information about pollution in Shenzen? The Chinese government will be able to edit the Google results to indicate that everything is fine and there is no air pollution problem. If you search for the real air pollution figures, your mobile phone number might go on a list…

When the plans leaked, Google didn’t attempt to deny them. Instead, they tried to strongarm Google employees into deleting their copies of any information they had acquired about the project. Now the company seems to be keeping silent, hoping it all blows over.

So in the wake of this Dragonfly project, I decided to go further and remove my e-mail from Gmail entirely. That became one of this weekend’s projects. I also removed all my contacts from Google’s servers, and set my default search engine to DuckDuckGo. It’s obvious now that Google will happily hand over all your search data and lie to you if a government demands it.

Never did I think I would be so glad to have switched to iOS.

© mathew 2017