Breaking Away From Google

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership.

S2: Welcome to if then the show about how technology is changing our lives and our future. I’m Aaron Mac.

S3: Hey everyone welcome to them. We’re coming to you from Slate and Future Tense a partnership between Slate Arizona State University and New America. We are recording this on the afternoon of Tuesday September 17th. On today’s show we’ll be talking to Nathan coca a journalist who has abstained from using any Google products for over a year. We’ll discuss why he did it and what alternatives he used and whether he thinks that other people can easily do this as well. I’ll also ask for his thoughts on how this experiment has formed his thinking about anti-trust and big tech.

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S4: After the interview my colleague Shannon Polis will join me if don’t close my tabs where we talk about the best things we saw on the web this week. That’s all coming up on that.

S5: It’s hard to imagine life without Google. The company whose parent Alphabet is the fourth largest tech company in the world seems to be involved in everything we do on the Internet. More than 90 percent of web searches are conducted through Google and think about Gmail gaokao docs drive hangouts chrome maps Android YouTube. These services are so popular and intertwined that it might seem impossible to stop using Google products altogether. But journalists nothing Coco did just that for more than a year. He’s abstain from using anything made by Google to figure out just how hard it is to live outside the company’s bubble. Nothing chronicled his journey in two medium articles. He writes about how it took him six months to find alternative services and finally closes Gmail account and about the sacrifices and surprising benefits of freeing yourself from Google. Now the proposal to break up big tech have entered mainstream discourse and even become a hot topic in the 2020 presidential race. If this experiment is an interesting look into the debate. Nathan thanks for joining us.

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S6: My pleasure. Glad to be here. So where did you first get your idea to abstain from Google.

S7: Yeah. It just came kind of organically. So I’ve been using Google. I was one of one of the first people that joined Gmail when it was still invite only for more than 10 years. And I just kind of gradually I noticed like Google had taken over my life. About two years about two years ago so I think the discussion about monopolies and kind of the growing control of Google Facebook and some of the other tech giants was starting to become like a bigger issue especially among people in the privacy and security communities. And so I thought it just kind of came up like I quit Facebook a couple of years earlier. It was very easy you just close your account and you’re gone. But I thought like quitting Google is a much different kind of beast because they’re like like you mentioned there’s so many Google services we rely upon on so many different sectors. So I just wanted to kind of make it an experiment to see like how difficult would it actually be to do what I did with Facebook with Google. And the second part was like I’d found a lot of guides and kind of tutorials on how to do it but they were very very tech focused there for people who are programmers are very very deep into the open source community and I wanted to take it from more like a consumer perspective like someone who knows a little bit about technology but doesn’t allow me to actually like set up an alternative to Google for life.

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S2: So you usually were you using mostly Google services before you decided to quit.

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S7: I was a Yeah I think G.M. was my primary email. I just kind of defaulted to Google search. I had an Android phone. Google Docs was like where I kept most of my kind of important organs I organizing spreadsheets and pitch documents and even collaborative work stuff. So yeah I was I had several several gigabytes of data on Google.

S2: And so what kind of rules did you set for yourself for this experiment. Were there any shortcuts or loopholes you wanted to avoid like. Were you okay using another big companies services.

S7: Yeah I wanted to try I’d set some guidelines. I wanted to like focus on privacy centric alternatives and I wanted to as much as possible kind of control my own data with the caveat that I’m not a programmer and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time setting up something that was overly complicated so I avoided using tools from any other. I didn’t want to switch to like Microsoft or Apple as an alternative. So I did try to find kind of smaller privacy oriented companies or open source alternatives as much as possible.

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S2: So you mentioned privacy. Were there any other criteria that you were using when you were trying to searching for these alternatives.

S7: Oh the most important thing for me was usability. Like I didn’t want to sacrifice very much in terms of functionality. A lot of the initial ones I tested were just too user unfriendly or required you to kind of understand how to use a programming language or understand how to connect things on back ends which I wasn’t. Which was just too much of a time suck for me. So I wanted it. I wanted to like get as much of the user experience I was getting with Google which was for the most part pretty good with these alternatives as possible.

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S2: And I guess what were you trying to achieve by doing this why do this extremely inconvenient thing were using. Was this something you’re trying to prove or was this a personal kind of quest.

S7: It started as like a personal quest because I just want to see how difficult it would be. And it kind of turned into something bigger because once I realized how hard it was about this bigger question that why should it. Why is it so difficult to quit using the tools of one private company online. I was I say about the state of the Internet so turned into a much larger like discussion about just just how much control Google has over like our our digital lives and how much how reliant we’ve become on this one company. So much to the point that I’d like to quit takes several months of dedicated work and transition which doesn’t sound to me like a free market doesn’t sound to me like like you’re really have a choice in the matter.

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S2: So I want to do kind of a lightning round just so listeners can get an idea of the services you used so I’ll name the Google service and you name the alternative.

S7: You found Google Search duck duck go and start page Gmail proton mail chrome Mozilla Firefox Google Calendar using fast email calendar Google Docs and drive next cloud Google maps maps on me and here hangouts Gypsy meet and signal analytics. I’m using Pickwick which they change the name of my Tomo and then Android I’m using lineage which is technically Android fork but it’s like a kind of an open source alternative Android but it’s still based on Android unfortunately.

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S2: OK so out of all those what was the easiest to find.

S7: What was the hardest to find the easiest way was proton mail. It was designed I think for designed for people like me and mine for general specifically and people who their work required them to take privacy seriously and be concerned about the data that they had on their emails but wanted like functionality of Google Gmail. So it’s very similar to Gmail because I have my own domain like switching the email itself was not as big of a hassle it could have been it still was a hassle because some stuff was connected to my email but I could just shift my domain to Proton mail very easily and the most difficult which was really surprising to me was finding an alternative to Google Calendar. There just weren’t very many out there and the ones that were the ones I tested I think I tested like 6 or 7 just were really terrible. One of them I didn’t have time zone functionality I recall like it was just like there are missing these simple things and finally I I found out I didn’t even if it was recommended fast mail as an email alternative for which it was good. But I found it they have a really good calendar tool built in so I’m actually paying for fast mail as a second emails last calendar tool is the closest I found but it’s still not quite as good as Google Calendar. And then I guess another. I still haven’t really found a good alternative to Google Docs like I found. Next cloud and next slide notes does enough but I can’t get the rich editing features of Google Docs without like having a dedicated server or like much more expensive infrastructure.

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S2: So any of these servers is actually better than what Google offers. I mean you mentioned a lot of flaws in your alternatives. Were there any that seemed superior.

S7: Yeah. Well maps not me. I remember when I was using it in Indonesia I found out that it actually had better I had all these walking trails on the platform that weren’t on Google Maps and I actually could find better parts for pedestrians than I could on google maps. So I was surprised I like some of them. Alternative mapping tool was in fact better I think. Yeah. Like using next cloud instead of Google Drive I can actually send people if I need to share a file I can send people like an individual password protected file with access for a short amount of time. So it has a little. Has the ferry functionality actually you can do is a little more adaptable and you can be personalized a little much more than Google Drive where you kind of get the one size fits all. And then I think like now that I’ve been using proton mail I know that a few months ago Google stopped using their inbox function or their inbox tool. They closed it. I’ve just noticed that like every time proton mail makes an improvement it seems to be one that’s actually designed for users. And I feel like with Google in the past when they were making improvements it was designed more for their needs. I think for their data gathering their advertising needs. They weren’t necessarily making improvements for you with users in mind. I’ve noticed these tools are actually a lot of times are getting better because they’re actually taking in my input and taking our user input. And that’s kind of refreshing after so many years of kind of just getting what Google wanted to give you.

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S2: You just mentioned Google Maps and I thought it was interesting that you wrote about how the alternatives seemed to work better in certain countries and on others. What did you see there.

S7: Yeah. So I think I mentioned just now like maps on me really functioned well in Indonesia but I recall like when I went to. Initially I was using here. When I went to Japan I found that they didn’t have any maps or the whole country. So I had to kind of go back to Google Maps initially and then use maps on me sometimes it’s interesting because I think these projects start up in certain countries when they kind of expand slowly to different regions but there there’s nothing that’s quite global in the same way a Google is. So I do have to kind of use you know two different map apps to kind of as someone who travels a lot to kind of function in different parts of the world even with messaging apps like in some parts of though everyone. WhatsApp is huge everywhere and Google Hangouts is pretty common but I know like some places people use Telegram in some places people use signal in some places people use line you kind of have to be multi-platform but to get away from the ubiquity of Google sometimes so catch me Hill did a similar sort of thing for Gizmodo where he was standing from Google and she found that she was unable to use Uber Lyft without Google Maps.

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S2: Have you found the same thing or anything where an app wouldn’t work because it was relied on a Google service.

S7: One issue I run into a few times is when people send me links to Google so like people often say like let’s meet here and they’ll send me a Google map link and if I open up the map link it will sometimes open on the browser but sometimes I’ll open in whatever language I happen to be in or what country I’m in. So I’ve been I was in Hong Kong it just opens up the link in Cantonese. Our traditional Chinese and I can’t read anything and there’s no way to switch the language on there. So that’s one issue I’ve come into Google. If you’re not. I was quite surprised to find if you don’t have a Google account you can’t change the language on Google. The only way you can change a language is by logging in and shifting and changing the language. So I do have I guess when I’m using some apps I still do have apps on my phone lineage. So it does. I guess I occasionally get Google data. I haven’t gone to the same level that Kashmir Hill went to as I saw that article as well. And I think that was his book though directly blocking all the Google services. I do that to some extent when I’m browsing but I don’t actively like restrict Google from coming to me.

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S2: So were there any services you simply weren’t able to find any alternatives for you mentioned like Google doc editing you’re not able to kind of replicate that anywhere else. Are there any other apps that just seemed like Google really has the only thing.

S7: I think Android is a big one. There’s not really an alternative mobile operating system besides Apple besides I Os and even like things like lineage OS even though it’s an open source project it’s based on Android and is still these will often end up getting Android apps on there it comes installed at some Google apps that you can take off. I was hopeful a year ago that some of these open source projects that were kind of in development for a mobile alternative operating systems would kind of go somewhere does it so far doesn’t seem like any of them really have. So I think in the mobile space is even I guess in many ways worse than the desktops or kind of Internet browsing space because you’re really relying on these two companies and they are the gateways to all these apps and their app stores are almost the only place you can get a lot of these apps like I try using RF droid alternate like an alternative App Store RF droid as much as possible on my phone but there’s not that many apps on there and sometimes I do have to go into the Google Play to get apps or do it through the Google system.

S2: Yeah. So did you find that you were forced a lot to like relapse and use a Google app. No matter how limited it was.

S7: Yeah. Especially on mobile. I think the other example was that as a journalist a lot of publications I write for they use Google Docs as their editing platform. So I was forced to kind of open a second and open a dummy Google account just to edit articles that editors sent me. So a lot of work related stuff. Some companies or some platforms only use Google Apps or Google suite. So I can’t really force them to switch. As a freelancer so I am forced to occasionally go on there and use Google Docs or with mobile because they’re just if I want to have a functioning phone there’s almost no way to have a functioning phone without being on Android.

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S6: OK.

S8: We’re going to take a quick break but we’ll be right back with more from Nathan Coco you mentioned earlier that you were paying for one of your services.

S2: So are most of the services using now free or have you had to pay a bit more to kind of mimic the same functionality that Google had.

S9: Yes. So I think I’m paying for a handful of services now and I accepted that as the fact that Google makes money from my data. If I want to be in control of my data I have to actually pay these services to provide the functionality that Google would get from advertising or another however they use user data. So I think it was something I did bring up a lot of the piece where it’s almost if you want to like be if you want to just use free services there really is no way to replace Google’s functionality you have to pay because there’s no way for these providers to provide the same functionality or similar tools without charging users or going to Google model of using your data. So I pay for proton mail I pay for my fast mail calendar. I think I pay for a couple of other services. And of course I pay for my web server to host next cloud. It’s not an incredibly high cost. I think it’s. It ends up being the same cost of like owning a planner or kind of what I would be doing in the digital age to be organized paper planner kind of those kind of. Those kind of things. So it’s not a huge cost but it is a cost and I know not everyone can pay that cost.

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S2: Right. Would you have an estimate for someone who wants to leave Google like around how much that would cost to have all the same features.

S9: I think I’d end up paying about one to hundred dollars a year.

S2: All my services including the host hosting you right at one point that it was especially difficult to transfer and close your gmail account. Can you walk us through what you had to do to finally close it.

S9: Yeah. So the issue was not anything to do with Google. It actually was that I had registered my e-mail address with some banks and some other Web sites. I mean for some of them like your email was your unique identifier so they actually did not have the functionality for you to actually change your email on the backend. So I had to like call in or go through like a very complicated process to actually get the e-mails changed and sometimes I would actually go through that process and get the email changed and they would still continue sending emails to my old e-mail address because their system wasn’t I wasn’t able to actually process the change and I realized like its problem is partly because people don’t change their email addresses anymore which kind of keep the same Google Gmail address for years and years. And I remember like when I was using hotmail and in the early days like 15 20 years ago blank I would change e-mail addresses every six months and it was I don’t remember that being a hassle because I think it was a lot more common. So I was surprised how like a lot of databases and kind of platforms were just not able to deal with that kind of what I thought would be a simple thing. And it got to the point where some I think there’s still like two or three accounts where I have to use my gmail as my log in but it was Dave the log and it’s still my old email address even though it sends e-mails and finally connects to my new e-mail because they are just no way for them to actually change that on their end.

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S2: So what accounts were the hardest to kind of disconnect from that use your gmail address.

S9: They were mostly like smaller services. In my member one was like fast track. So how you pay the bridge tolls in the Bay Area and that one was very complicated. Clipper card which is like the automatic payment for transit was really difficult. So things like that like I think ones that maybe don’t have as updated infrastructure one car one car sharing app I use also had to had problems with that they actually had to close my account and open a new account because they couldn’t to actually change my email address.

S2: So what happened then when people tried to send you a Google calendar invite or connect with you over hangouts or you know send you a Google map link. I mean did you have to convince them to do something else or was it mostly work on your end.

S9: Yeah that’s a good question. I would try try to play like a middle game where I want to kind of convince pushed people to give me an alternative but I don’t want to make it annoying for hangouts I would always I would regularly try to people like hey can we use ditzy meat or can we use Skype instead. Especially as I found out even if you don’t have a Google account you have to use Chrome to use Hangouts properly. It doesn’t work on Firefox or another browser anymore. And then with with maps like when if I’m in the U.S. I can always open it up and take a screenshot and kind of at least get the address down and stick it in my map when I’m abroad and I get the Lincoln its shows up in another language I can’t read I need to like ask them like please can you said just send me the address and text so I can look it up myself. It should be simple but sometimes is quite a hassle for people. And then calendar invites. How did you handle that. I would just say it takes a little bit more work but I had to just manually enter everything into my calendar. I think it’s kind of incredible that there’s not like an standard kind of calendar API or that you can just link to any calendar in the world any calendar app sometimes calendar invite would come as like an attachment to an email that I couldn’t open that attachments I would have to ask them to copy and paste it so I could see it. And then the more complicated thing was like people would sometimes ask me to send them calendar invites because they rely on calendar and then I would have to tell them like I don’t use Google calendar I can’t send you an invite I can send you one on my app. I think there was one instance for the person like ended up not wanting to do the meeting because of that just pretty shocking. But for most part people will be flexible if you communicate.

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S2: Yeah I mean did you ever feel like you were burdening or convincing people by sticking to the new no Google policy. How hard would you push before you. I mean would you ever relent.

S9: If someone really needed to use a Google service. Yeah I guess I guess I rent I relent with google docs with publications so I don’t push there for the most part like it hasn’t been. Hasn’t cut been a huge issue because oh I mean yeah. Besides Google Docs it hasn’t been a huge issue in terms of me having to push back. I think people are pretty open and I think especially over the past year since I quit Google I think I’ve noticed more and more people are kind of open to the idea like these companies have a lot of power and we should maybe consider putting reins on their power kind of understand their role in society. So I’m seeing a lot more openness to alternatives people that article I wrote on google it was a really amazed me as like how it sustained readership over one year and even today I get emails and comments people asking for advice that people telling me they’re also thinking about quitting. So yeah I think there is growing awareness of that there’s a problem and I think people want solutions but there is I think what I wanted to add to the debate was like but there’s no easy solution out there and that’s also part of the problem right.

S2: I mean do you think the average person is going to be able or motivated enough to do something like this.

S9: No. And I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s possible for the average person to quit at this stage. And it shouldn’t be that hard for someone to quit. People should be able to move their data and people should be able to switch services easily. And I think it’s kind of that I think it’s interesting to see how it’s becoming a discussion among the Democratic debates and you’re seeing policies out there about regulating big big tech more and you’re starting to see more government action in Europe and in Japan. So I think there is more realisation like consumers can only do so much and actually we can’t do that much anymore at this stage. So there has to be better regulations. I think that’s that’s really I think my I think my experience shows that as well like I don’t I can’t expect anyone to take six months to find what find services that they want and still have to kind of suffer a little bit perpetually.

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S2: I mean so if we were to break up Google do you think that would address a lot of the issues you ran into while you were trying to quit it.

S9: I think breaking it up would address some of the issues. I think what I would like to see more is like forced interoperability. It should be easy to move your data from one e-mail service to another should be easy to like Lake my fast mail calendar with any calendar app out there like things should be able to communicate and be interoperable a lot more so that switching is no longer a hassle it’s just a click. So I think what I’d like to see is more like open standards between different email platforms and services. I don’t want the standard to be Google the standard should be something decided ideally by a third party or by ideally with privacy and security in mind. Breaking up Google I think would have some impact but if it’s is just breaking up Google and having like Gmail be a independent email operator it’s not really solving the problem of being of one company kind of dominating email or search. So I’d like Yeah I’d like to see kind of more and maybe more creative more. I’d like to see more creative solutions that kind of address some of the core problems that are there.

S2: Yeah that’s interesting I think that would really kind of be a big barrier for me to try to do something like this as it’s just so convenient to have calendar and Gmail and drive all in the same place and compatible with one with with each other. I mean what is it like to have all these disparate apps that might not communicate that well with each other.

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S9: Yeah. It just means I’m doing a lot of things a lot more manually than probably you are. So I’m entering everything to my calendar manually I’m no longer just click yes and accept the event and it shows up automatically I have to manually enter my contacts I have to directly spend a little bit time linking my contacts to my contacts app on my phone doesn’t sync automatically or initially doesn’t sync automatically if I had a google account everything syncs easily though so it’s it’s a little more effort at every at every stage and I understand I’m willing to put that time in because I like having control of my data but I can see like what most people that’s not going to be a willing trade off is just gonna be too much of a hassle. But if things are interoperable then you wouldn’t have that tradeoff. So you could use a different contacts app and it was still linked to your email you would consider doing that. I think more people would be willing to make that transition.

S8: And that stage at that point Okay we’re gonna take another quick break and then we’ll continue our conversation with Nathan Koga.

S2: Have there been any benefits in general or is there anything that’s tangibly more convenient or is it just kind of a higher sense of not being attached to this one company.

S9: I think that’s a big part of. But I do feel like I know where all my data is now and I have kind of control of it and it’s feels very tangible to be able to say like. To be able to like see and kind of keep it in my own space and have control of my own data as I get a little better I would like linking things I find that I can kind of create kind of functionality and platform free like environment for work that’s a lot more adaptable to my to my exact needs than I was able to under Google where I was kind of forced to do things as Google decides I can organize my next cloud in a way that helps me like function better as a journalist that I couldn’t do a google drive necessarily even though perhaps with Google Drive it’s it’s connected more interconnected with all my other apps I can kind of setup things a little better than I would have otherwise. The main takeaway is like I feel a lot more empowered I feel better like knowing that my data is in my own hands I know like now that I’ve already quit Google if I want to switch to a new service it’s a lot easier now that I’ve taken I kind of first like step away if I wanted to go from time mail to another e-mail address I would not be nearly as big of a hassle. Similarly I can switch kind of cloud services very very easily. So kind of now I have a lot more freedom than I did before. And so this powerful data like I can easily change I’m not stuck with any of these services I’m still testing you on. I’m still looking for new alternatives. I can kind of explore and kind of play with different technologies which reminds me like the internet when I first joined in the early 2000s when I was like always trying different services. I feel kind of regain that little spirit of exploration online.

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S2: Do you think you could go even further at some point like would you be able to avoid anything hosted by Google or you mentioned that you were in trying to block Google from coming to you. I mean do you think you could ever sustain if we do that.

S9: I don’t know. Probably not one. One funny complaint I get from people is like they’re surprised that my name still shows up on Google. They’re like quick google but you can still google you can still go to your Web site. I guess there is a way I could like take myself off Google search if I really wanted to but then I would really be like cutting myself off from everything. So it’s not really that’s not really feasible. I think there’s always going to be some relationship I have to have with Google. As long as they’re in this position of being dominating 90 percent of search and kind of controlling so much of traffic flows online and mobile Yeah I don’t know what would that would be. The next step I think I’ve gone as far as I can at this stage I think what I will have to change in the future for me to go further is kind of the state of technology and regulations and like if there is new alternatives or if new things happen with block chain that allow for a different way for me to experience and kind of use and communicate maybe I would be willing to try that out but I think at this stage I’m happy with where I am and I I’ve gone as far as I think is feasibly possible for someone that’s not a coder or a programmer or a Google service that you miss the most that you know if you could just use again it would make your life so much easier. Yeah goes back to calendar I think calendar. I remember when it came out it really like made everything so much easier in terms of just to be organized and it was a first like multifunction calendar tool I’ve ever encountered. One thing I definitely miss is like being able to access public calendars for things like holidays or football games or other types of events they can just quickly put in pull into your calendar. So I think the calendar function. I I still miss and I being able to easily send invites. Being able to easily accept invites or be able to go to Eventbrite or meet up and immediately have that show up on your calendar. I do miss that sometimes. Like it I think Google makes good products. I never buy it. My intention of quitting was never to say that they’re a bad company and they’re happy that they’re making bad products. It was that they have too much control and too much power and I wanted to quit cause I didn’t have a choice to quit right.

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S2: So I mean do you think you’ll be able to do this long term like five years from now.

S10: Do you think you’ll still not be using Google is it getting exhausting at all and you just want to go back or do you think this is something you could just do indefinitely.

S9: I have not considered even once going back since I quit. I’ve been I’ve been very happy. I mean sometimes I miss certain functionality but overall like I’m very happy to be in control of my data and to not be part of that ecosystem anymore. So for Fred that at least the time being I don’t see myself going back but I don’t know. I think things are gonna be really really different in five years in terms of technology. So it’s really it’s gonna depends on how things evolve and how things change over the next few years. I’m interested to see where we’ll be where this discussion will be and like one or two years. Like what do you think of Google then. What will be the state of privacy and what will be the state of big tech in the future. I think there’s gonna be a lot of interesting discussions to come in the next few years about how we kind of how we regulate these companies and I also think it’s interesting that there are a lot of interesting alternatives coming out and people working on alternatives. I think there’s more search engines now than where a year ago there’s moral alternative emails secure email tools and a year ago. So there are there is like a burgeoning space for people who are interested in privacy and secure alternatives and Google alternatives. Yeah I don’t know what the future is going to bring but I feel more optimistic now than it did a year ago.

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S2: Do you think you could eventually quit some or all of the major platforms like would you ever consider abstaining from Amazon or Apple or anything like that.

S9: Yeah. Apple is easy because I’m not. I don’t have Apple products to abstain from. I recall in that article by cashmere Hill about how she also tried to quit Amazon Web Services and remember that being a super interesting part because it sounded like that was actually the most difficult one because Amazon actually is a lot of traffic is hosted on Amazon servers across the Internet. So I don’t know. Yeah. I don’t use Amazon very much as a platform to buy stuff that I’m probably using Amazon Web Services all the time and I don’t even realize it. So that seems to me like another level of being disconnecting. I’ve been trying to quit using WhatsApp for up for a while it’s just it’s more challenging to me because I would actually lose contact with friends and it would be harder to work in certain countries if I quit WhatsApp. So it’s been tougher because there there isn’t really alternative in some places like India and in Indonesia where people even send press releases on WhatsApp and not email. So I’m yeah I’m considering like slowly considering which ones I don’t want to use. Which ones I still want to use. It’s a constant tradeoff between privacy and security and data integrity.

S3: Nathan thanks for joining us. My pleasure. Thank you for having me. All right. We’re gonna take one final quick break and then Shannon Polis will join me. Don’t close my tabs or we’ll talk about the best things we saw on the web this week.

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S10: OK. Now it’s time for. Don’t close my tabs. Joining me now is my colleague Shannon Polis who will be hosting the show next week. Hey Shannon Herrin. So my tab this week is a cover story in Wired titled The Tell Tale Heart which is a fitting Edgar Allan Poe reference. The piece follows the investigation into the murder of a 67 year old woman in California. Police eventually arrested her 90 year old stepfather using evidence they gathered from a neighbors ring surveillance camera and the victim’s Fitbit. So basically what they found was that the step dad’s car was in the victim’s driveway for around 20 minutes. And within that period the victim’s Fitbit recorded that her heart rate had accelerated and then dropped to zero which indicates that there was maybe some sort of struggle and then she was killed. Fitbit also said that she stopped moving from that time until her body was found. So the piece sort of examines the reliability of using a Fitbit for a murder investigation. These kind of devices can foresee record heart rates and then sometimes classify like piano playing for example as strenuous exercise. So it’s not really meant to be a tool for criminal investigations. But then again they should be able to track a zero heartbeat pretty easily. So the whole thing is just a really interesting look into how these Internet of Things devices are becoming crucial to police work. And so the complications that are going to arise around that.

S11: That’s so creepy. Yeah exactly. My first instinct is that you know maybe I should get a Fitbit paranoid about going somewhere alone. But it’s just a weird reminder that there can be upsides I guess to surveillance.

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S12: Would you call this an upside. I guess if it helps you find a killer. That’s an upside. Yes.

S10: So the complicated thing about this case is that the the man accused of the murder actually passed away before they could go to trial. So I think it’s tough to say just how reliable a fit that was. And then if it was reliable whether that I guess quote unquote surveillance is appropriate I guess it’s worth noting though that the fit that was on the victim rather than on the suspect himself. So I think that kind of changes the equation a little bit. How do you think that changes the equation. Yeah. So I feel like in surveillance discussions it’s usually reduced to talking about the privacy of the accused. That’s kind of how the constitution is set up as you were looking at the rights of people who could be imprisoned. Of course victim privacy is important. But I feel like in these conversations is usually focused on the perpetrator or the accused.

S11: And were they able to use the fact that evidence in court or was the conclusion that this just isn’t reliable enough device for this purpose.

S10: Yes the judge allowed it. I mean this has been used as evidence before in previous cases and they even considered using Fitbit data to try to track down Jamal Khashoggi when he was when he went missing. So it is becoming a more popular method of these sorts of crimes and disappearances.

S11: It’s so creepy you just think of like a Fitbit is like a fine sort of happy piece of technology you’ve exposed to like help you get your stuff counted and to have that help a murder case be solved just sort of concur with the general cause shot of the fit that.

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S10: Right exactly and you know if it’s suppose to be for fitness it does raise questions about whether we can really reliably use this as a method of investigating crimes. Yeah I think in the future we’ll we’ll be running into this a lot more and we’ll have to sort out how exactly we want to use this in the courts. So what’s your tap this week my have is.

S11: Who would I be without Instagram an investigation. It’s by Tavi Gevinson who for the uninitiated was a star pre-teen fashion blogger turned the founding editor in chief of Turkey which is a publication for smart teens and smart personal essays and kind of a Internet response to teen magazines and the content about weight loss and boys that is usually aimed at girls and rookie was really successful culturally. But in this essay TAVI reveals that or I learned for the first time at least that she had never been taking a salary from rookie including when she was editing the magazine in her late teens and early 20s. And during that time she was doing some sponsored posts for a fancy apartment building that she lived in. And you know generally trying to make some money as an influencer in addition to being an actor and she grapples with using her face to make money in this essay. And I found a very good and well-written but also very frustrating because here’s this woman who is this star creator and star editor and star writer and still Instagram is what allowed her to pay her bills and like various specifically like using her face and kind of her like sensibility for luxury and all these kind of traditional trappings of success. And there is one point in the piece where she ends up kind of quitting Instagram and instead has a personal assistant look at Instagram for her and write down all of the comments that you know might be constructive and useful. And she sends us woman photos and captions to post and it just made me think that you know a hundred years from now. Rich people are going to have other people deal with their social media feeds and then everybody in the middle tier is going to have to be out there experiencing the psychological damage and maybe that’s exactly what’s happening right now and we just haven’t totally realized it.

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S2: Yeah I noticed that you I think mentioned on slack yesterday that this made you kind of think about your own career as a writer and kind of questioning how what it means to be like a public figure nowadays. Yup.

S11: I Yeah. I just feel like there’s it made me very hyper aware that there is kind of a ceiling with where creative work in general can get you at one point she mentions you know she’s living in this apartment building those really fancy and doing spine con for them and doing spinal cord for other brands I think. And that one sponsored Instagram now wasn’t an Instagram sorry one day like doing a fashion photo shoot where she was basically a model working as a model for one day paid more than doing like a week’s worth of independent theater productions. Some some absurd number of plays that she was then combines like did not total the pay from being a model. And that was just certainly a stark reminder for my own career as a creative person who does not have the ability naturally wishes to have the ability to earn a primary source of income by posting pictures of my apartment buildings roof on Instagram.

S12: Yeah I only skimmed this piece but you get the sense that a lot of writers and actors are now doing spawned con to subsidize their their income or I think it’s probably just the more famous people I don’t have the sense that like folks at Slate certainly are you know shilling for Doritos on the side.

S11: In fact I think that would be not allowed. But I think you know she compared it she was trying to figure out a way for rookie her magazine to survive financially and people kept telling her you know you have to be the face of rookie in the way that like Oprah is the face of Oprah. So I think that this way forward of having publications survive on the basis of like a celebrity charismatic beautiful personality at the forefront. I think that could end up affecting us all a little bit more than we want it to in the future right.

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S10: Yeah it seems like Instagram could kind of encourage that model of the charismatic editor who makes money off of spawn on how you say it now though I almost think that like it but because that is the old model of magazines like you know winter is long.

S11: You hear about like the old days in magazines where editors like you know took cabs upstate after work and expense did and went out to fancy dinners and had people cut their hair work and it was all about like looking beautiful and Instagram sort of slots into that model. I guess it’s just for whatever reason it is happening now in this way. And it sucks. This was supposed to be the fun tab. Exactly.

S3: All right. That’s our show. You can e-mail us at it then at Slate dot com. Send us your tech questions show and get suggestions or just say hi. You can also follow me on Twitter. I met Aaron T Mac. Thanks again to our guests Nathan coca and thanks to everyone who has left as a comment or review on Apple podcasts or whatever platform you use to listen. We really appreciate your time. If there is a production of Slate in future tense.

S4: A partnership between Slate Arizona State University and New America. If you want more of Slate’s tech coverage sign up for the future tense Newsletter every week you’ll get news and commentary on how tech advances are changing the world in ways small and large. Sign up at Slate dot.com slash future news. Our producer is Justin Dee right. Thanks also to Rosemary Belson who engineered for us in D.C.. We’ll see you next week.