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How I Quit Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon

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It was just before closing time at a Verizon store in Bushwick, New York last May when I burst through the door, sweaty and exasperated. I had just sprinted—okay I walked, but briskly—from another Verizon outlet a few blocks away in the hopes I’d make it before they closed shop for the night. I was looking for a SIM card that would fit a refurbished 2012 Samsung Galaxy S3 that I had recently purchased on eBay, but the previous three Verizon stores I visited didn’t have any chips that would fit such an old model.

When I explained my predicament to the salesperson, he laughed in my face.

“You want to switch from you current phone to an... S3?” he asked incredulously.

I explained my situation. I was about to embark on a month without intentionally using any services or products produced by the so-called “Big Five” tech companies: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. At that point I had found adequate, open source replacements for most of the services offered by these companies, but ditching the Android OS, which is developed by Google, was proving difficult.

Most of the tech I use on a day-to-day basis is pretty utilitarian. At the time I was using a cheap ASUS laptop at work and a homebrew PC at my apartment. My phone was a Verizon-specific version of the Samsung Galaxy J3, a 2016 model that cost a little over $100 new. They weren't fancy, but they’ve reliably met most of my needs for years.

For the past week and a half I had spent most of my evenings trying to port an independent mobile OS called Sailfish onto my phone without any luck. As it turned out, Verizon had locked the bootloader on my phone model, which is so obscure that no one in the vibrant Android hacking community had dedicated much time to figuring out a workaround. If I wanted to use Sailfish, I was going to have to get a different phone.

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How I Quit Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon

  • How I Quit Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon

    By now, it’s common knowledge that Google, Facebook, and Amazon are harvesting as much of our personal data as they can get their hands on to feed us targeted ads, train artificial intelligence, and sell us things before we know we need them. The results of this ruthless data-driven hypercapitalism speak for themselves: Today, the Big Five tech companies are worth a combined total of $3 trillion dollars. When I started my month without the Big Five in May, Google’s parent company Alphabet, Amazon, and Apple were racing to be the first company in history with stock worth $1 trillion. In August, Apple became the first to reach this milestone and just a few weeks later Amazon’s market cap also briefly passed $1 trillion.

What I Learned By Quitting Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google

  • What I Learned By Quitting Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft

    In May I made the decision to excise the so-called “Big Five” tech companies from my life for a month. That meant no services offered by Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, or any of their subsidiaries.

    There were a number of reasons I wanted to undertake this experiment, ranging from reclaiming my privacy to learning more about how the technology I use every day actually works. The main reason, however, was simply to see if the Big Five services were actually necessary or merely convenient.

    I found that there were adequate open-source or independent replacements for pretty much every major Big Five service. In some cases, such as mapping software or social media platforms, the gulf between the Big Five and alternative services was so large that it made a noticeable, negative impact on my life. But in most cases, the open-source or independent alternatives worked just fine and it was simply a matter of getting used to their quirks.

    I’ve written a long reflection and extensive guide to quitting the Big Five if you’re interested in hearing more about how the experiment went. If you just want to know some of the main takeaways from my month without Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft, this list is for you:

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