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Why I quit using Google

So I was recently asked why I prefer to use free and open source software over more conventional and popular proprietary software and services.

A few years ago I was an avid Google user. I was deeply embedded in the Google ecosystem and used their products everywhere. I used Gmail for email, Google Calendar and Contacts for PIM, YouTube for entertainment, Google Newsstand for news, Android for mobile, and Chrome as my web browser.

I would upload all of my family photos to Google Photos and all of my personal documents to Google Drive (which were all in Google Docs format). I used Google Domains to register my domain names for websites where I would keep track of my users using Google Analytics and monetize them using Google AdSense.

I used Google Hangouts (one of Google’s previous messaging plays) to communicate with friends and family and Google Wallet (with debit card) to buy things online and in-store.

My home is covered with Google Homes (1 in my office, 1 in my bedroom, 1 in the main living area) which I would use to play music on my Google Play Music subscription and podcasts from Google Podcasts.

I have easily invested thousands of dollars into my Google account to buy movies, TV shows, apps, and Google hardware devices. This was truly the Google life.

Then one day, I received an email from Google that changed everything.

“Your account has been suspended”

Just the thing you want to wake up to in the morning. An email from Google saying that your account has been suspended due to a perceived Terms of Use violation. No prior warning. No appeals process. No number to call. Trying to sign in to your Google account yields an error and all of your connected devices are signed out. All of your Google data, your photos, emails, contacts, calendars, purchased movies and TV shows. All gone.

I nearly had a heart attack, until I saw that the Google account that had been suspended was in fact not my main personal Google account, but a throwaway Gmail account that I created years prior for a project. I hadn’t touched the other account since creation and forgot it existed. Apparently my personal Gmail was listed as the recovery address for the throwaway account and that’s why I received the termination email.

Although I was able to breathe a sigh of relief this time, the email was wake up call. I was forced to critically reevaluate my dependence on a single company for all the tech products and services in my life.

I found myself to be a frog in a heating pot of water and I made the decision that I was going to jump out.

Leaving Google

Today there are plenty of lists on the internet providing alternatives to Google services such as this and this. Although the “DeGoogle” movement was still in its infancy when I was making the move.

The first Google service I decided to drop was Gmail, the heart of my online identity. I migrated to Fastmail with my own domain in case I needed to move again (hint: glad I did, now I self host my email). Fastmail also provided calendar and contacts solutions so that took care of leaving Google Calendar and Contacts.

Here are some other alternatives that I moved to:

Migrating away from Google was not a fast or easy process. It took years to get where I am now and there are still several Google services that I depend on: YouTube and Google Home.

Eventually, my Google Home’s will grow old and become unsupported at which point hopefully the Mycroft devices have matured and become available for purchase. YouTube may never be replaced (although I do hope for projects like PeerTube to succeed) but I find the compromise of using only one or two Google services to be acceptable.

At this point losing my Google account due to a mistake in their machine learning would largely be inconsequential and my focus has shifted to leaving Amazon which I use for most of my shopping and cloud services.

The reason that I moved to mostly FOSS applications is that it seems to be the only software ecosystem where everything works seamlessly together and I don’t have to cede control to any single company. Alternatively I could have simply split my service usage up evenly across Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple but I don’t feel that they would have worked as nicely together.

Overall I’m very happy with the open source ecosystem. I use Ubuntu with KDE on all of my computers and Android (no GApps) on my mobile phone. I’ve ordered the PinePhone “Brave Heart” and hope to one day be able to use it or one of its successors as a daily driver with Ubuntu Touch or Plasma Mobile.

I don’t want to give the impression that I exclusively use open source software either, I do use a number of proprietary apps including: Sublime Text, Typora, and Cloudron.

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Is Piracy a Problem?

Piracy is a huge problem online right now… or is it? Well before we can determine whether or not piracy is a problem I think we need to realize why 2/3 of all teens and 1/5 adults have pirated in their lifetimes. So why do people pirate? Well, for the most part, it’s simply because ease of it, you can get hooked up with some torrenting software, go to any of the many pirating sites out on the web and get movies, music, and software for completely nothing. Yes, it’s really that easy! So how exactly are electronic media companies dealing with this? Well as far as music and movies the scope of what publishers can do is very limited as once someone downloads a song as an mp3 or wav file, there is no encryption or serials that need to be bypassed and so that single song could spread across the web being downloaded and re-uploaded continuously. In this scenario, the author and publisher of the music or video are rendered powerless to stop the illegal downloading and forced to watch as millions of sales go down the drain.

On the other hand, the second most pirated industry would be software and games. These are much harder to pirate but still incredibly simple in most cases. Games and software come with something called a ‘Crack’ or a ‘Patch’ which is used to trick the software’s anti-piracy measures into thinking you’ve got a legit copy and serial. So what are software companies doing to stop this? Well, an example is Adobe’s creative cloud, which is a subscription-based service to allow middle-class people to afford Adobe products. The thought behind making a subscription-based adobe software platform was that if people could get the software’s for only $10-20 a month then pirating rates would go down. However nothing is perfect, and adobe missed one key feature; because they allow you to download the full version of any of their products for a free 30-day trial, it is as simple as switching the amtlib.dll file with a cracked version. This is because the trail is the full version but with a ‘Trial’ license attached to it, the amtlib.dll is the license file that tells the program if you have a trial or full version of the software. So swapping out the license file with a full version license will trick the program into thinking that you have the full license even if you had downloaded it from adobes own website. Another innovative idea that Rockstar North had when making the popular title GTA IV to combat piracy was to actually give people to games. More specifically two different .exe’s, the idea was when pirates looked to try to crack the game they would use GTA.exe when in reality the actual game was titled GTALauncher.exe. The GTA.exe included what is now called the ‘drunk cam’ making the game camera shake, but also to make the pirated version unplayable all cars in GTA.exe would speed up until they flew off the map and not allow the player out. Eventually, the pirates figured out how to fully crack the game using the GTALauncher.exe but it was a valiant effort from Rockstar North.

So as you can clearly see, so far there has been no permanent solution to completely clear a software or game from being torrented, and even the ones that do work don’t last long. But does all this really affect the software industry like they claim it does? Well, it really depends on the company, for small developers and studio startups this makes a huge impact and could mean the difference between success and failure. But for giant development corporations like Ubisoft and Adobe, it for now at least simply means a slightly lighter paycheck for the employees.

Now finally time to answer the question is piracy a problem? Yes, but No I think that saying the piracy is a standalone problem is incorrect. Overall the reason that most people pirate is because they simply can’t afford it; with our current economy which is less than stable at best most people simply don’t have the jobs to pay for today’s movies and software which can sometimes cost up to thousands of dollars.