Back in the early 2000’s I wanted to setup and run my own linux file server, web server, email and groupware server for syncing contacts, calendars, and emails across my desktop, laptop, and cell phone. Additionally I wanted to host my own website and be able to access my file server from across the internet. At the time I had a home built, first generation AMD 64 computer build on top of a Asus KV8 motherboard, a Dell P4 laptop, and an old HP Pentium III, 550 MHz desktop that I was in the process of upgrading for file serving duties. I nailed the Samba file server and have been setting it up on various PCs for the past ten years. Eventually I registered my own domain and setup this website. At the time I had only a few bread crumbs of knowledge of apache (mostly that it existed) and no knowledge of any IMAP servers available–only that IMAP existed and that I wanted it. So, not knowledgeable enough about setting up my own server, I went with the webhosting route. Fortunately, my host offered hosting on a linux server with MySQL, and I’ve learned a bunch over the past few years. In the last year, I have finally gotten around to setting up my own web and email server for another domain and I’m looking into solutions for contact and calendar syncing.

But why all the background for a post about my Google account? I have long aspired to provide for myself the very services that GMail provides to its consumers–and in actuality, I did not even bother with a GMail account as I already had my own domain complete with email. What really sucked me in was GChat and IMAP. I ended up creating an account so I could chat with my friends and forward my email going to my private domain to Google’s servers so I could use their storage to sync my email across multiple devices. I knew Google was scanning the contents of my email to get a gist of my interests and provide ads related to them, but I had no clue how extensive and deep their data collection and services would go. Once I had my GMail account, I start adding services–search, chat, rss feeds (now defunct Google Reader), maps, shopping, translations, video searches and viewing, news, phone calls, ubiquitous computing–essentially my Google account has become my personal assistant, my adviser, my entertainer, and is privy to my every action online. To give you and inkling of how broad their reach is into my life, I am typing this right now on my Android phone.

In the wake of the recent revelations of the domestic NSA spying, I asked myself, where is my data? Where could the NSA collect it from? Google. If I had a Mac or iDevice, I’d have to include Apple. And if I had a Windows phone or computer, I’d include Microsoft. But as I stuck with Linux for my larger devices and Android for the smaller devices, the answer was a solitary, enormous, monolith of data collection: Google. Who likely has the keys to this iconic data collection giant that publicly admits to indexing the internet? Rhetorical question says the NSA. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook… they have already done all the data collection and use it to influence our experiences online. The NSA doesn’t need to “spy,” they only want access to the data collected to make their own analyses.

I would not call myself a conspiracy nut, but this overly broad data collection agitates me on many different levels. Government data collection really bothers me on many levels. One, it does not improve governance. It is invasive and degrading, and my privacy is protected by the very laws that give the government power to govern. Two, there is no grounds to even issue such an overly broad search warrant and it is insulting to imagine that the federal government believes that the public will accept this. I believe the governing class thinks that we’re stupid sheeple; and for the most part we are, but even sheep fear the wolves. Thirdly, the execution of the NSA’s spying bugs me. Because of the shear volumes of data collected, the number of computation and man hours required to create intelligence from that heap of data is ridiculous. They would have more reliable and productive data if they limited their dataset to the people of interest. Fourthly, this broad interpretation is the results of lawyers, judges, and bureaucrats twisting the literal meaning of the law to get an outcome desirable for their agenda instead of following the legislators’ intentions in good faith. This is more of a general complaint with the current legal system and not specifically in regards to the NSA’s program. The wide spread surveillance of the NSA is just a poster child example of questionable laws being used for purposes beyond their scope by creative bureaucrats. Fifthly, I have no expectation that the government or any other private company could keep the collected data secure. The less data collected results in a smaller harvest for intruders or other organizations taking data from the government’s database–and this holds true for any dataset from any organization. The less data being stored, the less data there is to exploit.

That brings me back to Google and the other private databases. While I expect Google, Apple, Microsoft, et al do all in their power to keep their collected data private, that doesn’t mean companies like Equifax or Facebook from sharing that data with select partners or even the outright selling their data. Nor does that guarantee protection from malicious persons or entities that will attempt to gain access to these databases. While I could go into a deep rant about security, business practices, public policy, and government regulation, my goal is to ask the question, how do you disconnect substitute the services offered from Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, etcetera without drastically changing your daily life?

Realistically, I expect to continue to be tracked on every online search, through every major chat protocol my friends and family would use, every click on Facebook or Amazon, and so forth. However, I do not have to funnel each and every email, contact, calendar event, phone call, and RSS feed through Google. Nor do I need to save every document I create to Google Drive. Google does not need to know my playlist and neither should Apple. I think it to be unreasonable for Google, Microsoft, Bing, Facebook, or any other business to have my browsing history. Basically, I desire to be in control of my data, and I want exclusive to my data.

One think I’d like to do is create a simple server and use DNS server and firewall to redirect all requests for these companies to said server.