Life Without The Tech Giants
February 7, 2019 11:08 PM   Subscribe

Gizmodo Reporter Kashmir Hill cut 'The Big Five' out of her life for a week at a time, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple. Week six - blocking all five. Her tech expert Dhruv Mehrotra finishes with guide to cutting them out of your life.
posted by ellieBOA (50 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
No MetaFilter for her, so she won’t be able to read these comments :-(
posted by sideshow at 11:26 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]

I loved this articles - I wasn't surprised at which was the most expansive, but it was very telling to get a sense of their breadth
posted by motdiem2 at 12:17 AM on February 8

I found this a great read. Well researched, thoughtful approaches and well considered writing. Definitely hit a nerve with me, particularly Amazon and Google.

Admin: I believe this is a double post buuuuut the first post was a bit premature and was before she completed the entire challenge. So if this gets nuked can the mods take that into consideration?
posted by like_neon at 12:24 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]

I'm sad the instructions given are ONLY for iOS and Apple devices, and not applicable to PCs
posted by infini at 12:49 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]

Otoh, interesting to note her use of a Nokia.
posted by infini at 12:53 AM on February 8

like_neon, I made the first post not realising it hadn't been completed, and asked the mods to delete so I could repost today.
posted by ellieBOA at 1:13 AM on February 8

I really, really wish there was a good open-source option for phones. I'm curious about Ubuntu Touch, but my gut is telling me that it's not an especially reliable option just yet. I can handle some headaches on my laptop, but a potentially nonfunctional phone is just not an option.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:02 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

Of all of these Amazon seems the odd one out, I suspect they are the most localised to north America. Here they just aren't that ubiquitous, I haven't used them for years and that's no great effort.
posted by deadwax at 2:39 AM on February 8

And upon reading further I see they are considering AWS as part of Amazon and I look like an idiot. It seems to me though that there is a big difference between using the services of a provider that happens to use AWS or similar for hosting and using the services of one of the giants in such a way that they can then use the data gained about you from that interaction. In the first instance you may well be a customer, in the second you are very much a product to be sold. Here, using Amazon the second way is not very common.
posted by deadwax at 2:48 AM on February 8 [5 favorites]

Great series, thanks for the roundup!

This bit from Week Six was unintentionally the funniest part to me:

O’Brien’s last suggestion is Onionshare, a tool for sharing files privately via the “dark web,” i.e. the part of the web that’s not crawled by Google and requires the Tor browser to get to. I know this one actually. My friend Micah Lee, a technologist for the Intercept, made it. Unfortunately, when I go to to download it, the website won’t load.

“Hah, yes,” emails Micah when I ask about it. “Right now it’s hosted by AWS.”

posted by lesser weasel at 3:45 AM on February 8 [9 favorites]

My only connection with Apple is the MacBook that my work supplies me and they could switch me to a Dell if I wanted so that would be the easiest to extract myself from. I don't use iTunes or any other Apple software.

I could and keep thinking about shutting down my Facebook and Instagram accounts but am still too cowardly to pull that lever right now mostly because of the local photography community that I'm connected to.

Microsoft is in more places lately given their purchases of LinkedIn and GitHub.

Ditching Google and Amazon would be the toughest given how interwoven their stuff is into society and business.

The thing is if I managed to quit Google then I'd have to have an Apple phone and vice versa. Likewise Apple and MS with respect to the desktop. Quitting one makes you more dependent on the other.
posted by octothorpe at 3:51 AM on February 8 [5 favorites]

Fascinating to see just how widespread AWS is.
posted by doctornemo at 4:46 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]

Yeah, it's been remarkable how Amazon has eaten Google and Microsoft's lunches in the web services field. Everything I work on in my job runs in AWS.
posted by octothorpe at 4:59 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]

I agree that cutting out anything hosted on AWS seems a bit overkill. Or rather, if she's going that far it seems like she should also cut out any business that is doing anything on Google, Amazon, or Microsoft's cloud. Which is basically every business that uses computers these days.
posted by ropeladder at 5:01 AM on February 8 [5 favorites]

Seems like a lot of work to essentially break the internet for yourself.
posted by runcibleshaw at 5:01 AM on February 8 [7 favorites]

I dunno... This is great for the axe grindiest of us. I suspect most people don't give a fuck. Hell, I generally like Amazon and Google's services/products. I don't actively seek out and use Apple or MS stuff. Facebook is the only one I actually dislike, because it always seemed like such a shitty product and I just don't get the appeal. An open source phone is an interesting idea, but when it comes to phones, I just want something that works. And something that isn't outrageously priced. Don't particularly care about the os.

Interesting experiment, tho.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:05 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

I just deleted Facebook for the fourth time (it's like smoking). I just deleted Instagram and Twitter after realizing it was faster than manually culling all the fake accounts that were following me or removing non-reciprocated connections.

The most difficult thing about quitting Facebook is, as Octothorpe notes, the connection to local groups and their calendars. They often have a web page with events, but many times they don't. The thing is, I never actually went birding with the local group or on a photo trip with the photography group--I just felt like I was because I'd look at the photos and comments after the fact.

i also bought a dumb phone for $20. It has been surprisingly nice not having that constant nagging and having to learn to deal with boredom without staring at the phone and doing something pointless. Now I stare at the Macbook and do something pointless.

The trick will be to take the freed up time and focus on something important instead of filling the gap with other pointless activities. Ultimately, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook started to feel like a second or third job, a potential avenue for self-promotion that hadn't really worked for the last decade or so. There were some opportunities that arose because of those connections--keeping in touch with an online academic friend which led to a trip to China, for example, so I guess I'll have to be vigilant about maintaining contact in other ways.

I'm still heavily connected to Amazon and Apple. I've tried to download my gmail data using Takeout, but it has been a week now and Google has yet to generate the archive.

In a sense, this digital removal feels almost hermetic or religious, an attempt to address the problem of how to remain free of the sins of these large corporations that are enacting these huge cultural changes, and for what? A little bit of money? [apologies to Frances McDormand]

Speaking of money, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain employment at some point without some connection to these organizations. I already feel like a drug dealer whenever I buy something with cash. Is there an electronic payment system that doesn't rely on cloud computing?

Reading over this, I realize I am starting to sound like a fundamentalist prepper.

This is a fascinating example of stunt journalism. What I'd like to read (and practice) is an article entitled, "I spent the last month not being an a-hole, and here's what happened!"
posted by mecran01 at 5:12 AM on February 8 [6 favorites]

> For the brave souls that want to [block CDNs also], you can run the code in the aforementioned repository with the ‘—fascist’ flag.

New tech sounding old-fashioned again. Given the times we live in, could they have just gone with '--strict'?
posted by anthill at 5:18 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

I really, really wish there was a good open-source option for phones.

posted by flabdablet at 5:40 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]

I've tried to download my gmail data using Takeout, but it has been a week now and Google has yet to generate the archive.

Buy yourself a Fastmail account and use their IMAP-based importer. Works really well.
posted by flabdablet at 5:56 AM on February 8 [6 favorites]

I really, really wish there was a good open-source option for phones.

I totally agree. I am currently running LineageOS on my phone, and it does pretty much everything I've decided I want it to do. But some of doing that involves klunky workarounds (for instance, I can only use Lyft and Uber in my browser, because Lineage can successfully convince the browser versions that it's using Google Maps when it isn't, but the apps aren't fooled and so refuse to function), and the set-up was wildly difficult, both in terms of the OS, where I had to get my much more tech savvy brother involved after I unlocked the bootloader and my screen stopped working for a bit, and in terms of apps, which if I can't find what I want on FDroid I have to find a way to download or sideload the apk, which also means running a hash check to make sure it matches what is in the Google Play store. It is not for the faint of heart; I'm basically always an update away from having a very expensive brick in my pocket.
posted by solotoro at 6:22 AM on February 8 [6 favorites]

Isn’t just a little weird that she is seeking to block Apple while working from a Mac and an iPhone? Chrome books and Android phones don’t work at Kotaku?
posted by hwestiii at 6:24 AM on February 8

During the holidays, we had a package misaddressed (significantly), but still appear on our doorstep because the mailman "knew it was ours based on our names, and how much we order online." That prompted me to try to give up Amazon (shopping only, not AWS) for the month of January. It started as being mortified that our postal worker was judging me (maybe he wasn't, but it felt that way), but as the month went on, I realized _just how much_ I depended on them for everything. Special hard to find cat toys? Amazon has them. Cute adorable pens that Buzzfeed links to? Amazon of course. Cheaper version of my makeup remover? Amazon. I swear I felt jittery, and realized it was a borderline addiction. It was just easier to shop in one place, with a pre-created log in, than to create new accounts in a million different stores. That's me being lazy. But I did it. And I'm going to try _really hard_ to keep it going. Do I really need any of the crap I was buying online? No. (And I remind myself that borrowing books from the library are even cheaper than the 99 cent kindle sales. And my cats are just as happy with a freaking soda lid.) So yeah, it was a learning experience. And I'm really kind of ashamed at how little I realized I'd been using it as a crutch.
posted by librarianamy at 7:01 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]

For the email and VPN end of things, there are some good alternatives discussed and reviewed on ThatOnePrivacySite
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 7:23 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]

Everything I work on in my job runs in AWS.

We're trying to use Azure based tools that were first developed on AWS. It's a painful cycle. Maybe in the divorce MacKenzie will get the retail operations and Jeff will keep AWS.
posted by DigDoug at 7:24 AM on February 8

Blow up your Google,
Throw away your Facebook,
Move to the county,
Build you a home.
Plant a little garden (not from Amazon),
Eat a lot of peaches (not any Apples),
Try to find Jesus, without Microsoft!
posted by JanetLand at 7:26 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]

> Isn’t just a little weird that she is seeking to block Apple while working from a Mac and an iPhone? Chrome books and Android phones don’t work at Kotaku?

For the Apple week, she did use an Android phone. I imagine she didn't look at a Chromebook as preparation for the last week, which involved blocking all five companies, so anything Chromebook or Windows wouldn't be an option then.
posted by Pronoiac at 7:43 AM on February 8

As an old geezer, I found this sentence to be mind-boggling:
Having to run to a physical store rather than opening my Amazon app every time the house runs out of paper towels is annoying,

I've been known to buy something online now and then, but that's a 'get off my [frozen] lawn' moment.
posted by MtDewd at 7:52 AM on February 8 [18 favorites]

I dropped off of Twitter after the Kavanaugh hearings and Facebook before the 2016 elections. It made me feel less twitchy and less angry. Big wins.
posted by hwestiii at 8:03 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

Cutting out not only the products but also the cloud computing services seems really challenging. Pretty much the entire Western Internet runs on one of AWS, Google Compute, or Microsoft Azure.

Which all makes me wonder how this experiment would go if the author were more familiar with Chinese products. To a first approximation the Chinese Internet world is a whole parallel universe. I feel certain it would be much easier to access consumer services like music, video, filesharing, etc without using the big American companies.
posted by Nelson at 8:10 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

Ah yes, the horrible and difficult challenge of trying to live life like it is the long-ago before-times of 1999. I still use a Nokia dumbphone, have a landline, get the newspaper delivered every day, and shop at local stores. I don't use twitter, and while I guess I have a facebook account I never check the damn thing. This is like peering into a weird and alien world and someone is complaining about problems I can't even comprehend having.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:10 AM on February 8 [9 favorites]

I've definitely shifted from "block it all" to "change the easy stuff:" search, email, and file storage. I just don't have the time or the patience to audit every app or web page for secret dependencies on the big services.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:23 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

Costco can solve that paper towel problem for ya. Stock up for three months, feel like Ma Ingalls going into town before the winter hits.
posted by emjaybee at 10:34 AM on February 8 [8 favorites]

I appreciate every single reference to The Long Winter.
posted by mecran01 at 10:55 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]

> I've definitely shifted from "block it all" to "change the easy stuff:" search, email, and file storage

I've switched my default browser to Duck Duck Go, and I agree with the writer that it's just not as good as Google. It's okay for most stuff, like looking up the phone number for a local business, but if I'm doing a search of any depth I have to go back to Google.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:19 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]

And I'll third that duck duck go is just not as good, although I still use it as my default. The really annoying thing is that Google now is also just not as good as Google of old, particularly if you value community, for want of a better term, content rather than corporate.

Also, I had the same sense as fimbulvetr, this was a very strange world to look into. I don't believe it is possible to live quite that way here, Amazon's local offerings are often regarded as a bit crap and thin, so I took it as a picture of American consumerism more generally. Although thinking about it, the players that are putting real work into bringing that online shopping for everything world about here are the big oligarchic supermarkets.
posted by deadwax at 12:08 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]

I'll admit that we seldom go to real stores for anything but perishable groceries. Jet delivers stuff like soap, paper towels and toilet paper and Chewy delivers cat food and litter. Frankly there aren't any brick-and-mortar for a lot of things that we buy. Electronic are impossible to get locally (BestBuy is useless) and I buy a lot of camera stuff and there's no way to buy most of that stuff around here.
posted by octothorpe at 12:21 PM on February 8

This was a very nice read, and I really liked that she's a realist about the scope of the challenge. Like this:
I’m well aware that not everyone has $50 dollars to spare for something that they can easily get for “free,” so if that’s the way things go, the rich will have privacy online and the poor (and most vulnerable) will have their data exploited.
I've steadily reduced my reliance on Google, I pay for Apple's pro-privacy stance and I'm happy to use iOS instead of Android, but I am absolutely aware that cost is a real factor for the vast majority of us.

I've cut off our Vizio TV from its constant attempts to phone home, but that kind of tech savvy is just not something most people have, or should have to have.

And as for AWS... at this point, AWS should be nationalized as "essential infrastructure" like the Interstate highways, but yeah, hell will freeze over first.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:10 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

I’ve been living in Albania for a bit now and I had to give up amazon for the most part because it’s not here and many items can’t be shipped here anyways because of all kinds of weird rules. Like when my cat ate my Apple Watch charger. I had to order one via the US amazon and have it shipped via one of those repost services.

Ridiculous yes.

I use the f out of my kindle and often have both the paper and digital versions of books. I will never give up my kindle.

There’s also not Peapod grocery. There is a a grocery delivery but they don’t have exactly all the things I like so I only use it when I’m sick because I’d rather walk down the the street for the proper kitty litter and toilet paper and such than deal with other versions.

I used to live so close to an amazon warehouse that I could order something at bedtime or early morning and it would often show up before I got home from work same or next day. I didn’t even need the Prime I paid for.

It is definitely an easy habit to fall into.
posted by sio42 at 1:22 PM on February 8

> The really annoying thing is that Google now is also just not as good as Google of old, particularly if you value community, for want of a better term, content rather than corporate

Agreed! Search results are all places trying to sell me stuff, now. I can't find blogs or personal websites.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:38 PM on February 8

I don't pay for prime, and I certainly don't buy my paper towels or other household goods from Amazon. I can't imagine it's faster that way, is it really? I admit I don't live somewhere where same-day delivery exists (we only just got meal delivery apps out here), is that the issue? I'm not an older Luddite or something, I'm 29. It's just... it takes me five minutes to get to the store, where there are likely other things I need anyway. So I'll get them and have them and I'm done. Now, I do have a car (because I live somewhere with very limited public transportation), which is the only factor I can think of.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 1:38 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

I let my Prime subscription expire in late November, and haven't bought anything from Amazon since. It's been surprisingly easy. It turns out our dog's food is cheaper from the local indie pet store than it was from Amazon or Some health and wellness stuff we had on auto ship is a little cheaper from I'm buying my digital music from 7 Digital and I've switched to Kobo for ebooks. I had to shell out $30 for an used Kobo e-reader, otherwise I've saved money or been cost neutral with every move away from Amazon.
posted by COD at 4:00 PM on February 8

I was pretty surprised how much worse Amazon was even moving from the US to Canada--it was one of my culture-shock moments. I used to order all the time from Amazon, not quite to the "regular paper towel deliveries" level, but at least something every week. Now often just doesn't have what I want, or else it ships from the States and it's not covered by Prime free shipping, so it's not worth it versus going outside to a real store. It's been oddly freeing, forced me to explore my city, and a good way to improve my French (here in Québec) by having to go out and shop for things instead of just clicking and waiting.
posted by kittensyay at 4:20 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

every time the house runs out of paper towels

Enviro crime. Let me assure you, the number and quantity of paper based absorbent disposable products you need in your life is zero. Rags are free, they come from old clothes.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:38 AM on February 9

Let me assure you, the number and quantity of paper based absorbent disposable products you need in your life is zero.

Toilet paper.

And never mind the last horror MeFi thread about reusing family rags instead of toilet paper. Imma just gonna stick my fingers and hum loudly if anyone brings that up again.
posted by fimbulvetr at 3:57 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

The article linked above by jenfullmoon is beautiful.
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:40 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

German Regulators Just Outlawed Facebook's Whole Ad Business (Emily Dreyfuss for Wired, Feb. 7, 2019)
FACEBOOK’S MASSIVELY LUCRATIVE advertising model relies on tracking its one billion users—as well as the billions on WhatsApp and Instagram—across the web and smartphone apps, collecting data on which sites and apps they visit, where they shop, what they like, and combining all that information into comprehensive user profiles. Facebook has maintained that collecting all this data allows the company to serve ads that are more relevant to users’ interests. Privacy advocates have argued that the company isn’t transparent enough about what data it has and what it does with it. As a result, most people don’t understand the massive trade-off they are making with their information when they sign up for the “free” site.

On Thursday, Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, the country’s antitrust regulator, ruled that Facebook was exploiting consumers by requiring them to agree to this kind of data collection in order to have an account, and has prohibited the practice going forward.

“Facebook will no longer be allowed to force its users to agree to the practically unrestricted collection and assigning of non-Facebook data to their Facebook user accounts,” FCO president Andreas Mundt said in a statement announcing the decision.
Ohohoho! This is fantastic news, particularly for Germany, but also for other countries, to tell them Facebook is not too big to regulate.

For folks who begrudgingly accept that Facebook is the dominant social platform in many parts of the world, allowing extended family and distant friends to connect may now be able to use the site with less need to contain Facebook (Firefox addon).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:46 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]

For those who are looking at the idea of a more user-controllable phone you have the liberim product but if you have $150 and can be accepted into the dev program there is the pine64 product. The Android/iOS app space won't be there but what cost attempting to obtain control of your data?
posted by rough ashlar at 9:33 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]

From that pine64 piece:
Unlike many hacker board projects, the Pine64 products offer software tied to mainline Linux. This is easier to do with the Rockchip designs, but it’s been a slower road to mainline for Allwinner. Work by Armbian and others have now brought several Allwinner SoCs up to speed.
The main difficulty with Allwinner is persuading the manufacturer to document its hardware. I have seen nothing in any Allwinner SoC that's notably innovative compared with anybody else's, but they seem remarkably secretive about it by comparison. The chips themselves are hella cheap, but the only reason they're useful is a tremendous amount of what ought to be unnecessary reverse-engineering by the linux-sunxi community.
posted by flabdablet at 4:08 PM on February 17

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