How deeply does Google penetrate both your internet life and your real life? Maybe you've been considering ditching Google search for Duck Duck Go, or trading in Google Chrome for a privacy-respecting browser like Brave? Perhaps you want to separate yourself from Gmail and Google Maps? Those are all worthwhile endeavors, but what happens when you actively block all of your devices from even pinging Google's servers? Apparently, nothing short of nightmare fuel.
Gizmodo's Kashmir Hill recently accepted a monumental challenge: blocking tech giants from her everyday life due to privacy concerns and sheer curiosity. But she took the challenge to extreme lengths to demonstrate just how pervasive these companies are beyond just the apps they provide.
How? By actively blocking all communication with Google's 8,699,648 (!) IP addresses on every device she owned. Not merely finding alternatives for the various Google apps we all rely on, but preventing those devices from pinging a single Google server.
“Your smart home pings Google at the same time every hour in order to determine whether or not it’s connected to the internet.” I’m apprehensive about entirely blocking Google from my life because of how dependent I am on its products; the company has basically taken up residence in my brain somewhere near the hippocampus.
The results were both calamitous and eye-opening.
On a technical level, Hill accomplished this with the help of a Motorola engineer who designed a custom VPN (virtual private network) that restricted all of her devices -- laptops, phones, smart speakers, everything -- from talking to Google servers. She then opted for app alternatives like ProtonMail, Apple Maps, Yelp and Firefox and attempted to go about living a normal life without the chains of Google attached.
Sounds reasonable, right?
Here are some of the unexpected consequences that unfolded:
- When trying to get across town for a meeting, Hill discovered that her Uber and Lyft apps were essentially useless. That's because they rely on Google Maps.
- Hill was unable to stream her favorite on songs on Spotify. Yep. Spotify hosts all its music on the Google Cloud.
- Attempting to simply browse the web created flashbacks of the internet in the 90's. "On Airbnb, photos won’t load," Hill says. "New York Times articles won’t appear until the site has tried (and failed) to load Google Analytics, Google Pay, Google News, Google ads, and a Doubleclick tracker." Many of the sites she visited were also dependent on Google Fonts. . .
- When trying to share video journals to her colleagues at Gizmodo, Dropbox refused to let her log in because the service uses an invisible CAPTCHA -- hosted by Google -- to verify that real humans are trying to access it.
Hill discovered that after only a few hours into her experiment, her various devices had tried to ping Google servers more than 15,000 times. After one week, that number had ballooned to more than 100,000. Apparently that number paled in comparison to her "block Amazon challenge" which revealed 293,000 attempted pings to Amazon servers in one short week.
Ultimately, Hill walked away from the experience feeling recharged because she wasn't as reliant on her devices, but observes that the downfall of switching away from even a handful of Google apps means literally a higher cost of living. Paying for decentralized, private services like ProtonMail and other alternatives that don't trade service fees for your personal data can add up fast.
This was seriously a fascinating read (and there's a terrific companion video to watch), so I encourage you to absorb it in its entirety. I've only skimmed the surface, and now I'm going to check in to see how she could have possibly survived blocking Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Facebook from her life simultaneously.