Below is a re-post of an excellent article posted by Julian on the global Base.
Part of what can make such a transition difficult is that the existing tools are so well-established and easy to use. This post explains why we should not let that stop us making the switch and taking back control of our data and tools.
In the coming weeks I’ll be devoting myself to facilitate this transition to make it as easy as possible, and support you all to see that it’s not as hard as you might think at first
For more context, see this global welcome document detailing the global IT infrastructure Julian has set up (we may create a local one for Aus) or this presentation by Julian telling its story in more detail.
We are not competing with Google
It commonly surfaces that free and open source, community owned and deployed platforms “cannot compete” with Google’s ‘ecosystem’, something that recently came up in chat in the MM Tech channel in xrGlobal . I wish to briefly cover here why it is dangerous and illusory to believe we can compete with Google, or even should.
It is important to first understand that multiple open source projects, from different developer communities, will never be able to compete with the integrated look/feel/use of products from the single largest (and arguably most unethical) technology monopolist. One should not expect them to. Google spends hundreds of millions of dollars working on that seemingly ‘free’ walled garden, building increased dependency in a seamlessly-integrated cross-platform experience, one that situates its users as the final product. This, after all, is Google’s primary goal. It is not to make great software for the benefit of humankind.
Free and open source projects, on the other hand, are not interested in containment or the harvesting and on-selling of your data. Rather, they have unique features Google products do not: the ability to be customised, to be community owned, and while asserting the basic rights to user privacy and anonymity. They are, in this sense, very suitable to our work as world changing activists.
As long as we believe we can beat Google on convenience and service integration, we set ourselves up for disappointment and shift priority away from the most important features we need in a tool. And so instead of looking to compete with Google, we ought to really take a close look at what are the best tools for the job as activists . And seen from the perspective of activism, and attaining our mission goals, Google products are among the worst.
Google is not on our side
Google will and does openly share data with governments on request, alongside sharing to federal investigators and other corporations. They operate under a Trump mandated surveillance apparatus, whose parent company Alphabet has on its core team former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, whose other job is working in the weapons innovation department of the US Department of Defense. Google openly state they work with government departments in the US and abroad to share data about their users, on request, and their ‘transparency report’, while large, is only the part they tell us about.
Environmental defenders may be in an even more vulnerable space here: so hostile are Google to climate change mitigation efforts, they were caught quietly funding climate denial ‘think tanks’ , so as to ensure they have access to cheap and dirty coal power for longer. Google are, in short, part of the same deceitful and exploitative old-world we aim to leave behind and there is little doubt they would welcome efforts to see Extinction Rebellion fail.
We want to get arrested for what we do, not what police think we plan to do
Google location data is routinely resourced by police to determine if a suspect is at or near a crime scene, just as search history and google doc content are also used in court. All your search data is evidence that can be used against you, something you can see here (Google link), if you are presently signed into Google:
And this is just some of it. There is also a massive metadata trove: which device you connected with, from which IP, with which browser, from which precise location and at which time.
When environmental defenders are configured as threats to state security, as they are in several countries, it is no wonder such data may be used in pre-arrests, where activists are arrested on the grounds of not what they actually do, but what police believe they are about to do. Some UK rebels have said they believe this may be the reason for the large pre-arrests in the lead up to the October Rebellion, with folk even so far as being arrested in their homes in front of their family, whose addresses and family names were known only to exist in an XR Google doc. This we cannot know, of course, post factum.
Nonetheless, the historical collaboration between Google and police is something Green and Black Cross warned of, when they dropped support for XR (UK), something discussed in this thread:
In their statement:
We believe that the way XR stores personal data is inadequately secure (for example, in google documents and forms). This means that personal data belonging to LOs is likely to be accessed by police.
The other matter is inclusion: when we share documents, calendars, videos hosted with Google, we’re supporting a non-inclusive culture: a great many rebels can simply not reach that content as Google is blocked in their country. In this sense, Google products lack a mission-critical primary feature in XR: they are unsuitable for a global movement, leaving countless millions behind. In other cases, some rebels in very hostile operational conditions may be able to reach a Google resource, but not wish to take the risk, and so are pushed away from contributing.
To choose to not use Google products in the course of our activism work need not make one any less less productive or prolific. Many XR rebels that are quite non-technical are avoiding Google products in their activism work, from GMail accounts to Google Docs. Indeed it does requires a little retraining, and in some cases more effort, but it is only worth it when prioritising the broader mission, and looking after each other and ourselves in turn. As with all activism, we are investing in the world we want to see. And part of bringing the change we wish to see is aligning our tools with our values.
The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
The title of this post is derived from a book of the same name by Audre Lorde.