FAANG: How to Fight Back

The violations by FAANG are manifold and overwhelming to internalize in one sitting, but you can take action.

Protecting Yourself

You should know where you want to draw the line about privacy.

Some people think this isn’t a big deal. You might be right. You can choose to not use the service or leave that country.

Avoiding using the services is fine, until they become a monopoly. There’s nowhere left to turn if everyone is using that software for a specific, frequent need, and it may be too late by the time you see a need to take action.

This isn’t a concocted threat made by conspiracy nuts, either. The US intelligence community now pervasively uses ad blockers as of 2021, so there’s merit to the concerns.

Discuss It Openly

At the same time, saying “I have nothing to hide, so I don’t need to stay private” is a bit like saying “I don’t do anything criminal, so I don’t have a problem with a cop following me everywhere I go”. It may be true now, but that’s only as long as you hold fashionable opinions (which can often change in as little as 5-10 years) or as long as you have a safe government (which changes as different large groups gain political power or when individuals in power become corrupt).

To that end, there are many good questions to dismantle their assertion:

  • Why do you have the right to know?
  • What level of trust do you believe you’ve earned?
  • What do you want to do with all this information?
  • How, specifically, will this make things better or help society?
  • Is this the most important thing to spend time and money on?
  • This will create mountains of information that need to be stored, managed, and analyzed:
    • For a private organization, how can this affect corporate profits?
    • For the government, will taxes need to increase to manage it?
  • How long will you store those messages, and will those messages prevent someone from getting a government job later in life?
  • Can anyone in law enforcement have access to this data?
  • What is the process to remove data that may be libelous or cause undue harm to an individual or organization?
  • For a government, will this stored data be used to defend people who have been accused of a crime, or only to prosecute?
  • For a government, are they exclusively responsible for the complete chain of access to this data, or will private organizations be involved who must be trusted to not use it?

The discussion of censorship is a huge matter, and isn’t always as clear as most people think it is.

  • No Vehicles In The Park demonstrates this example plainly.
  • Blocking all nude photos of children, for example, sounds sensible at first, until you consider that doctors sometimes need those photos to save lives.
  • Stopping all illegal activity may sound reasonable, unless the law itself is acting against human rights.

Whenever and as long as you have the freedom, publish the surveillance and censorship you do find (e.g., report it to the news, Atlas of Surveillance).

If you’re in the tech industry, community is security, and it’s worth reaching out to others who can help.

Find Alternatives

You can do some things that will partially solve the problem, but nothing will fully fix the issues if you’ve been a victim of their abuse:

You could step away from all the tech, though it will depend heavily on your career specialization.

  • Consider moving to a smaller city or town, or go as far as homesteading.
  • Reduce your reliance on technology by getting a low- tech phone (e.g., Light Phone).

However, the simplest way to individually take action is to inform yourself and find trustworthy alternatives. Technology makes things cheaper and easier, and recreating most of the things Big Tech has made isn’t as hard as you may imagine. The biggest hurdle is getting non-tech people to adopt it from their current habits.

Tons of hardware and tools are available to avoid the most powerful organizations.

  • Messaging/social media:
    • Move from WhatsApp text messaging to Signal.
  • Web browser:
    • Get away from Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge (Mozilla Firefox is an excellent alternative).
    • Use Firefox’s Containers if you still use Facebook or Google.
  • Search/social media:
  • OS/hardware:
    • Avoid Apple/Microsoft products and switch to Linux-based (especially Manjaro or Zorin OS if you love the UI), though this may be difficult with Microsoft Windows depending on your lifestyle.
    • Avoid Android OS and switch to independently-developed phones like Librem and PinePhone.
      • Unlike other operating systems, Android OS intimately uses GSF (Google Services Framework) and won’t run without it. There’s not a great open-source alternative: MicroG is a decent workaround, but OpenGapps still sends tons of telemetry.
  • Don’t shop on Amazon, buy Amazon products, or work for Amazon.
  • If you’re an organization that uses Big Tech, opt out of most Amazon advertising and Google search enhancement (e.g., AMP), since they aren’t doing much to help you.
  • Get “dumb” technology to serve your purposes:
    • Avoid using Big Tech speaker/microphone combo interfaces (e.g., Alexa, Siri, Cortana) or anything else that can track your data (e.g., Oculus).
    • Instead of getting a “smart” TV, get a computer screen, since it’s basically the same thing with more tracking.
  • Try to avoid anything from China, especially computer hardware and networking equipment manufactured there.

If you do work in the tech sector, you have additional things you can do.

Whenever you do use alternatives, make sure to tell everyone else you know about it. Smaller and open-source projects simply don’t have the presence or advertising budget of their much larger competitors willing to pay for market exposure.

One of the most important things you can do is to advance free, open-source software and schematics, which allows others to re-release and develop separately if the original creator becomes too totalitarian.:

Beyond having the freedom to modify code, open source is also legally enforceable against organizations who don’t honor open code.

Stay Anonymous

Anonymity is the best way to stay private, since large organizations have bigger problems unrelated to you, though that’s not necessarily true if you declare unfashionable things that work against their interests too harshly, too frequently, and too directly.

In case you do get shut down, keep your activities separate to stay safe from complete annihiliation:

  • Make separate work and personal accounts, with each app you’re developing as a separate account.
  • Never, ever login as a personal account with a work-related account already on it, or vice versa.
  • Use separate profiles for work and pleasure (which is also a great productivity trick).
  • When in doubt, use virtual machines to open suspicious things, and open it over a VPN.
  • If you can afford it, have “burner computers” that are known-insecure or that you wipe frequently.
    • If you’re not doing anything computation-intensive (e.g., web browsing), computers in the developed world can be relatively cheap.

Be mindful of what government you’re working with and in. Some of them don’t have laws about privacy, while others operate in the interests of corporations over the individual.

When you’re caught in the crosshairs of Big Tech, the only way to reliably push back is to publicly display what happened. Document everything that happened, and share recordings and screenshots of everything on social media. Often, a company will backpedal on an action, but be prepared to use an alternative platform, since they often only care about their public image and typically won’t indemnify you for your suffering.

Stay Informed

The information for just about anything is readily available on the internet, so do your research if you’re unsure about what you’re hearing.

Before using any software, actually read the terms of service to see what you’re implicitly consenting to.

Use services like Mozilla’s Creep-o-Meter to see how safe you generally are from privacy violations.

Pay close attention to values presented by the topmost parent company of a business, and closely watch any acquisitions or mergers tied to the organizations you use.

  • Try to find worker-owned tech companies, such as with Tech Coops list.
  • Some relatively smaller groups, such as Gab as of 2023, are devoted to fighting Big Tech.

Organizations are often legally required to not inform the public if a government organization (e.g., FBI, NSA, CIA) were to start monitoring their activities. For that reason, many of them place conspicuous “warrant canaries” in clear and public locations (such as a webpage). If there has been no update, the organization’s activities are clearly being monitored.

Learn Cybersecurity

To cut back on the data gleaning, practice good cybersecurity practices and to generally distrust what large organizations say:

  • A large company or government is never entirely trustworthy as long as it’s also a participant in the marketplace it runs.
  • Very often, a company or government will advance a privacy-violating move under the claim of protecting something, which will be whatever people are afraid of (e.g., protecting children, keeping everyone safe, etc.). This has been done before in history, but usually by a government promising to protect people from a foreign threat.
  • Watch carefully for political candidates companies lean toward, irrespective of political platform. Chances are, companies have paid for lobbying in that direction or the political candidates are invested in that company’s stock.
  • Watch for psychological tricks to imply you don’t have power or shouldn’t say anything. If you see something, sharing it outside that siloed group can often create dramatic changes once other powerful people see the injustices committed and see an opportunity to knock their power down a peg.
  • Learn what data a company does have from you or delete it using services such as Own Your Data.
    • If you plan to abandon a social network, delete the posts manually yourself since they can not be trusted to delete the account outright.
  • Follow groups like Take Back Our Tech for more nuanced updates in cybersecurity.

Practice degrees of separation between different entities, and avoid giving too much information:

  • Only use your email address and avoid authentication logins with a Big Tech corporation.
  • Don’t use third-party payment processors. PayPal, Stripe, and Square make life more convenient, but usually don’t add any additional security that your bank doesn’t have.

Many elements are complex enough that it’s worth researching and discussing more in-depth:

  • How do you know what to do if your email is hosted by a company who assists a totalitarian country?
  • What do you do if your information is being harvested by elected criminals?

If you have the skill for it, learn to hack DRM, work outside the mainstream, and generally become more tech-savvy.

Take Political Action

Joining class-action lawsuits (e.g., Facebook User Privacy Settlement) isn’t that useful. They’re dumb lawsuits where attorneys profit no matter who wins.

  • Class action lawsuits mean you can’t dispute an issue with them about that issue later.
  • If it’s small damages below a certain amount (~$5,000), take it to small claims:
    • You won’t need to pay for representation.
    • The cost of the damages is typically not worth the corporation flying their lawyer out to deal with it.

You can, however, take limited political action yourself:

  1. Follow and support the whistleblower groups that call out tech-related corruption, which include individuals connected to:
  2. Help advance political movements to cut down on surveillance and tracking:
  3. Add to the “tracker tracking”:
  4. Directly help groups that actually build open-source and federated tech things:
  5. Assist with groups that legally defend and propagate free use of intellectual properties:
  6. Direct attention toward groups that legally promote that public money should mean public code:
  7. Focus your resources and investments toward smaller organizations and groups labeled as part of the parallel economy:
  8. Don’t let yourself get distracted, or deceived, or influenced by the propaganda and distortion (e.g., follow No Agenda podcast). The battle is against anyone using user data without permission, for any private or public group.

More indirectly, you can contact your government officials to get laws drafted (or enforced) in a few possible directions:

  1. Protect individuals from other organizations collecting and/or using personalized data. The European Union has created the GDPR, which in some ways makes debugging a challenge, but it’s a good start.
  2. Endorse aspects of web scraping (i.e., copying information off the internet). There are efforts to imply copyright law makes this illegal, but the internet is only free when anyone can copy it.
  3. Make the platforms required to give public, uninhibited access to their services (i.e., interoperability). This will allow others to build on their work and spin off variations without requiring others to build everything from scratch, though it wouldn’t necessarily restrict Big Tech from misusing that information.
  4. Keep platforms separate from their users. The platform renders a valuable service, but if they’re moderating content then they’re going too far. The USA’s Section 230 is powerful at regulating this, but the Good Samaritan Clause needs some clarification.
  5. Hold the largest corporations accountable to things that aren’t corporations, such as elected officials or government bureaus. Otherwise, they will be free to act as all-encompassing monopolies while controlling most of the important information people need to live.
  6. Keep an eye on government as well, since censoring content of any form without it violating a specific law (e.g., defamation, sexual exploitation) is essentially a violation of civil rights.
  7. Work to advance legislation that promotes new startups or oppose legislation that maintains large organizational power, which either way will disrupt the systems presently in place.

Do Your Part

If you’re willing to, you can contribute to helping archive the internet yourself:

You can spread awareness every December 16th by honoring International Day Against DRM.

You can also work through legal channels to fight the issues yourself:

Either way, it may not be the hill you want to die on, so make sure you stay as legally safe as possible if it’s not worth your time:

If you are legally savvy, you can take it up with them directly:

If you really want to die on that hill without a legal battle, learn from your predecessors:

Beyond That, Not Much Else

Even with all the above, there’s limits to what you can do:

If you’re a nobody citizen (which most of us are), you’re not worth the time for large entities to harass you. Most people who become fearful of “the conspiracy” feel powerless in the presence of a legitimately powerful group and forget the organization is still merely a bunch of humans.

Empires collapse when the people at large grow restless enough, so staying connected with others in your community is your greatest defense against tyranny, and every empire eventually falls.

Above all, learn to release what you can’t control and find satisfaction with your life.

Image > Reality

The amount of legitimate power from FAANG’s sheer numbers isn’t as scary as it may appear:

  • Amazon had ~1,298,000 employees in 2020, but that includes all their warehousing/logistics.
  • Microsoft had ~181,000 employees in 2021.
  • Apple had ~147,000 employees in 2020.
  • Google had 135,301 employees in 2020.
  • Cisco had ~77,500 employees in 2020.
  • Facebook had 58,604 employees in 2020.
  • Netflix only had ~9,400 employees in 2020.
  • Dropbox only had 2,760 employees in 2020.

Most of Big Tech’s influence is over information, but they don’t necessarily have military power to kill and destroy if they don’t get their way, and a government can always shut them down in that region within 1-2 months if they want.

And sometimes, depending on who is elected and what stock they own, Big Tech mergers and acquisitions are stopped outright by governments:

There’s definitely been growing support toward government action around the Right to Repair, which broadly empowers the individual to choose their services. The government might enforce the Right to Repair, but it’s too soon to tell:

Also, the power plays aren’t strictly a monolithic attempt to subdue unsuspecting individuals. There are gigantic power plays back-and-forth between the large organizations (as well as watchdog journalists) for anti-trust and pro-trust agendas.

Large-Scale Events:

Antagonism vs. Government:

Antagonism vs. Facebook/Meta:

Antagonism vs: Amazon:

Antagonism vs: Apple:

Antagonism vs. Google/Alphabet:

Antagonism vs. Microsoft:

Antagonism vs. Microsoft:

Antagonism vs. Others:

For all the above, many organizations have somewhat scaled back their actions:

It’s also worth noting tech trends move around a ton, and every few decades something tends to upend the value of how people want to use their technology:

  1. IBM once dominated the computer industry with their 360 system. They imagined people wanted the reliable IBM-brand computers more than anything. Microsoft signed a non-exclusive contract with them, and consumers cared more about MS-DOS (and later Windows) on a cheap computer more than whether it was an IBM computer. By the 1990s, IBM was just one of many competitors over hardware.
  2. Microsoft dominated the operating system world for a long time, with Mac and Linux picking up stragglers. However, Linux started taking over server environments by the early 2000s, and by the late 2000s Google had created a vastly superior search engine for what people wanted. As of 2022, Linux is still carving out parts of the desktop market as Windows 11 fails to improve itself.
  3. While I write this in 2023, people are getting tremendously concerned with Google’s lack of consideration for individual users’ privacy. It’s only a matter of a few years before a legitimately privacy-respecting operating system, search engine, and browser take over from the studious efforts of a clever software developer.