Sunday, February 26, 2012

Google and Privacy - Freakin' me out

I love Google and their innovative (and FREE) products and services. But lately, they're starting to freak me out.

For one, I noticed that all the display ads on the sites I visited started to look the same. That's right, Google knew what sites I had visited in the past and were showing ads for these sites. It was mildly disturbing. I guess I should have known that they had all that data on me, but when you start fixing my ads it is a little creepy. And how do you stop this? You can't unless you install an extension on your browser. That's right, there is actually no natural, install-free way to stop it. Google's extension for doing this is called IBA Opt-out (stands for Interest Based Ads).

(Aside: Does anyone else think that the weird random combination of lower-case letters in the Chrome Web Store URLs make it look like a spam site?)

Google web search has added a new feature lately that is creepin' me out, too. There is a new integration with your social contacts. I don't have a Google+ account yet I keep seeing what friends of mine recommend when I search for something on the web. I don't care what they recommend! I am searching Google not asking my friend Bill what he thinks. I could care less. And showing pictures of my friends at the top after I search is not as endearing as you'd think. It is like I having a friend whisper his answer in my ear every time I ask someone else a question.

If you go to Google websites even occasionally, it is hard to miss that they have a new privacy policy that starts March 1st. I applaud the simplicity of the policy. However, I suspect that it isn't as innocent as it appears. Google now wants the ability to share your information across all of their products. That's right, you could have a Google Docs account and a Gmail account and now Google wants to be able to use that information to shape your ads on Google Search. And even better, they can use your Google+ demographic data for their ads! (See 3/23/12 Update.)

To rant a bit longer, what about the strange Google Chrome login that has started to appear in my browser? I don't even remember asking it to sync EVERYTHING between my two computers and their browsers. But it assumed I did. How nice (that's sarcasm, by the way).

This all is starting to make me want to diversify. Microsoft, for instance, appears to have a nice replacement for Google Docs. Maybe it also time to switch to WordPress for my blog. One thing  is for sure, I certainly wont be using Google+ anytime soon. That's all I need, to give Google more personal information about me.

This is affecting how I see Google new products, now. I saw an article today about a new Google tablet. If this had come out last year, I would be excited to check it out. Now, well ... not so much. Why would I buy something from the company that has an over-zealous approach to taking my information and spreading it across all of their services and sites with or without my permission? No thanks.

Update 3/2/12: After reading this I started migrating my personal Blogger blogs to a self-hosted multi-site WordPress install. This one blog (firelitdesign) is going to stay here for the time being. The rest were migrated.

Update 3/23/12: An ex-Googler apparently also had concerns and started a project to help block Google, Facebook and Twitter from tracking your movements around the web.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Forming a Michigan LLC

When I was living in California a few years back I used LegalZoom to form an LLC. After that I moved to Washington and now I live in Michigan. In each of these last two states I formed an LLC without the help of a 3rd party. I was surprised how easy it was. So I am writing this post to help residents of Michigan. There is no reason to pay LegalZoom to do these things for you... save your money, it's easy!

Quick disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer and I don't want to be one. So take this all with a grain of salt. I may be wrong on some detail and if you really want to make sure you did everything correctly, you should contact a lawyer.

Michigan LLC
Step 1 is to make sure you can actually use the name you picked out -- someone may have beaten you to it. I'd recommend doing a quick Michigan search and USPTO trademark search for your business name. (Michigan has some more business naming guidelines that may be helpful.)

Step 2 is to form the LLC. Click here to download the required form (BCS/CD-700). Now, the instructions are on page 2 and it is pretty clear, but I thought I'd summerize if you aren't into reading instructions.

Article I: This will be the name of your company. Don't forget to add "LLC" to the end of the name. It is required.
Article II: You can just say that you're generally in compliance or list what your LLC will be doing for business.
Article III: Leave blank if the LLC has no end or dissolution date.
Article IV: This is where you put your name and address.
Article V: This is where you would tell Michigan that your LLC is managed by a manager (someone besides the LLC members). But for most, like freelancers and small home-businesses, you will be member-managed and will leave this field blank.

Have it signed by each member and send it in. It will take about 2 or 3 weeks to hear back (unless you expedite).

Lastly, after you form your Michigan LLC (and get back confirmation) you can apply for a DBA name (if you'll be operating under another name besides your new LLC) and get a FEIN (a kind of social security number for a business).

It is all quite easy. Save yourself some money and do it yourself.