Because of time constraints it has been a long time since I wrote something here. However, this is something I want to share with as many people as possible now: Mikko Hypponen’s talk titled “Living in a surveillance state”, last week at TEDxBrussels . If you think that you don’t have to fear the spying by the NSA, GCHQ and other state services because you have nothing to hide, or you are wondering what we can do against it, then you should definitely watch this. “Open source” is the key answer to the latter question by the way.
These are 20 very well spent minutes of your time.
Google’s Chrome browser, gets criticism because it does extensive usage tracking. Most notably is the RLZ identifier, which sends usage information to Google. While this identifier is not included in the open source Chromium browser, other privacy threatening features are, such as a unique client identifier and sending URLs typed in the address bar to Google for suggestions. There exists a fork, called SRWare Iron, which removes these privacy threatening features.
Google’s Chromium is also getting criticism because they don’t play very nice with existing open source projects. Chromium uses several open source libraries, such as sqlite and libjingle, but instead of collaborating with them, Google just forked the code. This way, these open source projects don’t benefit from the changes by Google and it makes (security) updates to these libraries more cumbersome for distributors, because they have to update two packages now.
The Android hardware drivers are yet another example of Google’s lack of collaboration with open source projects. According to Linux developer Greg Kroah-Hartman, Google does not care to maintain its drivers in the Linux kernel tree and for this reason, they have been dropped from Linux 2.6.33.
Recently Google also introduced their own public DNS system. Even if they promise not to permanently store identifiable data, this gives them yet another source of data they can use for statistical and data mining purposes. Let’s think about what Google potentially already knows about its users: search history, e-mails (GMail), buying behaviour (Google check-out), agenda (Google Calendar), office documents (Google Docs), RSS feeds (Google Reader) and more. Visit Google Dashboard to get an idea about what Google already knows about you.
Do we really want this, depending on one single company for so many features? Do we accept that one single company knows so much information about millions of users all over the world? Do we accept that a company creates more and more features, officially because they want to help the world, but which in reality give them more sources for collecting private data and thus more power? For me the answer to these questions is definitely no.
For this reason, I will not install Chromium on my or anyone other’s computer. I strongly recommend people to use another browser, such as Firefox or one of the many webkit browsers in Linux, which are making great progress now, such as Epiphany, Midori or Arora. For similar reasons, you do not want to use Chrome OS: it basically does not add anything to a standard Linux distribution. Quite on the contrary, there is not much more than just the Chrome browser which is installed, so it forces you to use all of Google’s online services to get anything done. I recommend Moblin as an alternative operating system on netbooks.
I had some kind of "trash" GMail account which I used for some mailing list. I have unsubscribed from those mailing lists and evenually I will resubscribe with the e-mail address of my ISP or a GMX FreeMail account. Or I will just read those lists online or with a news reader via GMane.
As default search engine, I currently switched to Ask.com. In some corner cases, it is lacking a bit compared to Google, but the majority of searches yield good results, so it is perfectly fine as default search engine for me. Be sure to enable AskEraser for a privacy level much better than what you get with Google.