This is a time of great upheaval in American technological culture. For the past twenty years, technology companies have taken up an ever increasing presence in our lives through hardware and software. These technologies, like so many before them, changed the way we do business and live. As with all technology, what can be used for good can quickly become very dark.
For over a decade, I handed over troves of personal data to Facebook. Like so many others, my digital life resided primarily within that walled garden. As I left college and entered the workforce, Facebook took on a deeper focus on their business and increasing market value. More people were let in, algorithms took over the feeds, and soon I was mostly seeing ads or friends trying to hawk their latest diet.
Cambridge Anayltica was a tipping point for many, but for me, it was just the impetus to shut it all down. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, gone. I deleted my accounts, and this time, it stuck. I haven’t been back.
I was struck in late October by a particular public action of Google. I read news articles about how employees were pressuring management to not work on technologies that would benefit the United States military. Setting aside the fact that I come from a military family, for employees of an American company to request that our war fighter not have the best tools at their disposal for protecting our freedom, is inane. Google is one of the great American technology leaders, and their refusal to work on contracts for the Defense Department is shocking. Juxtaposed against that virtue signaling is Google’s full-throated efforts to dominate the Chinese market. They may be making progress, but they’re doing it on the Chinese government’s terms.
Reporting this year has revealed the depravity of the Chinese Communist Party and the lengths that they are going to in order to maintain power. They’re leveraging technology, stolen or otherwise, to bring into existence the dystopian police state that every free thinking person fears. One has to look no further than the proving grounds of the western Xinjiang province. Home to a large muslim ethnic minority, the Uighurs, the Chinese government tests and hones its use of surveillance technologies in Xinjiang before rolling them out to the rest of the country. The Communist Party has built an expansive network of concentration camps and, by some estimates, has interned over one million Uighurs without cause, subjecting them to “patriotic education” and, according to some former detainees, torture.
Google’s rejection of support for the United States military and implicit cooperation in the oppression of a minority group, let alone the Chinese people writ large, by their government is too much to let go unnoticed.
To Google, I am both a customer and a product. The more that I use their products and services, the better they understand me. They likely have enough information on me to tell you just about everything about me. In that way, I become the product, whom they can repackage and market to advertisers in exchange for fees.
In light of recent events, creeped out by their constant efforts to track and categorize me, and in consideration of our lack of values alignment, I have decided to quit Google.
It’s going to take me about a year, and during that time I’ll need to stop using the following Google services: Google Voice, Google Search, Google Wifi, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google+ (business), YouTube, Waze, Nest, Google Analytics, Google Adsense, Google Webmaster Tools, and I’m sure, others. There are plenty of alternatives out there in the market, and thankfully, they aren’t all owned by one company. This distributive approach to fulfilling all of my services needs will ensure that no one company can track me so expansively.
Google started out as the best search engine, and then became a juggernaut. In the past decade, they’ve betrayed what was enshrined in their corporate code of conduct as far back as 2000, “Don’t be evil.” They quietly emoved that tenant from their code in the past twelve months. In many respects, they’ve become everything that they set out to avoid.