Let's be honest: Google still does a lot of good, but a very large number of people seem legitimately convinced that the consolidation of user data is a violation of your privacy, rather than a simplification of settings, as Google would have us believe. Since the new policy took effect midnight on March 1, there's no turning back* for Google or for Google users. You can tweak the settings; you can educate yourself about the settings; but you cannot opt out of the new scenario. That is, unless you stop using Google altogether. Let us show you how.
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Step 1: Quit Google
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As you probably already know, your entire experience in the Google Empire is dictated by the preferences on your Google Account. Quitting Google altogether can happen in a couple of ways.
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- Option One: Logout and do not log back in. Turn on private browsing for additional protection from Google's data gobbling cookies and trackers.
- Option Two: Delete your Google Account altogether, and in turn, sacrifice your data to the Internet Gods.
Bear in mind: Deleting your account will also delete all of your data, including but not limited to emails, contacts, search history, etc. etc. You can, however, retrieve this data by visiting the "Data Liberation" link in your account settings. If you use the Chrome browser or an Android phone, you'll have to stop doing that too.
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Step 2: Quit Gmail
Now, if you're not ready to quit all of Google altogether, you might consider migrating your email habits off of Gmail. This is difficult, especially if you've been using Gmail since college, like your correspondent. Gmail is a terrific product, but it's not without its shortcomings. (The part about Google's robots reading your email has always been particularly disturbing for some privacy advocates.) But thanks to capitalism, there are many choices for other email services. Our favorite alternative and a terrific option is iCloud.
Whether you own a Mac or not, iCloud is one of the newest and best cloud storage services out there, and since Apple's chief competitor is increasingly looking like it's Google, the company appears to be investing heavily in providing Google alternatives. So for those features that aren't already available to Apple users, you should expect them to come out in the near future. Furthermore, those with iPhones or iPads will enjoy how well integrated iCloud is into all of the features on the mobile devices. This includes everything from your address book to your calendar to document management. (Read: this also lets you quit Google Contacts, Google Calendar and Google Docs.) You also fget five gigabytes of storage for free, which is slightly less than what Google gives you for free. As we've argued before, iCloud is not a perfect solution for your email and general data needs. But neither is Gmail.
Step 3: Quit Searching with Google
This seems like a silly step three, but it's an important one. Google's flagship product is stil one of the best ways to find information quickly on the Internet. The new image search is insanely useful, if you're a visual kind of person, and the work-in-progress social search is getting better. That said, every time you do a search -- whether you're logged in or not -- Google stores the info in a database somewhere. If you do not like that fact, then you should switch to a different search engine. The current leading alternative to Google search engine is Wolfram Alpha.
Think of Wolfram Alpha as your own personal genius. You ask it questions and it gives you answers. We know what you're thinking: Didn't Ask Jeeves come up with this concept a long time ago? The answer is yes, but Wolfram Alpha is much much smarter than Jeeves. If you don't believe us, try it out for a couple of days. If it's not your style, there's always Bing.
Step 4: Quit YouTube
This is a tough one. Google didn't invent YouTube, but as video's taken over the these past few years, it's become their pride and glory. There are dozens if not hundreds of other video sites that you could use to find videos. However, none of them will offer the breadth and depth of YouTube. How much? "48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, resulting in nearly 8 years of content uploaded every day," reads the site's FAQ. YouTube is also moving into the original content business with the launch of about 100 new channels over the course of the year; so, the videos will get better, more interesting and probably more important. If you're into high quality video, though, you should spend more time on Vimeo. Start with this video and just let the beautiful design of the site take you into your arms and rock you to entertainment.
Step 6: Quit Maps
This is a really tough one. Unfortunately, we don't have a fantastic alternative -- Google Maps works really well! You might just try out Bing Maps. It's actually pretty good.
Step 7: Relax and Enjoy Your Privacy!
* - It's worth noting that there are numerous investigations into the legality of the policy in various countries around the world that will likely take years to resolve.