What Happens When You Kick Google Off Your Phone?
Successes and failures of open source software on your Android phone
Writing in 1972 for Rolling Stone magazine, Stewart Brand described the nascent ARPANET (the computer network which would one day evolve into the modern Internet) with a mix of hope and unease that could be translated surprisingly well in the modern era. “How Net usage will evolve is uncertain,” wrote Brand.
There’s a curious mix of theoretical fascination and operational resistance around the scheme. The resistance may have something to do with reluctances about equipping a future Big Brother and his Central Computer. The fascination resides in the thorough rightness of computers as communications instruments, which implies some revolutions.
The revolutions came. An entire generation has grown up with access to the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. We also see today’s internet “resistance.” The extent to which a few technology companies now almost totally embody, enable, or support the services we depend upon has dawned on our collective consciousness only lately. It is not uncommon to find articles describing efforts to try — and typically to fail — to eliminate major technology companies from our daily lives, even temporarily.
A certain acceptance of futility is necessary for any experiment in limiting access of technology companies to one’s private life.
These attempts are unsuccessful because Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft provide “infrastructural platforms” — cross-cutting services that support and connect a multitude of other companies and markets. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are the de facto hosting solutions for a vast number of other services. Google has a 92% market share of search, the primary way for people to find content. Google and Facebook together constitute 60% of the online advertising market. Each possesses a broad swath of data collection mechanisms, including their own platforms, their partners, and tracking utilities, which enable them to surveil us as we traverse the internet. As José Van Dijck, Thomas Poell, and Martijn de Waal point out in their book, The Platform Society: