Critics of the big tech companies are often told, “If you don’t like the company, don’t use its products.” My takeaway from the experiment was that it’s not possible to do that. It’s not just the products and services branded with the big tech giant’s name. It’s that these companies control a thicket of more obscure products and services that are hard to untangle from tools we rely on for everything we do, from work to getting from point A to point B.
Many people called what I did “digital veganism.” Digital vegans are deliberative about the hardware and software they use and the data they consume and share, because information is the power, and increasingly a handful of companies seem to have it all.
There were two very different types of reaction to the story. Some people said that it proved just how essential these companies are to the American economy and how useful they are to consumers, meaning regulators shouldn’t interfere with them. Others, like Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and ex officio member of the House’s antitrust committee, said at the time that the experiment was proof of their monopolistic power.
“By virtue of controlling essential infrastructure, these companies appear to have the ability to control access to markets,” Mr. Nadler said. “into some basic ways, the problem is the not unlike what we faced 130 years ago, when railroads transformed American life — both enabling farmers and producers to access new markets, but also creating a key chokehold that the railroad monopolies could exploit.”
If I were still blocking the tech giants today, I wouldn’t have been able to watch this week’s antitrust hearing online. C-SPAN streamed it live via YouTube, which Google owns.
After the experiment was over, though, I went back to using the companies’ services again, because as it demonstrated, I didn’t really have any other choice.