I’ve been a citizen of the Internet as long as I can remember. An early adopter of Facebook and Twitter, an avid user of streaming services like Netflix and Spotify – even old school services such as Grooveshark, the OG online music streaming service. (Remember that?) Gmail was my email, Amazon was my store of choice, and of course I’ve always had one smartphone or another. Mostly iOS, but I spent a few years on Android too.
Over the past year, I came to a realization how dependent my life has become on all of these various online service offerings. Services ran by people that may not necessarily have my best interests or those of my neighbors at the front of mind.
This was indeed a concerning realization.
All it takes is one corporation to change their terms of service or end a product offering, and in a seeming instant, years of platform investment you’ve made is gone. This could look like apps that no longer work, or perhaps a service that used to be free suddenly representing a not-so-small budget line item you’re now on the hook to pay every month.
Just from Google alone – I’ve been personally affected by a number of product eliminations where useful services were killed seemingly without cause. The list they’ve shutdown is extensive and they’re not alone.
Of course, personal privacy represents another risk area one is exposed to while having so much data on 3rd party cloud services. Algorithms and services that never sleep constantly reading our emails, monitoring our listening and streaming habits, and never forgetting our internet searches is something we’ve come to accept as a reality of modern living.
Enough is enough. Privacy and independence are worth some sacrifice.
In 2022, I decided make a concerted effort to pull back a bit from dependency on all of these services and reduce some exposure of my private life to the infamous algorithms.
I shutdown my Instagram and TikTok accounts.
These two services with their short-form video swipe algorithms had learned me to a T. As a result, hours of my life were being sucked away every week by systems that were building advertiser profiles around me and selling it to the highest bidder. Actually putting words to that and realizing what was going on still makes me uncomfortable to this day, and I’ve had these accounts deleted for months now. It definitely feels better knowing those services no longer have a role in my life.
I canceled my online Apple Music subscription in favor of a self-hosted AirSonic instance.
I was paying Apple and the recording industry every month to listen to music. In the process, giving them full insight of what my current music tastes were and allowing them to hold that data as long as they see fit. I determined this personal data and the DRM around it was no longer something I was willing to tolerate. Instead of Apple Music, I now purchase MP3 albums and actual physical CDs, rip them, and upload the music I want to hear to a private AirSonic instance. Using the substreamer app, I can still have all the conveniences of on-the-go streaming without surrendering privacy here or having to pay monthly fees.
I setup a private server to host my email instead of Gmail.
This transition was a major win for personal privacy and digital independence. While email is inherently insecure – I determined that allowing Google to host it and read everything going in and out of my inbox was insult to injury and far more private data exposure risk then I was willing to tolerate. Getting away from Gmail was actually surprisingly simple. All you need to do is spin up a VPS somewhere and follow the script here.
I setup a blog to update friends/family on life instead of relying on Facebook.
This very post represents an on-going effort to transition away from Facebook. I’m not planning to share anymore life updates, writings, videos, etc on Facebook or Meta platforms. Too many data privacy concerns for me to feel comfortable there at this point. Plans for the future include finding a way to manage my business pages without a Facebook account and deleting it all together at some point. This is a work in progress but that’s the general trajectory.
I switched to Signal as the primary instant messenger of choice instead of iMessage and Viber.
iMessage and Viber both are closed-source applications where I can’t review how they may or may not be utilizing my private data to build advertiser profiles or other questionable data practices. While switching to the open-source Signal messenger doesn’t fully resolve these concerns (iOS, the current mobile platform I’m on is closed source) it’s a partial step towards the eventual plan of either ditching smartphones entirely, or more likely, switching to one with a clean verifiable ecosystem of no corporate spyware loaded by default.
We’ve got a long way to go, and a short time to get there.
Lasting change is often the result of small focused steps towards the desired outcome. The actions taken so far may seem small, but together represent a meaningful stride towards reclaiming some digital independence from our corporate overlords. It’s a long journey to reduce dependence on these services and the road is definitely a daunting one. However, I believe the end result is worth some struggle, change, and sacrifice. Consider a reflection on your own digital dependence and privacy – perhaps you might join the trail with me! I’d love the company.