pete rorabaugh

father | atlantan | cyclist | educator | scholar | union member

Leaving Gmail

TL;DR: I’m switching from Gmail to Protonmail for reasons of security, privacy, and digital ethics.

Today I’m beginning my departure from Gmail and switching over to a new email account with Protonmail. As I’m informing friends and colleagues about the move, I’m documenting my reasons for that decision here.

Over the last several years I’ve become increasingly concerned about the growth in data ownership, tracking/surveillance, workplace inequities, and economic control collected by the largest tech companies that many of us use. As we’ve been saying in my field for years, nothing is ever free, it’s just a matter of assessing what you’re giving up if you’re not outright paying for something. “Free” accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Reddit, and Apple all come strings, and most of us know this (more do know with the popularity of last year’s documentary the social dilemma, even though I have complicated feelings about that one).

Last year I started looking into ways that I could wean myself off of Google. Google was so incredibly exciting to me fifteen years ago — Gmail, Gchat, Google Docs were products that I embraced, used in my professional and social life, and promoted to others. Now, however, it’s time for me to stop giving Google access to everything I do. I don’t want to contribute to its advertising model; I don’t want it having the rest of my life’s worth of email and writing (via Google Drive) to data-mine; and I want to reduce the amount of information that they have about my comings and goings.

Last year I stopped using Google as my primary search engine, moving instead to Duck Duck Go. I have started migrating text message conversations to Signal. And over the course of this year, I’ll be leaving Gmail and starting to build a cloud infrastructure (for moving over all my Google Drive materials) for myself with the help of my friends at Reclaim Hosting (I did an episode of the Reclaim Today podcast with Tim Owens on this topic a couple of months ago).

I realize it’s a drop in the bucket. Anyone can argue that it won’t mean a thing to Google for me to leave (along the lines of becoming a vegetarian or starting to recycle doesn’t change the world a bit). I realize that leaving the “free” tech platforms for more secure, encrypted, non-advertiser-driven ones means less user friendly interfaces, more paying for services, more figuring out new platforms.

That’s fine with me. It’s important for all of us to approach digital ecosystems with mindful awareness, and I want to contribute less of my attention and personal data to Google. 

As I write this today, the NYT published an Op-Ed by two of the Google employees who have helped organize a new union for employees of the company (along with several others). I am encouraged by this labor-aware moment for Google employees. I am also proud that their union, Alphabet Workers Union, is organized under the  Communications Workers of America, the same union that sponsored ours (United Campus Workers of Georgia).

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