11 March 2019

Gizmodo: “I Cut the ‘Big Five’ Tech Giants From My Life. It Was Hell”

To end my experiment, I’m going to see if I can survive blocking all five at once.

Not only am I boycotting their products, a technologist named Dhruv Mehrotra designed a special network tool that prevents my devices from communicating with the tech giants’ servers, meaning that ads and analytics from Google won’t work, Facebook can’t track me across the internet, and websites hosted by Amazon Web Services, or AWS, hypothetically won’t load.

Critics of the big tech companies are often told, “If you don’t like the company, don’t use its products.” I did this experiment to find out if that is possible, and I found out that it’s not—with the exception of Apple.

These companies are unavoidable because they control internet infrastructure, online commerce, and information flows. Many of them specialize in tracking you around the web, whether you use their products or not. These companies started out selling books, offering search results, or showcasing college hotties, but they have expanded enormously and now touch almost every online interaction. These companies look a lot like modern monopolies.

Kashmir Hill

Fascinating experiment! In everyday life it’s hard to think about how much of the services and utilities we’ve come to take for granted in recent years depend on a handful of American corporations. Before reading the article, I wouldn’t have said so many online companies rely on AWS for their server backend; as someone living in Europe, the e-commerce component of Amazon is barely relevant here. And while there’s competition between the giants (Google, Apple and Microsoft all provide email, calendars, maps and office suites, for example), it’s hard to find alternatives outside of their grasp.

Total attempts to interact with my devices during the week
Graphic: Jim Cooke (Gizmodo)

Not very surprisingly, Apple is the easiest company to walk away from. In this case, their focus on hardware and tight integration with software has developed into both a strength – because they can offer more privacy-focused products – and a weakness – with Apple neglecting services for so long, other companies have gained the upped hand. I would argue Facebook is in a similar position: while they have a tight grip on consumer social media, after acquiring both Instagram and WhatsApp, their complete lack of corporate products makes them more vulnerable long-term to shifts in consumer tastes, and fresh, new competitors.

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