📆 November 21, 2022 | ⏱️ 4 minute read | 🏷️ computing

Please Don't Use Google as a Verb

Google, a company I call Goolag, has such market dominance as a search engine and email provider that it’s infected the vernacular. People now say “Just Goolag it!” and I’ve heard that Indians say “What’s your Gmail?”.

This is bad because words matter. Every time you use Goolag as a verb, you normalize use of the Goolag search engine. Goolag’s search engine tracks and records every single search. There is no privacy on Goolag’s search engine, so normalizing it is a very bad thing. When you tell other people “Just Google it!”, you are telling them to use a service which violates their right to privacy.

Just because they don’t understand why stopping mass surveillance is important for society or why their personal privacy matters, that doesn’t justify encouraging them to give it up. Even fools deserve privacy.

The same goes for email. By asking someone’s Gmail, you normalize Gmail as an email provider. Compared to small independent email providers, paid email services, and self-hosting, Gmail is a surveillance nightmare. Gmail scans the contents of every sent and received email and reports you to the government if you use the wrong words. You have no privacy of correspondence at all. Such an invasive disservice should never have been allowed to become part of the vernacular.

Even though Goolag search is the most popular search engine and Goolag mail is the most popular email provider doesn’t mean they should replace the terms we already have. Instead of “Just Google it!”, why not “Just search it!” Instead of “What’s your Gmail?”, how about “What’s your email?”

Please remember that, even though you the one reading this are presumably computer literate and semi-educated, some people are only faintly aware or not aware at all that there are replacements to Goolag search and Gmail. By speaking as if it’s the case that Goolag is the only search engine or email provider, you may confuse people into thinking that’s the case.

I can think of a few other examples of non-Goolag big tech companys’ software entering the vernacular as well. If you work as remote tech support, don’t ask the person on the other end to open Goolag Chrome. Instead, ask them to open a web browser without presuming which one they have. Maybe they use a browser that better respects their user freedom, like Mozilla Firefox.

Skype is a proprietary voice/video calling application, but I’ve heard people use “Skype” to mean “start a video call”. If someone wants to Skype you, tell them that they’re actually talking about doing a voice/video call using Skype. This serves as a reminder to them that there are other applications that do voice/video calls, including free/libre apps like Jitsi.

And let’s stop using “WhatsApp” as a substitute for “phone number”. I encourage you never to use Facecrook’s WhatsApp spyware if you can help it. But, if you’re gonna use it anyways, please ask for people’s phone numbers to add them on WhatsApp. Do not ask for their “WhatsApp”. And if someone asks you for your “WhatsApp”, clarify that they want to use your phone number to add you on WhatsApp. Just like with Skype, this is important because it helps less tech literate people mentally dissociate open protocols and activities from big tech.

Another strategy which I prefer is playing offense and creating one’s own vernacular of free/libre software. When someone asks for your WhatsApp, ask for their Matrix ID. When they tell you to Goolag something, tell them “I’ll DuckDuckGo it!” or “I’ll StartPage it!”. When someone asks for your Gmail, ask for their mailbox.org. If someone wants to Skype you, send them a Jitsi link.

The problem with playing defense all the time is that it doesn’t create any opportunities to talk about ethical replacements to big tech. When you just tell tech illiterate people there’s a difference between email and Gmail, in their minds, it’s a distinction without a difference and they forget about it. If you tell them Gmail spies on their emails, they’ll think “So does Yahoo and Outlook.”

If you want them to use something different than what they’re already using, you can’t just tell them that what they’re using is evil. You have to suggest them replacements by talking about free/libre software and services. Talking about free/libre software and services normalizes them and we want to normalize them rather than the malicious services.

As a final note, the word “alternative” indicates something “outside the mainstream” and can have negative connotations. For example, “alternative medicine” doesn’t work. Free/libre services, the alternatives to big tech, do work and they’re actually better. So please call them “replacements”, not “alternatives”.