The Google browser

Looks like I’ve failed to mention that alongside the disposable Firefox I’m now using a regular Chrome window for all things Google. That means my Gmail, Google Calendar, Google+, some of my Hangouts use and age-verification requiring YouTube-viewing now happens within that profile.

This has freed me from having to sign in to Google in the disposable Firefox. It was a bit of hassle because of 2FV, but to be honest, I’m sure I could have lived with it; what I think this was more about was the satisfaction from dividing the uses between the two browsers: Google’s browser for the Googly stuff, disposable Firefox for everything else.

I’m still using Android on the mobile side, and prefer to use Chrome there because pretending to gain any privacy from alternatives would be just that, pretense. So the divide on the desktop follows this reasoning, to maintain the strong mental association of Google’s services to Google’s browser. I also picked Chrome proper instead of Chromium for this reason: I don’t see any point in pretending to be safe from Google’s prying eyes when using their services, signed in.

There’s one (perhaps notable) exception among those services: if I use Google to search things, I use Firefox. For me, search benefits from my being signed in mostly only on the mobile (where I do often want to repeat earlier searches to save typing), on the desktop not so much. And on the desktop, searching on Google proper is the exception for me, I usually just use Startpage.

On Chrome’s side (on the desktop), my use is pretty strictly limited to the Google services I listed. That means that any external links within those services I will copy and paste into a Firefox instance. Thankfully, of those services, Hangouts is currently the only one using redirect URLs causing some extra hassle. The same issue is much more severe on Twitter, which goes to irritating lengths to obscure the original addresses behind their stupid shortening service. It’s one of those issues I previously would have fixed simply by installing an add-on, but now have to contemplate whether those links are worth manually decrypting, or even the site worth browsing at all because of the irritation that it causes.

I should also mention that I’ve extended the disposable profile idea to Chrome, so that I can launch a disposable Chrome window (alongside the main profile) from Unity’s launcher. (Unlike Ubuntu’s Chromium package, the Google-provided .desktop for Chrome did not provide this function out of the box.) This is mainly to have a browser with Adobe Flash for the few remaining sites I still occasionally deem worth having it on (I can only think of one off the top of my head).

The one remaining login

Liberating myself from being continuously logged in to Reddit turned out to be easy: multireddits work perfectly fine as a substitute for subscriptions. Obviously I still need my account to manage the subreddits, but luckily I already used to do that rarely prior to this: I’m pretty conservative in my new subscriptions, and I usually throw out old unwanted ones en masse once or twice a year.

The only extraneous feature I used was my own link-shortening system, to give the new multireddit a nice little mnemonic.

This has left me pondering more and more about the practicalities of getting off Google, which now remains as the most pressing obstacle. Since leaving Ubuntu One, I’ve used Owncloud for file syncing, so that’s already covered. But I still find myself using Google Docs for some reason; I’ve never tried replacing it with Owncloud’s documents add-on.

I have experimented with Owncloud’s calendar add-on though, and IIRC it worked just fine. But I stopped using it because I wasn’t trying to replace Google at the time.

And I haven’t even touched on email, probably the biggest part of the hypothetical goodbye-Google for me.

But there’s also a bigger logistical obstacle than the nitty-gritty practical details: I have an Android phone, and the wins of giving up Google on the desktop would be rendered null if, simultaneously, I’d still stick to OEM Android on the phone.

I have already been contemplating rooting the phone for a custom ROM due to unrelated reasons (the manufacturer will not be providing updates beyond L), so there’s a theoretical possibility of trying to go Google-free on the phone too. For reasons, I imagine it a much more crippling experience than on the desktop. The alternative would be to remain with Google on the phone, which, for honesty’s sake, should mean giving up (i.e. keeping Google) on the desktop too. Also, if I were to ditch Google on the phone, it might ultimately be better achieved by switching to a Lumia.

If I had to keep one login as daily procedure, Google would have to be it. It yields the biggest gains by far. And truth be told, one login isn’t so bad, not even with two-factor verification. If logins were the only reason, I’d definitely not bother with this. But there are bigger, better reasons for trying to go Google-free. Reasons that go beyond the overarching theme of this blog, which is just “how to simplify my day-to-day web browsing”.

To log in or not to log in

I’m contemplating giving up logging in to websites altogether.

Well, not altogether altogether, but as a consistent practice anyway. I’d have to go offline entirely if I wanted to do stuff like banking without logging in.

But with my new work-flow in place, most log-ins have become the biggest stone in my shoe by far. So I find myself weighing the benefits: are they really worth all the trouble that credentials pose?

Off the top of my head, I have 3 sites I log into daily now: Google, Reddit and my blogs obviously. Twitter and Slack would also be among them, but I’ve switched to desktop apps for those. (That’s a cop-out, I know. But I tell myself I did it to ease the transition to disposability and I do believe it has made a big difference. Now I need a concrete plan to move out of the apps too. I have yet to make one.)

Of the three mentioned, Google is of course the big one. I’m still as much on their leash as I was at the beginning and I’m not satisfied with that. But I always anticipated getting off the big G would be the biggest step, so I’m also just sincerely pushing it off into the future; it’ll most likely be the last one to take on once I’ve conquered the other, smaller obstacles on my way to perfect disposability.

I’d flush my Reddit karma down the drain in a heartbeat, were it the only loss from not logging in (not that I’m anywhere near celebrity figures there, but it’s also not completely insignificant). The bigger loss would my collection of subreddit subscriptions. Without custom subscriptions the site is useless, and I’d rather get off the Internet entirely than be exposed to Reddit’s front page.

I should explore multireddits. I have a vague feeling they might be used to replace login-bound subscriptions. There’d still be the (usually more or less horrific) custom CSS of different subreddits to deal with, but I could employ the screening technique I already do with websites in general now: if they’ve crapped it up too badly, I’ll just do without them no matter how good their content.

My own blogs (and other sites I admin) are the easy one: I already remember most of the credentials (so I don’t need a password manager next to my browser), and these sites are by nature the ones I have the most control over, so adjusting policies would be easy when needed. Perhaps if, after I’ve done away with Google, and I really feel like naatiskella, I could try implementing some crazy-ass “anonymous posting by anybody” system, maybe authenticating mine using PKA. (You can probably tell that dealing with this one first appeals to me, but I should resist the temptation because the ROI here is so small.)

In addition to the three big ones, I still occasionally log in to Flickr just to favorite some photos. But that one I could stop doing right now, should I decide so. And I think that’s what I’ll do right now, for a start.

I have already stopped logging in to YouTube (which, as I’m sure you’re well aware, is just another tentacle of Google) just to give thumbs-ups. Back when I used ad-blocking, I felt somewhat indebted to good content creators, and I used thumbs-up as one of the ways to alleviate that feeling. No need for that anymore, as they get their ad monies from my views now.


Today’s ops: set up disposable profiles for Firefox. Chromium has better support for them out-of-the-box (--temp-profile), but I found Firefox’s profile management still comes to me straight from muscle memory despite using Chromium exclusively for years now. I didn’t even try to figure out if Chromium’s default configuration is adjustable, and for practical disposability it would have to be, because the temp profile clumsily always opens two slightly buggy tabs (sometimes the address bar eats the first thing entered into it).

The nice customizability of Firefox instead even lent itself to multiple levels of security: for the default profile I kept most bells and whistles from default configuration, whereas for the second one I installed NoScript, HTTPS Everywhere and Privacy Badger. And beyond those there’s still Tor Browser.

On the negative side, Firefox is still noticeably slower to start than Chromium. It was one of the main reasons for my switch all those years back and they obviously still haven’t caught up, which is a bummer. I was aware of this beforehand though, and the delay isn’t too bad, at least on my i7-3770 and SSD.

Also, as mentioned, ditched flash, finally, and for good, hopefully. Lately I’ve only been putting it off because I still have to support it at my parents’, but since I already upgraded out of the LTS they’re using, I may as well use a VM for reproducing any issues they may still encounter before I upgrade them to the next LTS next summer.