I’ve spent a good part of this past year moving bits and pieces of my digital life around in an attempt to break my dependence on large tech companies. We’ve been given ample proof over the last few years that:
- Facebook has enabled politicians showing predatory advertisements and misinformation to undecided voters in critical elections. Their leaders tend to defend their positions rather than respond thoughtfully to outcry.
- Google censors information that doesn’t benefit them, collects private data about people illegally (including activity on your wifi network when their cars drive down your street), and shares information about you with the NSA.
- Amazon exploits cheap labor to such great lengths that 20,000 Amazon warehouse employees contracted COVID-19.
These are just examples. Other companies like Twitter, Apple and Microsoft, have their own lengthy lists of violations.
The worst part: over the last 10-15 years, we have given in to the convenience and low cost of allowing these companies into our lives. We use Facebook, Google search, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Gmail and Amazon Prime every day. Even if you don't shop on Amazon, a huge percentage of internet services we all use run in data centers operated by Amazon. Using the internet without any of your activity entering their jurisdiction is, effectively, impossible.
These companies benefit financially from knowing as much about us as possible by tracking our behavior, storing thousands of data points about us, and predicting (or intentionally altering) our behavior. They get that data by giving us free or impossibly cheap services that drive vendor lock-in and dopamine addiction, making it incredibly difficult for us to escape their grip on our lives. Then they make billions selling our data and attention to advertisers, politicians and governments, exploiting cheap labor forces worldwide, and slowly destroying many healthy societal norms along the way.
How do we fix this?
I have many ideas, but I'm still trying to figure out which are the most realistic and effective. Many people are well ahead of me on this journey, so I'm doing a lot of learning from them right now.
Here are a few things I'm doing:
- I'm pulling myself away from the Apple ecosystem, including moving to a Linux laptop. (MacOS is increasingly developer-hostile, but that's a blog post for another day.)
- I'm setting up a system for managing my family photos without depending on Google Photos.
- I've switched my default search engine from Google to DuckDuckGo.
- I'm actively working my way back to purchasing all my music, either digitally or physically, instead of participating in Spotify's abusively low streaming royalty rates.
- I'm deleting my Facebook account. (Facebook owns Instagram so that has to go, too, which will be particularly hard.)
- I'm building this site on open-source tools and principles so I can publish my thoughts without depending on Twitter (another one that will be hard to drop entirely).
- I use Firefox as my default browser on both desktop and mobile instead of Chrome or Safari.
- I run the Privacy Badger extension anywhere I can to keep data collection about my internet activity to a minimum.
Most of these are easy things that any competent computer user could do. Some of them are not so easy. Being a software developer puts a lot more within reach for me than would be reasonable for most others, whether they're committed to digital freedom or not.
We all have a part we can play to make the world a better place. I hope mine can be leveraging my skills to help myself and others to escape tech monopolies and move to a more distributed internet where we control our data and the tools we use to stay connected. I'd like to contribute to open source software tools that can make this easier for people, and plan to write more about my ideas and contributions soon.
That's where I'm headed. If you're pointed in the same direction, send me an email and let's chat.