* The article is adapted from the story of the reporter Kashmir Hill in the New York Times.
Last week, the leaders of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple were summoned to the US Congressional Antitrust Commission to answer questions about whether they hold too much power, and whether that has a negative impact on consumers.
Those technology leaders appeared at the hearing through an online conference service and responded to questions accusing them of being “Virtual world tycoon“, claiming they have a lot of competitors, and consumers have other alternatives to the services they offer.
But is that true? Last year, in an effort to understand our dependence on those companies, I conducted a test to find out how difficult it is to remove them from everyday life.
Doing that is not easy. From my many years of writing about privacy in the digital world, I know those companies are always behind a lot of our online interactions. I work with a technology expert named Dhruv Mehrotra, who designed me a customization tool, a virtual private network (VPN) that functions my devices send data to or receive data from. tech giants by blocking millions of internet addresses these companies control.
I then blocked Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft – and then all once – for more than 6 weeks. Amazon and Google are the hardest to avoid.
Removing Amazon from life means I can’t access any website hosted on Amazon Web Services, the largest cloud provider on the internet. Many applications and a large part of the internet use Amazon servers to store their digital content, and much of the digital world was not accessible when I said goodbye to Amazon, including rivals of Amazon Prime Video is Netflix.
In real life, it’s hard to avoid Amazon. When I ordered a car phone holder from eBay, it was shipped in a package with Amazon’s signature packaging, because the seller used “Fulfillment by Amazon” – he paid for the work. The company stores and transports the product.
When I blocked Google, the entire internet slowed down, because almost every website I visited used Google as a font source, ran ads, tracked users, or decided if the user was a good user. bot. In the process of blocking Google, I could not log into the Dropbox data storage service because this website thought I was not a real person. Uber and Lyft also stopped working, because they both relied on Google Maps to navigate. I discovered that Google Maps is indeed in an exclusive position in the online map market. Even rival Google critic Yelp also uses Google Maps to let computer users know the location of business locations.
I came to the conclusion that Amazon and Google are no different from the essential infrastructure providers of the internet, they are so hidden in the architecture of the digital world that even their competitors have to rely on their services.
Facebook, Apple and Microsoft also caused many difficulties. While it was not difficult to block Facebook, I remembered Instagram (owned by Facebook) crazy, and I also stopped receiving information from my social contacts, like the day a friend’s child My good was born. “I thought that if I post something to Facebook, people will know it“She told me that when I made a congratulatory call a few weeks later. I tried using an alternative platform called Mastodon, but a social network without friends was not very happy.
It was hard to leave Apple because I used two computers and one of the company’s iPhones, so I had to buy some brand new hardware to continue accessing the internet and making phone calls.
Apple’s iOS software and Google’s Android software can be dual-handed in the smartphone market. Because I wanted to avoid both companies, I bought a brick phone – the Nokia 3310, which forced me to learn how to text with a number key – and a laptop running Linux from a company called Purism, the owner. Truong creates “a proper computing environment“by helping users avoid tech giants.
Texting on a brick phone is a not very interesting experience
It is true that there are many alternatives to the products and services that tech giants offer, but it is difficult to find and learn to use them.
Microsoft, the “fortunate” company, didn’t have to sit in the hot seat during this antitrust hearing, but it was no different from the other four companies, being the easiest to block at the consumer level. As my colleague Steve Lohr asserts, today, Microsoft “Mainly a supplier of technology to corporate customers“.
But like Amazon, Microsoft has a cloud service, and so some websites become inaccessible, along with two Microsoft services I regularly use: LinkedIn and Skype. The inability to use favorite services, which are owned by tech giants, is a nightmare in this experiment: according to the Wall Street Journal, tech giants have acquired more than 400 companies. and startups over the past decade.
Critics of large technology companies often say: “If you don’t like any company, don’t use their products“What I learned from the experiment is that it is completely impossible. Not only do the products and services bear the names of the tech giants. These companies control a wide range of products and services. Other little-known businesses, but it’s hard to separate from the tools we depend on to do everything everyday, from work, to from point A to point B.
Many people call what I do “fasting number“Digital vegetarians are very careful about the hardware and software they use, and the data they consume and share, because information is powerful, and those companies are increasingly holding more data. than.
There are two very different types of responses to my story. Some say that testing proves the importance of such companies to the US economy and their usefulness to consumers, and government agencies should not interfere with them. Others, like Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat and a former member of the National Assembly Antitrust Commission, say my test is evidence of their monopoly power.
“By controlling essential infrastructure, these companies control the access of markets“- Nadler said.”The problem is no different than the case we faced 130 years ago, when the railroad transformed the lives of the American people – both allowing farmers and manufacturers to access new markets, but also creating a gong that railroad monopolies can take advantage of“.
If I continue to block tech giants, I won’t be able to watch the last hearing online. C-SPAN streamed it directly via YouTube, which is owned by Google.
However, after the trial ended, I went back to the services of those companies, because as the results showed, I really had no other choice.