I tried to survive 24 hours without using the Big Five technology – and my life became impossible

Great technology

I always get my five a day. Not vegetables and fruit. I mean the “Big Five” technology companies – Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Microsoft, Meta (Facebook) and Apple – that have their fingerprints on almost every aspect of my daily life. And probably yours too, since their digital infrastructure powers a significant portion of the Internet.

“Easy,” I think, as I decide to follow a 24-hour Big Tech crash diet. Everyone could avoid Amazon purchases for one day and trade in their smartphone for a flip phone. It’s not like I have to give up all technology, just avoid the Big Five giants. I’m wrong, of course: it’s impossible. It only becomes clear how much of a monopoly these companies have on our digital lives when you try to circumvent them. I had no idea that the streaming service Netflix, my online banking, or any of the news websites I visit every day are all hosted by them or use their technology.

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 plugin that allows you to track and avoid all websites that use technology from Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Googling. I start by installing it on my laptop. Its purpose is to let users see for themselves how much of the Internet infrastructure is owned by just four or five companies.

At first, Big Tech Detective works well – so well, in fact, that surfing the Internet is almost impossible. In fact, the results are surprising. Every website I try to visit for research, via 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 like The Telegraph. I’m locked out of emails and Google Docs, the tool I would normally use to write articles.

I cheerfully explain to an editor to whom I owe work that I missed her email because I’m on a “Big Tech diet” and thus don’t have access to the programs we use to produce this newspaper. It quickly 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 about a fruitless hour of surfing (or trying to surf) a Big Tech-free internet, it has become clear that the internet is actually built on just four or five companies.

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

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

I’m not the first to experiment with becoming Big Tech-free. In 2019, tech reporter Kashmir Hill embarked on a six-week mission to eliminate the tech giants from her life and find alternatives. She used a custom-built VPN (virtual private network) to block the Big Tech companies one by one – and discovered it was impossible.

“Much of the digital world became inaccessible,” she wrote. “I came to think of Amazon and Google as the providers of the Internet’s 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 fonts.

Lawmakers are well aware of the dominance of the tech giants. This week, the EU launched investigations into Apple, Google and Meta under the Digital Markets Act (DMA), a landmark legislation that gives the EU the authority to rein in Big Tech if it suspects these companies have an unfair advantage compared to competitors.

Last year, Brussels designated six companies as ‘gatekeepers’ that deserve additional regulation: Amazon, Alphabet, Apple, Meta, Microsoft and TikTok owner ByteDance. They risk fines of billions of euros if it turns out that they do not comply with the DMA.

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

But on with my quest: to continue my mission (I’m in a 5pm to 5pm window), I change my SIM card to a retro Nokia 2660 flip phone. This is pleasantly nostalgic for the first five minutes, then it’s very annoying as it takes me several minutes to painstakingly type out a short text message. Obviously my Apple iPhone is out, as are all the apps I use to save time and waste time in my daily life. These include: Google Maps, Gmail, Instagram (owned by Meta), Podcasts and, shamefully, Candy Crush.

Abigail is forced to send text messages on an old-fashioned Nokia cell phoneAbigail is forced to send text messages on an old-fashioned Nokia cell phone

Abigail is forced to send text messages on an old-fashioned Nokia mobile: David Rose/The Telegraph

Uber isn’t owned by any of the Big Five companies, but it uses Google Maps, so that’s out too. Non-Big Tech social media platforms have popped up, like Bluesky, but if none of your friends are on them, they’re not as fun. Luckily my Nokia has an upgraded version of Snake to keep me busy on the subway.

Entertainment options are also limited: streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ are off-limits because both use Amazon cloud technology. Such as Amazon Prime Video, of course. My new Nokia doesn’t have a touchscreen or any ‘smart’ functionality, and I find myself absent-mindedly poking it with my finger as it lies dormant on the table, when I would light up my iPhone screen to check for WhatsApp messages or breaking news alerts .

The next morning, my usual commute activities, like scanning the news, listening to a podcast, or listening to music on Spotify, are all off limits. Spotify, while not technically one of the ‘Big Tech’ five, uses Google cloud software (an ongoing theme). I buy a physical newspaper to read the headlines with my plastic debit card, which isn’t used much these days because I rely on Apple Pay. So far so good, but I still have to try to get through an analog working day.

Even if you actively avoid the products and services of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, their technology is still in the DNA of almost every website on the planet. Not only is Amazon responsible for 65 to 70 percent of U.S. online marketplace sales, it is also the world’s largest cloud technology provider, 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'm going to give you 1200 words, written by hand, in Biro''Hello, is that my editor?  I'm afraid I'm going to give you 1200 words, written by hand, in Biro'

‘Hello, is that my editor? I’m afraid I’m going to give you 1,200 words, handwritten, in Biro’ – David Rose/The Telegraph

Technically, I’m cheating a bit, because I’m trapped in the Apple ecosystem and therefore also have an Apple computer, without which I would have to write this article by hand. (I tried, but concluded that it would take about eight hours to write 1,200 words and I would miss my deadline. Plus, I don’t think my editor would take kindly to me handing it over in a pile notebook pages scribbled in Biro. )

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

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

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