I tried to live 24 hours without using ‘Big Five’ technology – and my life became impossible

Big Tech

I always get my five a day. Not fruits and vegetables. I mean the “Big Five” tech companies – Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Microsoft, Meta (Facebook) and Apple – that have their fingerprints all over almost every aspect of my daily life. And probably me, too, because a significant part of the internet is underpinned by their digital infrastructure.

“Easy,” I think, when I decide to go on a 24-hour Big Tech crash diet. Anyone could avoid Amazon purchases for a day and switch their smartphone to a flip phone. It’s not like I have to give up all technology, just dodge the Big Five behemoths. I’m wrong, of course – it’s impossible. It only becomes clear how much of a monopoly these companies have over our digital lives when you try to break them. I had no idea they were hosting or using their technology for the Netflix streaming service, my internet banking, or any of the news websites I visit daily.

To make a point about the monopoly of the tech giants, an American charity called the Economic Security Project has created “Big Tech Detective”, a free browser plug-in that allows you to track and track all websites that use technology from Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft avoid and Google. I start by installing it on my laptop. Its purpose is to allow users to see for themselves how much of the internet’s infrastructure rests on four or five companies.

First, Big Tech Detective works well – so well, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to browse the internet. Indeed, the results are alarming. Every website I try to visit for research, using the search bar in Chrome, with Big Tech Detective installed, is locked because it uses resources provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, Facebook or Microsoft. That includes news sites such as The IS telegraph. I am banned from emails and from Google Docs, the tool I would normally use to write articles.

I clearly explain to one editor I work for that I’ve lost his email because I’m on a “Big Tech diet” and can’t access any of the programs we use to produce this newspaper. It soon becomes clear that without Big Tech, it would be completely impossible to do my job – or almost any job that requires email or word processing software. After a fruitless hour or so of surfing (or trying to surf) a web free of Big Tech, it becomes clear that the internet is based on only four or five companies.

Without using Microsoft Word or Google Docs, even writing on a computer is difficultWithout using Microsoft Word or Google Docs, even writing on a computer is difficult

Without using Microsoft Word or Google Docs, even writing on a computer is difficult – David Rose/The Telegraph

I’m not the first to try to break free from Big Tech. In 2019, technology reporter Kashmir Hill embarked on a six-week mission to eliminate the tech giants from their lives and find alternatives. She used a custom VPN (virtual private network) to block the Big Tech companies one by one – and found it impossible.

“Much of the digital world has become inaccessible,” she wrote. “I came to think of Amazon and Google as providers of internet infrastructure, so embedded in the architecture of the digital world that even their competitors had to rely on their services.” When she blocked Google, the entire internet slowed down, as almost every site relied on Google to track its users or provide its fonts.

Lawmakers are aware of the dominance of the tech giants. This week, the EU sent probes to Apple, Google and Meta under the Digital Markets Act (DMA), landmark legislation that gives the EU license to clamp down on Big Tech if it suspects these companies have an unfair advantage over competitors. .

Last year, Brussels named six companies as “hackers” worthy of further regulation: Amazon owner, Alphabet, Apple, Meta, Microsoft and TikTok, ByteDance. They have billions of euros at risk if they are found to be non-compliant with the DMA.

Similarly, there are concerns about the dominance of the tech giants in the UK. In October last year, Ofcom referred the market for public cloud infrastructure services to the Competition and Markets Authority following an investigation that found the main cloud providers (Amazon and Microsoft, with a combined market share of 70-80 percent them) using features that were limited. competition.

But on with my quest: in order to continue my mission (I’m in a 5pm-to-5pm window), I switch my SIM card into a retro flip phone Nokia 2660. This is nostalgically pleasant for the first five minutes, then it is very annoying, as it takes me several minutes to carefully remove a short text message. Of course, my Apple iPhone is out, as are all the apps I use to save time, and to waste time, in my day-to-day life. These include: Google Maps, Gmail, Instagram (owned by Meta), Podcasts and, infamously, Candy Crush.

Abigail is forced to send texts on a school-age Nokia mobile phoneAbigail is forced to send texts on a school-age Nokia mobile phone

Abigail is forced to send texts on a school-age Nokia mobile phone – David Rose/The Telegraph

Uber is not owned by one of the Big Five companies, but it does use Google Maps, so that’s out too. There are non-Big Tech social media platforms that have popped up, like Bluesky, but if none of your friends are on them, they’re not much fun. Luckily my Nokia has an upgraded version of Snake to keep me occupied on the Tube.

Entertainment options are also limited: streaming services such as Netflix and Disney + are unlimited because both use Amazon’s cloud technology. As is, of course, Amazon Prime Video. My new Nokia doesn’t have a touch screen or any “smart” functionality, and I feel unintentionally pressing it with my finger while it’s sitting idle on the table, as my iPhone screen lights up to check WhatsApp messages or news alerts to break

The next morning, my usual commuting activities of scanning the news, listening to a podcast or music on Spotify are all banned. Spotify, while not technically one of the “Big Tech” five, uses Google’s cloud software (a current theme). I buy a physical paper to read the headlines using my plastic debit card, which doesn’t get much use these days, as I rely on Apple Pay. So far, so good, but I still have to try to get through an analog workday.

Even if you actively avoid Amazon, Google and Microsoft products and services, their technology is still in the DNA of almost every website in the world. Not only is Amazon responsible for 65 to 70 percent of online marketplace sales in the US, it is the largest cloud technology provider in the world, with a 31 percent market share. I want to know what percentage of global search traffic goes through Google, but ironically, I can’t Google it, because I’m banned. (The answer, if you’re interested, is 91 percent.)

'Hello, is that my editor?  I'm afraid I'll give you 1200 words, handwritten, in Biro''Hello, is that my editor?  I'm afraid I'll give you 1200 words, handwritten, in Biro'

‘Hello, is that my editor? I’m afraid I’ll give you 1200 words, handwritten, in Biro’ – David Rose/The Telegraph

Technically I’m cheating a bit, because I’m caught up in the Apple ecosystem and so I also have an Apple computer, without which I would have to write this article by hand. (I tried, but decided it would take about eight hours to write 1,200 words and I’d miss my deadline. Besides, I don’t think my editor would take kindly to handing it in a pile of pages of Biro-scribbled notes. )

Since going on a Big Tech diet makes web browsing nearly impossible, Big Tech Detective’s purpose seems to be to draw attention to the issue rather than solve it. The alternatives even depend on the tech giants: ironically, the other privacy-focused search engine, DuckDuckGo, is blocked because it uses Google and Microsoft technologies. Out of curiosity, I tried Apple’s website, and found that it even relies on resources from Google.

I’m glad this is just a 24-hour crash course in Big Tech veganism and I can go straight back to being a carnivore, reveling in the ease of digital dependency. I’m ashamed to admit that after a day without it, I go home desperate for the digital riches of my smartphone. A life without the tech giants might be possible, but I’m not willing to go off the grid.

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