Tag Archives: Gmail

I Hate Google

I have a love-hate relationship with Google. This is a continuation of a blog thread that I started a few years ago. The first part was I Love Google. While some of the products have changed, I still stand by those notes. These notes are true as well. I’ll finish this series with a part 3 on my takaways from these viewpoints within the next few months.

The Google-Plex

The Google-Plex (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My issue with Google comes down to data collection. Most of Google’s services are free, which means that the product being sold is you. They collect everything that they can about you, and use that information to put together effective marketing campaigns. My issue is that they know a TON about all of us. All of their clever services are designed to keep us using their products so that they can market to us. But, actually, you don’t have to use their services in order to be known by them.

We all know about search, Gmail, maps, drive (aka documents), and their other popular servers. But even if you never used any of those, they have a whole slew of services that they can use to track you. Lets take a look at a few of them. I’ll give a brief description of each, because my point is not to introduce to you new products. I plan to tell you how these collect data about you.

Analytics – Tracks visitors to any website.

Fonts – Quick & easy way for you to include stylish fonts on any web page.

AdSense – Contextual advertising on your website.

Maps – Mapping tool.

DNS – Public DNS servers.

There are literally dozens of others, but this is enough to make my point. Each of these services makes it possible for Google to track you without you ever having to visit their website. Millions of website owners use Google Analytics. If you visit one of those sites, Google sees your visit. They don’t literally know its YOU, but the fact that someone on your computer, from your city, at this time gets recorded. Google Fonts and AdSense are the same, if you visit a site using one of those tools, Google tracks your visit.

So why should you care?

A public company, accountable to shareholders, is collecting data about you, building a profile on you and your habits. If you ever create a Google account (Gmail, Google+, AdWords, etc.) they tie your search history and surfing patterns together in your profile. They can connect all of the sites you’ve visited with all of the searches you’ve made. How do we know? In the spring of 2012 they updated their privacy policy and terms of service to make this possible. From their blog:

…if you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services…

Let that sink in for a moment. Think about all of the sites you’ve visited over the past six or eight years. This profile, combining your search history and all of the sites you’ve visited, definitely is uniquely identifiable. This idea actually came from Steve Jobs, while he was an adviser to Google executives. My source article is no longer available, but Jobs is reported to have said something along the lines of:

You have so many products spanning several services: Search, GMail, YouTube, Maps etc. – why not unite them all under a fluid user experience to both you and your users benefit?

With this much data in a single profile, it is absolutely possible to distinguish you from your neighbor. Think about all of the searches that you’ve made. What story does that tell about you?

Your profile says a lot about you, which makes it pretty valuable. And it can be used in all sorts of ways that you never intended. First, your profile is a target for the Government. This is not new at all. In fact, Google has fought this fight long enough that they have a well defined process for handling government subpoenas. This actually came up again this week, Google is one of several internet companies being mined for data by the NSA and FBI.

The government isn’t the only party interested in your profile though. In 2010 a Google engineer used his permissions to access user accounts and spy on teens. Talk about creepy! Google even issued a statement acknowledging this. And what was the outcome? He was fired.

Google has also been hacked. In December of 2009 a Chinese group hacked into Google to gain access to the Gmail accounts of human activists, as well as companies in the technology, financial and defense sectors. I can’t tell what the outcome of this attack was, but the investigation is apparently ongoing.

To be fair, Google isn’t the only company collecting data about us. Indeed, that would be a long list. Facebook, Yahoo!, Bing and Twitter come to mind instantly. Those are all big companies, there are certainly dozens (if not hundreds) of small companies doing the same thing. Google stands out.

I Love Google

This is the first of a three part series on my thoughts about the search giant Google. I definitely have a love/hate thing going on with them. I thought it was appropriate to start with love. Parts two and three will be published within the next couple of weeks.

My first experience with Google came in 1999 or 2000. I was working at Dell and one of my coworkers made the statement “Just Google it” in response to a question, and I didn’t know what that meant so I searched Yahoo!. It took several more years for them to become my primary search engine because at that point I was already very familiar with Yahoo!. Now they ARE my primary search engine.

In fact, there are a number of Google products that I use on a daily basis.

Search. This is what got them started, and its still their salient product. The search results found within Google are still better than those of the other major players, in my opinion. I also love the simplicity and white space. I never use the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button because I like seeing all the options and selecting myself. I don’t really know what else to say about search, it’s been my home page for years now, and I use it at least 30 times a day. Seriously. And even I don’t know all of the commands that can be used to make their search results more targeted. Define, site, omit, and, or… I know there’s a list, but I’m not sure I’d use them all so I never look them all up. And did you know that Google is also a calculator? 32,874 divided by 4.

Mobile. How often have you been out and wanted to know the start time of a movie, but couldn’t get to a computer? Or wanted the answer to a question right away? If you have a smart phone that’s no trouble. If you don’t there’s Google Mobile. Send a text message to their servers with your search query and they’ll reply via SMS with your answer. This is awesome. I don’t use it every day, but I do use it, and it works exactly as you expect.

Gmail. When Gmail was announced my feathers were ruffled because the media played up the fact that Google servers scan your inbox for keywords that prompt advertisements. Then the service was launched and you couldn’t get an account unless you were invited. I think I bought my invite on eBay for $1. I’ve never looked back. There is no other email application that can compare with Gmail. Threaded email history, categorizing via labels instead of folders, filters, IMAP/POP/SMTP support, ever increasing storage capacity, fantastic search capabilities, easy archival, excellent spam detection… no one else can hold a candle to Gmail. My Gmail account has been my primary email address since the summer of 2005, I very rarely delete anything (and I send myself files all the time), and today I’m only at 20% of my total storage capacity. And, every once in a while I learn of another feature that I’ve never heard of. This is definitely the product that sold me, I may have never become a Google fanboy were it not for this product.

Maps. Before Google Maps I used MapQuest. At first I didn’t think that there was a significant difference between the map providers, it was just a matter of who you were familiar with. Then I realized that you could switch between map, satellite and terrain views. And you can email maps to people as a link. Then they published their APIs and you can embed their maps in your own web pages. Their directions are super easy to work with, they give you a couple of routes to work with, and if you want to alter one (to avoid a toll road, for instance) you just drag the route and the travel time and distance update automatically. Whoa! With street view came the ability to look at the buildings you’ll see when you arrive, before you even leave. Just a month ago I realized that you can search within Maps and it’ll show businesses in your area. Type in Austin, TX pizza and you’ll get a number of dots on the map. I’m not a map expert by any means, but if anyone else has brought in this many features without bloating the application, I don’t know about it.

Reader. If you like reading blogs, there are a couple of services that make it a snap to handle the RSS feeds of all your favorite publishers. I used Bloglines for years, and then finally succombed to Google Reader. I can’t say that Reader is hands above any of the other online RSS readers, but the truth is that it works perfectly and is very easy to use.

Goog-411. Do you ever have to dial information? If you call the phone company it costs. If you call Google its free. I’ve been using it for a couple of years and there have maybe been only two times that it couldn’t find the number that I was looking for. Just like the phone company, once you find the number it’ll dial and connect you, and you even have the option of having the info texted to you.

Voice. This service is newer, but man did they get it right. Once you have a number (currently by invite only, and not all areas are being served) you can easily forward that number to any or all of your other numbers, home, office or cell. You can also send or receive text messages using that number. Here comes the good part, you can arrange your contacts just as you would with your email addresses, work, family, friends, etc, and route them accordingly. Want all work contacts sent to your work number and all friends sent to your cell? No problem, either way, they all dial the same number. This service also converts your voice messages to text, and you can either listen to them or read them (or both) online. Phone companies, please pay attention.

Analytics. If you have a website, and you like monitoring the traffic that it receives, Google Analytics is a fantastic service. How many visitors, how long they spend on your site, how they found your site, their geographic location, etc. Its advanced features allow you to filter out your own visits, create and track campaigns, segment the traffic any way you choose and more. I have tried many other traffic monitoring tools, and I would recommend this over all of the others, free or otherwise.

Documents. Ten years ago it was pretty tough to get by without having a copy of Microsoft Office on your computer. As much as I hate the way Microsoft treats their customers, Word and Excel are some of the most useful programs available, I use them daily for work and in my personal life. Today there are plenty of free options. Google Documents is one of the best. Through this tool you can create letters, spreadsheets and presentations. They don’t offer the same amount of features as their Microsoft counterparts, but that’s one of its salient points, they’re generally much easier to work with because they aren’t bloated with options that you never use. Plus, you can use this service to create PDF files. If you used Microsoft Office you should at least check this service out.

Calendar. When Google launched their calendar service in 2006 I thought it was janky at first. Now I like it very much. The only reason that I don’t use it on a daily basis is that I’m required to use Exchange at work and its just easier to handle everything there. When I had a Blackberry, Google Calendar was my main calendar. Its a snap to create appointments or recurring meetings and invite anyone. You can share your entire calendar or just certain portions of it, and you can even publish portions of it on the web. Its very easy to use.

I haven’t even covered all of the tools that I wanted to talk about and I’ve already gone longer than I thought I would. I’ve also used and recommend Picasa, Google Earth, Google Finance, Google Desktop, Android, SketchUp and others that elude me at the moment. I’m also very excited to play with Google Wave when it launches.

Each of the services that I’ve mentioned above isn’t just great, they’re best of class. I don’t want to handle email without Gmail anymore. Phone companies, I’m paying you, please give me all of the features that Voice gives me for free. Is there anyone on the planet that still prefers MapQuest to Google Maps? Google doesn’t offer services, each time they launch something new it changes the way people think about the service. When you bring them all together in one account, it changes the way you use the web. Seriously. Sergey and Larry certainly don’t get all the credit, but their commitment to excellence shines through in everything this company touches.

Dear Google, I love you. Keep giving us the good stuff.

Use Your Web

I just read an article that lists Firefox extensions that are supposed to save you time. Some of these are nice tips that genuinely could save time.

I personally don’t like loading up Firefox with plugins because it becomes another list of things to manage. I like simplicity. Many of the things listed in the article can be handled by blummy, which is not a plugin. In fact, it can even be used with Internet Explorer because its just a bookmark. I’ve been using Blummy for a couple of years now, and it definitely saves time. You can save links to del.icio.us in 2 clicks, or send a URL to someone via Gmail, TinyURL a link, submit the link to any social media site you choose, and even more. And its just a link that you bookmark. So you configure it once then use it on any computer that you log into. Linux, Mac, Windows, home, work, anywhere you need it.

So lets recap. Blummy doesn’t need to be installed, can be used anywhere, with any browser, on any computer, and its customizable. Or, install a bunch of plugins that only work in Firefox on your computer. I recognize that it won’t do everything listed in the article, but you can still install the plugins, and the portability more than compensates. In my mind, its a no brainer.

Secure Gmail

Do you use Gmail? You know how when you log in its a secure connection, but then when you get to your mailbox its NOT secure? That always bugged me, but I didn’t think there was anything to be done about it. Yahoo is the same way, you log in over a secure page, but then when you access your email its not secure.

Just this morning I learned the solution. You can work with all of your Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Documents through a secure internet connection. And it won’t cost you a cent.

You just have to update your links to include https://.

I don’t think Yahoo & Microsoft (Hotmail) even offer this with their premium accounts. All of the webmail providers keep increasing the account storage capacity thinking that will win new clients. Having a secure connection is more important to me than infinite capacity.

Way to go Google, keep up the great work.

Gmail & Spam

In my quest for the email address that I’ll keep for the next millennium, I have acquired no less than 8 email accounts. That’s right, count them all. There’s no way that I need that many, so I’m going to start letting some of them go. A couple of them are through Gmail, and I have some invites that I can give out. I’ve offered them to my friends, and I still have extras. Fifty-five of them, to be exact. And maybe more soon.

So, I have some Gmail invitations up for grabs. These things are selling on eBay, I’m willing to give them out for free. If you’re interested, email me and let me know. First come, first served.

When I put last night’s entry together, I linked to Spam. I’ve been thinking about their page since, and its cracking me up. You have to check this out. They’re marketing campaign is “Spam is Crazy Tasty!™”

Now, I realize that Spam has been getting a bum wrap for years. Anytime Monty Python mocks your product, it can’t help. And in addition to that, Congress passed an anti-spam law last year. So you know that Hormel’s marketing folks are fighting an uphill battle.

Even with all of that in mind, and regardless of whether or not Spam really is crazy tasty, this is hilarious. When was the last time you said, “hmmm, I think I want something that’s crazy tasty for dinner”? I don’t care who you are, that’s just funny.