Note: this post was written guite some time ago (2018), and even though I am sometimes forced by life’s circumstances (or just get tired of fighting the overwhelming pressures) and go back to using certain services and products for a while, my attitude has not changed.
Original post from 2018:
I have recently deleted my social media accounts, stopped using Chrome as my browser, switched from Windows to Linux and decided to sell my last smartphone. Now, to be fair, I always disliked smartphones, was never a big fan of Windows, had distrust for Chrome/Google, couldn’t understand the point of Instagram and felt that Facebook was no more than a bad habit. Nonetheless, all of these things were what you can call “a path of least resistance”: everyone is using them and is expecting you to use them. And if you don’t use them or use something different, life becomes just a bit more difficult for you. Plus you have to constantly answer all the stupid questions from those mentioned people. So for good 10 years I just went with the flow, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Because it was just easier this way. But lately things started happening that I just cannot tolerate any more: global trends that can be summarized in 4 notions: spyware, adware, expropriation of control and telling the user what he is supposed to want.
Back in my early days as a computer user, if a piece of software would track user’s actions/behavior and send information about it to “the company”, we would call it spyware. If a piece of software would aggressively show ads, we would call it adware. Both of these things were considered so evil and dirty that you’d feel uncomfortable even touching the keyboard of a computer that had them. It was as if the computer was infected with a black plague and all you wanted to do at that point is to format a hard drive, re-install the OS and start fresh. But today such behavior of tracking the user is being implemented universally in more or less all the popular things I’ve mentioned in the beginning. Companies just add a paragraph about it in the license agreement to make it legal. Most of the data gathered this way is later sold to marketing companies or otherwise used for the purpose of showing you more ads. In essence, you get spyware+adware in one. And people think “well, if it’s a big, well-known company doing it, then it must be OK“.
When I recently found out that Chrome, the internet browser that’s supposed to just be a browser was also secretly pretending to be antivirus, scanning files on my computer and sending information about them to Google’s mothership, I was in disbelief. It was a shock to me just how outrageously aggressive spying has gotten in mainstream software. Of course I knew Chrome did huge amounts of spying on me while I was browsing the web, but pretending to be antivirus and scanning my files was the last straw. I removed it from all my computers the same day.
Smartphones are no better in this regard. In fact, they are worse, much worse: “Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to. An Associated Press investigation found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used privacy settings that say they will prevent it from doing so.“. Just think about it for a minute: those companies are just flat-out lying to their users, there is no other way to put it. This means at this point they can and will do just about anything, no matter how deceitful or malicious. Because they can get away with it. Even though I wasn’t using smartphones that much, from now on I refuse to use one even occasionally.
Very similar things are also happening with Windows 10, and I probably don’t need to tell you about Facebook and other social media… I just get the feeling that these products instead of serving me as a user are actually exploiting me, living their own, separate life on my computer/phone and their sole purpose is to serve and report to their “true masters” from Google/Microsoft/whatever.
The other thing that’s pushing me over the edge is that those companies are slowly but steadily taking away the control from me by removing the ability to change certain things. For example, Windows 10 forced updates with forced reboots, not even allowing you to choose which updates to install and not even telling what certain updates do any more. Or Windows 10 routinely re-setting default applications. Or re-installing certain Microsoft/Store apps that I have removed. Or Google Android’s smartphones no longer letting me use my phone as USB drive. Or not allowing me to completely turn off all radios (Android and certain apps can still do some background scanning and use certain radios even if you turn off WiFi/Bluetooth/GPS/data). When these things start happening I feel like someone is messing with the computer/phone that I paid for which belongs to me. It feels like I am being slowly robbed. As if someone forcibly took over your computer/phone, just not all at once, but bit by bit…
And finally, the last global trend to mention is that all those same companies adopted the philosophy of “users will want what we tell them to want”. They are pushing products with their own agenda, severely limiting customization on purpose. If you remember browsers from the past, such as the old Opera browser, you could do almost anything you can imagine with it — customize it any way you would ever want, both user interface and behavior. But if you look at Chrome today, there’s basically nothing to customize. You can’t change almost anything about it’s appearance or behavior (colors don’t count). Similar story is with Windows… Smartphones are starting to go down this road, too, and Facebook/Instagram never allowed any customization in the first place.
To be honest, I am (unfortunately) still using some products from those companies, but at least instead of embracing them and becoming more and more dependent I started backing out. And it feels like absolutely the right thing to do.
Why all this matters to me
I know very well that majority of people don’t give a rat’s ass about all the things I complain about here, and some of them would call me tin-foil hat or tell me that “everyone is doing it, so it means it’s ok“. But I have strong moral objections to all these trends, I have strong feelings about what is right and what is wrong. The things these companies are doing feel to me like great crimes against person’s dignity. I feel disrespected as a user when I am being tracked, scanned, spied upon, analyzed. I feel insulted when companies (or other people) try to tell me what I’m supposed to like and use. I feel robbed when companies try to take control of my computer and my phone. And if I allow all this to happen to me, then I’d feel like I betrayed myself and am slowly becoming a mere slave with less and less rights, less and less dignity, ever more dependent on those products. I choose to stand up for myself, my rights and my freedom of choice. Telling me to stop caring about it is the same as telling me to stop caring about what’s right and wrong.
P.S., I like how one friend explained why some users just don’t care: people who lack these ethical and philosophical principles and have no notion of self-respect will never understand what you are talking about. I met a lot of those people and I am not going to try to discuss these things with them any more, because I know it’s about the same if an atheist would discuss religion with a religious fanatic — pointless. You cannot show them your point of view because they’re incapable of seeing things your way.
Update: here’s just the latest item in a very, very long list of unimaginably user-hostile moves by tech. companies, but ilustrates my point very well: https://sneak.berlin/20201112/your-computer-isnt-yours/