The power and influence of certain technology companies is something that I – and I’m far from the only one, as seen in the various US Senate hearings – am increasingly concerned about, and I’m not just talking about Apple. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others all raise monopolistic concerns, but are even more worrying because of their approaches to personal privacy (since you are their product, not their customer), and increasingly their willingness to throw their weight around and leverage your personal data to promote their own ideological and social views (many in areas that are already concerning), and even enforce them via censorship, boycotts and so forth. There’s often a whiff of hypocrisy about this: witness Paypal threatening to boycott North Carolina over transsexual issues, but being rather happy to do business in the Middle East, or big tech’s happiness to cooperate with authoritarian regimes like China in pursuit of their money. But their willingness to operate what increasingly seems like a privatised version of China’s “social credit” system in the West, combined with the mob-like tendencies of social media, is truly worrying: being “unpersoned” by the big tech companies can leave individuals without income and with limited capacity to rebut charges against them.
All of which means I’m quite interesting in looking towards alternatives to the big, and especially the most egregious, players in that market (particularly Google, who seem to be taking their former motto of “Don’t Be Evil” as some kind of challenge). Of course, any data you put online should be regarded as potentially compromised, but there are options that are either more secure or at less danger of being misused or subject to censorship. I shifted away from the Gmail/Google Drive ecosystem a while ago, in favour of Microsoft’s offerings in Office 365 and Onedrive of all things, on the basis that they at least seemed principally interested in my money, and not my soul (and who in the 1990s would think the day would come when they were considered the lesser of evils)! While stuff there can hardly be thought of as private, much of it is about stuff I plan to publish anyway, the principal concern being that it not fall victim to Google’s trials at locking out or deleting things based on their analysis of the contents of user documents. For a more private email service, there’s things like Protonmail people might like to try, which offers a basic free service and paid offerings for those who require greater storage, and which offers services like encrypted emails.
One area worth looking at for alternatives is the humble web browser, where people may wish to reconsider the amount of personal data they offer Google for free via Google Chrome. Again, I switched from that a while back, but felt unable to switch to Mozilla Firefox considering the Brendan Eich case, in which Brendan Eich, developer of Javascipt, was effectively pushed out his position as CEO of Mozilla after 9 days due to having made a financial contribution to Proposition 8 in support of traditional marriage a number of years earlier. Since they wouldn’t want me to be an employee they clearly didn’t want me as a customer, and in any case there’s something quite sinister about the attempts to crush people’s professional endeavours because of opinions held in other spheres: the unspoken implication of trying to deny employment to those you disagree with is that those you disagree with should be starved into submission.
For several years I’ve used Opera. That’s not free of privacy concerns, since it’s owned by a Chinese company, but since I don’t live in the People’s Republic I’m not sure having the Chinese in possession of my personal data is any more of a concern than Google having it. Opera did offer some nice features as well too, such as a built in ad blocker. Unfortunately their mobile offering didn’t seem to offer any way of changing the default search engine from Google.
However, one option I’ve looked into from time to time has been Brave, which has been developed by a company headed by the aforementioned Brendan Eich. This browser offers a range of privacy features, without sending as much data off as possible to either Beijing or California. When I first tried this several years ago, however, it didn’t quite seem ready for everyday use. I’m delighted to report, however, that after trying it the other day this seems to have changed immensely, so much so that I’ve switched to it on all my devices (including mobile). I’d honestly recommend trying it out: it appears to have a host of features it didn’t have when I last tried it (including an integrated Tor mode), and seems very stable and fast to boot. One can download it here.
Now if only I knew what to do about the Android/Apple dilemma…