Pulling up (Google) stakes

Volume 2, Issue 24; 27 Sep 2018

A fair bit of my daily life passes through Google. Not because it has to, exactly, but because it’s convenient. What price convenience?

Trust, like the soul, never returns, once it is gone.

Publilius Syrus

I have saved you a long, rambling screed about Google by deleting it. In brief: it would require an act of rare gullibility to be persuaded that “don’t be evil” enters into Google’s planning these days. Maybe it never did. [Rant about the corrosive effects of modern capitalism also deleted.]

On both the macro-level (drones, Dragonfly) and the micro-level (Google Reader, Inbox), Google have demonstrated that they aren’t to be trusted.

Time to move on. I’m not considering anything radical, I’ve no intention of trying to get Google to forget me. I don’t even expect to escape wholly from the goog, but I feel I should put a little distance between us.

The first few steps were easy. I switched from Chrome to Firefox. I switched from Google to DuckDuckGo as my default search engine. 1Password integrates the functionality of Google Authenticator in a really useful way. I switched to OpenStreetMap and Leaflet on my web sites a long time ago. I left Android, though that was a little bit harder (and simply trades Apple for Google so is arguably a very lateral move).

But what about email? In as much as killing Inbox was the last straw, I really felt I should move my email somewhere else.

There are a few constraints.

  1. I am not doing it myself. I want to outsource this to professionals. I want spam filtering to be someone else’s problem.
  2. I download all of my email and store it in text files on my laptop. I read it with Gnus. I’ve been doing that for almost twenty five years. I am going to continue to do that. If you find that weird or think that things would be better for me if I just did [insert thing here] instead, I’m happy for you. Also, you’re mistaken.
  3. At the same time, it is convenient to be able to peek at email on my phone. Sometimes I’m away from my desk and I’d like to confirm a dinner reservation or arrange a meeting or help with a bug or just converse with a friend.
  4. And it is convenient to be able to search some (possibly bounded) archive of messages on my phone so I can find the dinner reservation or the itinerary or the receipt when I’m away from my desk.

There’s a catch-22 in there that you may not have noticed. If I read a message on my phone, I still want to download it to my laptop. So “download only new mail” doesn’t work for me. But I also don’t want to delete the messages on the server when I download them (because then I lose access to the online, searchable archive), so “always download all mail” also doesn’t work for me.

tl;dr I had to switch from Fetchmail to getmail. That was not obvious at the outset. Getmail maintains its own index of messages so it can “download all mail not previously downloaded”, which is the semantic I need.

I’m currently trying out FastMail, but I’m also interested in ProtonMail.

This switch isn’t going to come for free. Gmail is easy, you just throw everything into an essentially infinite box and let Google find things when you need them. I’m going to have to manage things a little more, uh, traditionally, now. I’m also going to have to recreate all my (server-side) email filters which is going to be a bit of a drag. (I have more than 300 addresses in my politicians-begging-for-$$$ blacklist alone.)

What comes after email? As long as I’m willing to live in the Apple ecosystem, I can probably move away from Google Contacts and Google Calendar. I don’t have any illusions about moving away from Google Maps in the short term. I could turn off Google Photos; I turned it on to backup pictures taken on my phone, but Dropbox does that too. The assistant features (rediscover this day, animations, collages, etc.) are nice but I could live without them. I don’t see any alternative to Google Voice.

One step at a time.