This is a story of how I reclaimed privacy by removing the tentacles of Big Tech from my life. It’s not a “how-to” and I’m not trying to convince you to do the same. The fact that you’re on my website means you probably know that companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple have a global monopoly and are manipulating their users and gathering massive amounts of personal data on them. If you still think you “have nothing to hide”, then watch this Ted Talk by Glenn Greenwald, this video about AT&T’s Room 641a, or just scroll through the privacytools.io homepage and read a few articles.
In the middle of 2020, my life changed drastically for reasons I won’t go into now. The outcome was a realization that my world was not what I thought it was. After enjoying years of convenience and “free” services offered by these giant tech companies, I had actually given away every bit of personal information about my life to them. I imagined my most personal secrets and intimate conversations being stored on one of Mark Zuckerberg’s servers. Apple’s iPhone was collecting everything I did and Tim Cook was selling information about me to any third party that wanted it. Even worse, all of this information was being handed over to the NSA and other government agencies.
I finally paid attention long enough to become totally outraged and knew I had to delete Big Tech out of my life. What to do first? That was easy… get rid of the worst one of all… Facebook! Should I leave a message for my Facebook friends and tell them where to find me? Nah. Real friends know how to connect no matter what. In just a few minutes, I had done it! There may have been a message that said my data would be deleted in 30 days. But at that moment I knew I was never going back to Facebook. A huge burden had just been lifted off of my back. This was the beginning of freedom!
The very same evening, I decided to create an account on Mastodon, an open source decentralized social network with no ads and no corporate surveillance. It was exciting to discover alternative networks doing things for the right reasons.
The second most urgent action was to stop paying for my YouTube Premium subscription. I couldn’t fathom giving Google anymore of my personal information, much less paying them money! Next, I deleted Twitter and Instagram apps from my iPhone and deactivated the accounts. This was an easy decision since I rarely used either platform.
I was on a roll, excited to free myself from the prying eyes of the Silicon Valley billionaires. Each day, I took out my digital pruners and cut away another branch out of my way.
The most difficult of all to remove was Google. See, I had been using Google search and their services since Larry Page and Sergey Brin started the company. Google was an amazing search engine and for almost two decades I trusted them. I was dependent on them. So I wrote down every Google service I used and decided how to replace it. Every day I did my research and found a privacy-friendly replacement. Below is the excerpt from the text document I used to track my progress. It lists the service and the replacement that I chose.
- Google Drive – ownCloud
- File transfer – ownCloud, sshfs
- Google Photos – ownCloud
- Google Hangouts – Element/Matrix-synapse
- Google search engine – DuckDuckGo, Swisscows, MetaGer, Searx
- Google Chrome – Tor Project, Brave, Midori
- Google Maps – OpenStreetMap, OsmAnd Maps, Qwant
- Google Fonts – Font Squirrel
- Gmail – Mailbox.org
- Google Calendar – Mailbox.org
- Google docs,sheets – Mailbox.org
- Google contacts – Mailbox.org
- Google Voice – Ooma
- Google analytics – goaccess.io
- Google news – Tiny Tiny RSS
- Youtube – LBRY, BitChute, 3speak, PeerTube
- Youtube Music – Jango
- Google Domains – namecheap, freedns.afraid.org
To finally kick Google to the curb it was time to delete my Google account. Now, this was not a small decision. At least at the time I thought about all the Google reviews I had posted about companies and restaurants, my Google timeline that showed all the international destinations I had traveled, and generally the gigabytes of history and data that had accumulated about my life. Then I snapped out of that idiotic thought and pressed the final DELETE button. This was worthy of another Mastodon post…
I still had a few other items to attend to though. The part of the journey that took the longest was getting Apple out of the picture. I had to sell my iPhone X, iPads, and delete my Apple account. After discovering Swappa, I put the devices up for sale and waited for the buyers. If you’re wondering how I could possibly use a smartphone and not have either Apple or Google breathing down my neck, the answer is a de-googled smartphone. This is a whole other subject for another time. But creating my de-googled phone was one of the most satisfying feelings of this entire process.
The final step… time to delete my Amazon account. Some of you are saying “why on Earth would you delete your Amazon account? Don’t you buy everything from Amazon?”. The answer is simple. Jeff Bezos has too much power and Amazon is a monopoly. One way stop this is to say “No” and choose to go elsewhere. So on 18 November, 2020, I requested my Amazon account be deleted. The email I received from them sounded almost awkward, like no one had ever deleted their Amazon account before. “Are you sure you want to do this?” and “You’re the only person in the universe that has ever deleted their Amazon account”. Yep. I am sure.
It took four months, but I was finally free from the evil billionaires. There is much more to do to protect online identity aside from deleting Big Tech. I’ll cover these topics in more detail later. To summarize my story consider this statement… ending digital tyranny requires a few simple steps: a willingness to learn, rejecting superficial conveniences, and establishing new paradigms. If you think this sounds extreme, I understand that we each have our own tolerance of trust. But honestly, how much freedom are you willing to give up? I encourage you to take the first step and start deleting Big Tech’s power over you today!
Below is the full list of actions I took.
- Create mastodon account (Done)
- Delete Facebook account (Done)
- Stop subscription to YouTube Premium (Done)
- Set up LBRY account (Done)
- Delete Yahoo account (Done)
- Delete Adobe account (Done)
- Delete Twitter account (Done)
- Delete Instagram account (Done)
- Deactivate google voice (Done)
- Install Matrix synapse server (Done)
- Harden web browsers for privacy (Done)
- Use Tor (Done)
- Move all documents from Google Drive to ownCloud (Done)
- Move all photos from Google Photos to ownCloud (Done)
- Keep Tails OS on USB drive when I travel (Done)
- Research secure phone OS, hardware, apps (Done)
- Install VPN service (Done)
- Redirect gmail account to mailbox.org (Done)
- Sell iPad Air 3rd gen Swappa (Done)
- Sell iPad 4th gen on Swappa (Done)
- Transfer domains from Google Domains to namecheap (Done)
- Delete google account (Done)
- Delete microsoft account (Done)
- Install LineageOS on Nexus 6P (Done)
- Install F-Droid and FOSS apps on Nexus 6P (Done)
- Set up Nexus 6P on Tello network (Done)
- Sell iPhone X (Done)
- Delete Apple account (Done)
- Delete amazon account (Done)
- Buy an inexpensive tablet (Done)
- Install LineageOS on Samsung Galaxy Tab E 8.0 (Done)
- Publish public PGP key (Done)
If you’re curious what online services I use now, take a look at Where I Go Online for a full list. I would enjoy knowing your perspective about my story. Feel free to contact me or comment below, and thanks for reading!