If you’re no fan of “Big Tech”, be it Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and the rest, you can make one small statement with the vote of which applications, websites, and software you choose. Since the major purge of hundreds, if not thousands, of social media accounts over the past few weeks, there’s no doubt widespread political censorship is here, be it about COVID, riots, voting integrity – you name it. Over the past few weeks I and much of my close family have moved our accounts to lesser known, higher security, or anti-censorship platforms for web browsing, email, and social media. Are these perfect solutions? Not by far, but they are a step in the right direction for personal privacy and freedom of speech. Here are six ways to stop using big tech products.
1. Browse for a New Browser
There are a slew of available browsers out there, but two have served me well: Brave and Tor. Brave is a good browser for your average internet surfing as an alternative to Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Mozilla Firefox. Brave is very fast, automatically blocks most ads and trackers, and does not store search information on its servers. Instead, your search data is stored locally on your computer. It’s also got some neat integration with a crypto called BAT, that allows you to support participating content creators directly.
For the greatest anonymity, turn to Tor. Though Tor is a bit slower and clunkier, it hides your IP address by routing your web traffic through various servers around the world, making you virtually untraceable. You can even use Tor to compare various levels of censorship in others countries, based on identical search terms. Tor also comes as a plugin to Brave, though this plugin does not give you the same level of security as the full Tor browser. The biggest issue with Tor I’ve faced is that some sites like YouTube can detect “irregular” web activity from your browser and may believe you are a bot. This can make seeing videos on YouTube difficult sometimes. (It hasn’t been a consistent problem – it may depend where Tor directs your web traffic through.)
2. Search for a New Search Engine
Next on the list is the search engine, one easy to overlook since “Google” became a verb. Using DuckDuckGo for the past few weeks, I haven’t noticed any real difference between it and Google in terms of performance. Furthermore, DuckDuckGo has better search privacy and actively avoids tailoring search results to particular users to avoid a “search bubble”.
3. Switch to Secure, Anonymous Email
The staple of internet business communications – the email – is also one to consider switching. If you’re worried about censorship reaching the world of email, or just want to break away from supporting Google, look into another email provider called ProtonMail. The creators of Swiss-based ProtonMail set out to “build an internet that respects privacy and is secure against cyberattacks.” ProtonMail is one of the most secure email providers, because it offers complete end-to-end encryption, uses open source cryptographic methods, and has almost no access to user data. In fact, if you lose your password to your ProtonMail account, you lose your email! Unlike U.S.-based email providers like Google, ProtonMail is outside U.S. and EU jurisdictions, meaning only a court order from the highest courts of Switzerland can force ProtonMail to release the limited user information they have.
4. Think Beyond the ‘Book with Socials
While not a major fan of any social media platform at the moment, there are a few that still allow free speech. After Parler was shut down by Google, Apple, and its server host because the outgoing president joined the platform, I ditched all the companies that promote this anti-free speech agenda to the best of my ability. A few alternatives for those who wish to preserve freedom of speech include Gab, Minds, and Pocketnet. While Gab is likely the most political (which is obnoxious at times when looking for discussion on wider topics), it is by far the largest among the three and has wisely invested in its own servers.
Pocketnet, in my opinion, is the most interesting of the three, because it relies on blockchain technology for a truly decentralized platform, making censorship nearly impossible. Does zero censorship come at a cost? Of course. There are things I read on Pocketnet that are despicable, but the cure to bad speech is good speech, not silence. On top of that, blocking users that post ridiculous things is a cinch.
5. Watch Videos on YouTube Competitors
Ditching YouTube is by far the most difficult, because no other single video platform boasts the enormous amount of content offered on YouTube. However, the past four years has seen an onslaught of political censorship, with the banning of many high profile voices (for truly mysterious reasons). What alternatives are we left with? Direct competitors with YouTube include the growing platform called Rumble and a lesser known platform called Odysee, created by the open source LBRY. Outside of YouTube competitors, check out the websites of your favorites podcasters and former YouTube stars directly. Most have moved on to offer their videos and audio podcasts on their own websites to avoid censorship and gain greater control of their content. The major downside of the last option has been the loss of YouTube’s monetization scheme through advertisers for many creators, meaning some independent websites must rely on subscriptions to keep their businesses going.
Are you going to be able to avoid YouTube completely? Probably not, unless you have an iron will. However, you can begin the process of turning to alternative video sources whenever possible.
6. Shop Local, Shop Direct
One tough Big Tech company to avoid completely will be Amazon, because turning to alternatives often results in less money in your wallet. However, the internet commerce world is vast, and it existed long before Amazon came around. Often, many of the same sellers on Amazon’s marketplace exist on ebay as well.
Additionally, there’s a website dedicated to the sale of any product out there, so you can buy whatever you need directly from the company specializing in that product. As a big buyer of books, I look to sites dedicated to the sale of used books, like Thriftbooks, instead of Amazon. (Ebay is also good.) There you find great prices, reasonable shipping times, and a good selection.
Last but not least, buy local! Those mom and pop stores down the street need all the support they can get after the COVID lockdowns, which overwhelmingly hurt small businesses while allowing large corporations to capture the remaining market share with the government’s blessings.
Freedom & Anonymity Beyond
These six ways are fairly easy to begin adopting; however, breaking away from Big Tech in other areas will be more difficult. For example, the only viable mobile phone operating systems are Android (Google) and Apple. There are are other indie operating systems in the works, though none appear to have ease of use and widespread availability. In the desktop operating system world, there’s always the open source Linux option to break free from the Microsoft and Apple bubbles. However, Linux, though much more user friendly than before, is still in my opinion slightly more difficult to use, especially when it comes to installing software. While anyone can certainly learn to use a Linux operating system given the vast online guides available, it does have a small learning curve. Nonetheless, the operating system world, especially for mobile phones, presents a great opportunity for disruptive companies.
Since ditching Big Tech in the ways mentioned above, I haven’t looked back. The new search engines, browsers, and email providers I’ve been using are just as good as the products from Google, Apple, and Microsoft. While there’s still a ways to go for video platforms, social media, and a true competitor to Amazon, the knowledge that I’m less dependent on Big Tech in these areas is satisfying. So, what are you waiting for? Make the leap.
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