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The Extremely Online User’s Guide to Abandoning Big Tech

Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon are being investigated for anti-competitive and anti-consumer practices. Here’s a breakdown of how to log off permanently if and when enough finally becomes enough.

Ringer illustration

The last straw could come one day soon. A headline you read—probably while scrolling through Facebook—about the behavior of one of the tech giants could compel you to leave them forever. Egregious privacy violations, stoking civil unrest, and omnipresent surveillance might not have done the trick, but the systematic stripping of your digital rights and the unwinding of democracy and reasoned debate via obnoxious Twitter bots could push you over the top. This post is for if or when that time finally arrives.

For the government, at least, the time may be now. Earlier this month news outlets widely reported that the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are planning to investigate four tech industry giants—Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon—for anti-competitive and anti-consumer practices. Congress is also planning to join in, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat who represents San Francisco, saying that “the era of self-regulation is over.” It could be years until these federal probes lead to disciplinary action. The Microsoft case that was filed in 1998 wound its way through courts and committees for at least a decade, with a plan to break up the company being scuttled by an appellate court. However, such investigations often drudge up unflattering details about the ways that megacorporations accrue power.

In other words, the reasons to quit the four tech giants only seem likely to accelerate. Here’s a handy (though not entirely scientific) guide to weighing whether you want to leave and, if so, where you should go.

Apple

The dystopian world your loyalty is helping create: When the fifth version of AirPods inevitably include a surgical implant that taps into owners’ temporal lobes, Apple users will become literal cyborgs with direct memory access to the cloud, improved hearing, and the ability to identify in-person conversations as “Read” without actually responding. Non-Apple users will be reviled as lower-class citizens who are not skilled enough to compete in the modern workforce. However, they’ll also be the only people able to have spontaneous conversations in public, since there will be no second-guessing whether they’re listening to music or on a phone call.

Why you should bail: Apple got caught deliberately slowing down older iPhones after asking users to download the latest operating system software, lending credence to the longstanding rumor that planned obsolescence is part of the company’s business philosophy. The working conditions at the Chinse factories that build iPhone parts remain dangerous years after investigations first brought the issues to light. And over time Apple has mutated from being a company that placed a premium on sophisticated product design to a brand built on ostentatious wealth, from its gold Apple Watch to its $1,000 computer stand.

Why you should stay: Apple has been touting a growing list of privacy features, such as a new anonymous login system that’ll allow users to input randomly generated emails to sign up for online services. The company’s core business model—selling overpriced gadgets and subscriptions to make those gadgets more useful—also gives it less incentive to hoover up every data point about your digital life compared with its competitors.

Alternative options: Since Google and its Android phones are also on this list, your only alternative is to buy a classic flip phone. It probably won’t be the Motorola Razr, unless you want to spend, uh, $1,500.

Facebook

The dystopian world your loyalty is helping create: CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions Facebook’s becoming a digital superstate that would exceed the power of national governments and have its own Supreme Court to determine the parameters of global free speech. He has talked about this openly for the last two and a half years, but mostly within very long blog posts. Nobody has time to read all that.

Why you should bail: Because Likes are valueless digital ephemera that we have ascribed value to in a way that has warped political discourse and our perception of human worth. Because Facebook purposefully ignored warning signs about how its platform was being manipulated by nefarious political actors abroad long before Russian memes infiltrated the U.S. Because Zuckerberg once called us all “dumb fucks” for handing our personal information to a random bro from Harvard.

Why you should stay: The birthday reminders.

Alternative options: Check out Mastodon, a decentralized social network that operates more like the topical message boards of yesteryear than the engagement-driven monoliths that are Facebook and Twitter. Also … just call your friends on the phone and see how they’re doing.

Google

The dystopian world your loyalty is helping create: When Google’s self-driving cars take over city streets, the only form of payment they’ll accept will be watching at least three minutes of PewDiePie videos per trip. Advances in eye tracking will let Google know if you close your eyes, making the video and other ads literally unskippable.

Why you should bail: With eight products that have more than a billion users, Google is more pervasive in most people’s digital lives than any other company. It tends to launch great, free products and then slowly warp them into data-harvesting moneymakers. That’s how YouTube went from a repository for cat videos into a radicalization machine that uses algorithms to guide users toward extremist content based on engagement metrics. We’re essentially beholden to the company’s “don’t be evil” motto—which, wouldn’t you know it, hasn’t actually been Google’s motto for several years.

Why you should stay: Honestly, Google Docs may just be that clutch.

Alternative options: Search remains the financial driver of Google’s myriad businesses, so switching to DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t track users’ search habits, is the simplest way to hurt Google’s wallet.

Amazon

The dystopian world your loyalty is helping create: I like to imagine that CEO Jeff Bezos has a red button hidden under a glass case in his Seattle mansion that says “Double All Prices Mwahahahaha,” and that some days he touches it while stroking his robotic dog. Once Amazon has taken control of all commerce, entertainment, and internet infrastructure, he’s going to push it and we’re all going to really miss the existence of brick-and-mortar stores.

Why you should bail: Amazon is at the forefront of modern American obsessiveness over worker productivity. The company pushes workers to their physical limits in its warehouses and causes emotional distress at its corporate offices. It now employs more than 600,000 people worldwide, and the efficiency it demands so that its customers can have a slightly more convenient experience will seep into workplaces across a variety of sectors. If you value your lunch breaks and idling the hours away reading articles on The Ringer, get the hell off of Amazon.

Why you should stay: You have a longstanding blood feud with your local bookstore, supermarket, or Best Buy.

Alternative options: Casual human-to-human interactions to exchange money for goods and services.