In March, EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding claimed the search giant wasn't being transparent in the way it set out to share what it knows about you and your browsing habits across its services -- from Gmail to YouTube and its ever-growing stable of apps. France accused it of breaching the 1995 European directive on data protection.
Effectively, if you search for a laptop review on YouTube, don't be surprised if an ad for it pops up in your Gmail. For its part, Google claims that it's just simplifying matters by consolidating 60 sets of terms and conditions into one unified policy.
For those of you who are miffed, I'm going to show you how to import your business data into a selection of alternative services. Many competitors offer a full suite of tools that mirror Google's offering. If you prefer to stick with Hotmail or Yahoo then the principles outlined here will work with them in a similar manner.
Check out my companion how-to on exporting your social networking and creative data if you want to complete the process of moving all your assets out of Google's sphere.
We'll start with the simplest task in exporting your data from Google -- retrieving contacts' names, addresses and numbers.
Sign in to Google Contacts and click the 'More' drop-down menu above your addresses, then select 'Export'. If you've organised your contacts into groups, you can export just one group, all contacts or contacts that you've previously selected by checking the boxes beside their name in the main Contacts view. If you're intending to move all of your data off Google's servers, select 'All contacts', then choose a format.
You can ignore Google CSV (comma separated values) unless you're moving your contacts to another Google account, and pick from either Outlook CSV or vCard format. I'm going to import my contacts into a local address book, so I'll select vCard and click 'Export' to save the data to my regular downloads folder.
If you would prefer to import your contacts into an alternative online service, such as Hotmail or Yahoo Contacts, you can skip this step and copy them straight across from Gmail to your new provider. To import them to Yahoo, for example, point your browser at the Yahoo Import Contacts tool and click Gmail to get started.
This automated process uses a third-party service provided by TrueSwitch, to which Yahoo will pass your Gmail login details. This should be perfectly safe, but if you prefer not to give your password to a third party, you can instead import your data from the downloaded file by clicking 'Others'.
Select 'A desktop email program (Outlook, AppleMail, etc...)' and click 'Choose File', then navigate to the file you downloaded. You can now import them without giving permission for your details to be passed on.
The import process sucks in all of your contacts from the downloaded file, and by default offers to import them all. It makes sense to go through your contacts at this point and make sure they're all relevant and none of them have moved on since you added them. So, spend a little time going through the list of names and addresses on the following screen, deselecting the ones you no longer need, then click 'Import' to complete the process.
When Google launched Gmail on 1 April 2004, many assumed that the company famed for its April Fool jokes was pulling our legs with the promise of a 1GB inbox. It wasn't, and that inbox has slowly grown over the years to the point where it's passed the 7GB mark. It's easy to come to rely on so generous a quota.
We're going to switch to Hotmail as it comes close to matching Google's offering with 5GB of online storage and both POP3 and Exchange support, although it does lack the IMAP option open to Gmail users.
If you don't already have a Hotmail account, point your browser at hotmail.com and click the 'Sign up' button. You'll need to provide a handful of common details, including your name, date of birth and chosen email address.
Once you've signed in, click 'Options', 'More Options' then 'Sending/Receiving email from other accounts'. Although it's not obvious, this feature not only lets you access outgoing mail servers from other providers (Gmail in our case), and pick up email received by a third-party inbox, but also imports all of your messages from that service.
Click 'Add an email account' and enter your Gmail address and password. You then need to decide whether you want your Gmails to go straight to your Hotmail inbox (I do), or be filed away in a separate folder.
To prevent you from picking up anyone else's email in this way, Hotmail sends a confirmation email to your Gmail account. Click the link inside it to complete the process and Hotmail will start importing your messages into its own inbox. This could take a long time if your Gmail inbox is stuffed full of mail as it comes down in batches. But you should start to see them pretty much right away, and you don't need to wait for the process to complete before you can work with them.
Replying to a message that originally came in to your Gmail inbox lets you select which address should be used to brand your reply from a drop-down menu at the top of the form.
The best part of switching this way is that you don't need to shut down your Gmail account right away. You can leave it running until all of your contacts know they should reach you through Hotmail. Any new messages arriving at your Gmail address will automatically appear in your Hotmail inbox until you close it down.
Google Calendar lets you organise your events into discrete calendars so that your work, personal and other appointments are kept apart from one another and can be displayed or hidden on a group basis. When you export them, even if you choose to export them all, they're saved in separate files.
To export your data, log in to your Google account and visit the Calendar settings page. Click 'Calendars' followed by 'Export calendars' and it'll save a Zipped file to your computer. This contains a separate .ics file for each of your calendars.
We're going to import ours into Yahoo Calendar by logging in to calendar.yahoo.com. By default it saves your imported events to your standard calendar, so if you want to recreate the distinctions you set up in Google Calendar, click the '+' beside Calendars in the sidebar and enter the name for each one.
With your various calendars set up, click 'Actions' then 'Import...' and navigate to your downloaded .ics file. Select the calendar in which you'd like its contents to appear and click 'Save' to complete the process.
Your Google events will be imported and displayed in the appropriate colours for each calendar. To display only one calendar's events, click the matching coloured sidebar boxes beside the calendars you want to hide.
The rest of your data
Now that you've exported your data you can do the same to your social assets, including Google Reader subscriptions, +1s and Picasa web albums. Follow this how-to guide to complete the process.