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BLOG: How I divorced Google

Tom Henderson | March 21, 2012
I sat recently at the Grand Opening Ceremony at CeBIT 2012 in Hannover. There was a huge crowd of dignitaries, business people, and captains of German industry. They were waiting to hear from the President of Brazil, the Chancellor of Germany, and the Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt. Each gave a keynote. As the event's them was Managing Trust, it seemed salient for me to listen specifically to Schmidt, perhaps one last time. It's not that I don't respect the German Chancellor or the President of Brazil, but I wasn't trying to divorce myself from the organizations they represent.

If you go to Google, or a site accidently uses a Google product access, you're back to square one because the cookies, the tracks of your use, will be reestablished. You have to teach your computer to stanch requests made to Google because you can use Google by accident. In doing so -- stopping unwitting access -- you can also add protection from other web sites that track you like a pack of trained dogs. There's a way of preventing your computer from going to these sites in a technical way that's a holdover from the old days of computing. It's called a redirected hosts file. Ask your geek friends about them.

In Windows, Mac, and Linux systems, this means using something called a hosts file. Your local geek knows how to modify your hosts file so that if your computer system accidently goes to Goodle without you realizing it, the request re-routes back to your computer, effectively preventing accidental Google use. The WinHelp WinHelp2002 portion fo the MVPS.ORG site contains a general purpose ad-restriction hosts file that will reroute literally hundreds of ad (and privacy-sucking) sites in this way.

Once installed, these hosts files reroute requests to the machine where the file is installed, rather than blurt information regarding browser data, cookies, location, and so forth -- your private information.

Day four: Removing supercookies, install cookie and tracking blocker

Ridding your machine of Google means also removing traces of Google and other applications. Sites that use Google products inside of them can leave cookies. Cookies are settings and information files deposited on your computer when you visit websites. Cookies can be read by websites you visit, and if Google is there, it can read the cookies and therefore the information.

You must then learn how to remove all of their cookies from your devices, and use non-Google products and applications, including Chrome, Google Plus+, and so forth. Each browser's method is different. Then there is the problem of supercookies, which can actually resurrect cookies you've deleted. Selectout is a website that yanks most cookies (I haven't checked it exhaustively) and includes SuperCookies. SuperCookies act as “agents" for various tracking bloodhounds, and seemingly unrelated cookies can re-appear by magic if just a few of them do. It's subterfuge to keep you tracked. Tracking is money.

Once cookies are gone, you'll need a cookie and tracking blocker. I chose an application called Ghostery. Ghostery blocks trackers, adware cookies, and most of the barnacles. It's made by a maker of barnacles, and so far, has been faithful in blocking undesired cookies in my experience. Ghostery is a browser application that works with many browsers, and slows down response noticeably. The response slows because as each web page is loaded, it's examined for the scripts and destinations associated with ads, trackers, and so forth. It has the ability to foil and largely fool the web page into doing no evil on your machine, while not giving up any information regarding the user, machine, browser, etc. Light testing has shown it to be effective, and Ghostery is updated frequently to allow new and novel tricks to be thwarted.


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