February 22, 2022

Are you in a toxic relationship with Big Tech?

After many years of ups and downs it’s time to ask ourselves: Are we in a toxic relationship with Big Tech?

It was love at first sight: When the internet first came into our lives, everything was fun and new. Suddenly there were new ways to communicate with each other, shop from the comforts of our homes, and meet new people from across the world. It was a real honeymoon phase. We felt carefree and happy, and really did believe that the internet would bring only good to the world.

But in the whirlwind of this budding romance, we also overlooked some early warning signs. It was only later that we realized that the “free” services we were using were secretly making money off us by exploiting our personal data.

Today, the internet has become a vital part of the daily lives of people across the world. While we’ve witnessed the rise of Big Tech companies and their services in the past decade, our initial bubble has started to burst. By now, many people have come to realize that most of our online data is sold, manipulated, stolen, or in many cases all of the above. On a daily basis, we’re presented with annoying ads that follow us around the web or worse, our data is exposed or used in malicious ways without our approval. We know that our relationship with Big Tech comes at the cost of our privacy. In fact, a recent Startpage survey found that nearly three-quarters (72%) of Americans say they are “very concerned” to “extremely concerned” about their online privacy, yet most stall at taking any significant action. Another study revealed that 57% of online dating users are concerned or very concerned about how much data those services collect about them, but still continue to use them.

It seems those carefree days with Big Tech are long gone. When it comes to analyzing the status of our relationship, we’re definitely not happy. But while we know something is broken, many end up staying. It’s time to ask ourselves: Are we in a toxic relationship with Big Tech?

A recent poll amongst Startpage users on Twitter revealed that 65% of users would describe their relationship with Big Tech as “complicated”.

How do you know whether you are in a toxic relationship?

When it comes to real relationships, there’s a long list of support and advice columns out there to help you make an informed decision about the future of your union. But what about our all-consuming relationship with Big Tech?

Let’s put our relationship to Big Tech to the test: Here are 5 signs of an unhealthy relationship.

1) You are being isolated from others

Wasn’t one of the fantastic things the internet offered that it would improve our access to information? Well, that didn’t work out as planned, as we’re each being pushed into personalized worlds and thereby being isolated from other views and opinions. Whether or not the filter bubble still applies: We all know that what we see online is being decided by algorithms and based on our individual profiles. While this phenomenon also exists offline, at least there you can actively determine your filter bubble. Online it’s Big Tech choosing what sources are presented to you, thereby keeping you in a more narrow and personalized world.

2) They are tracking everything you do

As much as you may love them, you wouldn’t want your partner to start following you around everywhere you go and check through your shopping history, phone and other private communication, would you? In fact, you’d probably be thinking about filing a restraining order. Meanwhile Big Tech is recording and auctioning off all your personal data. From sensitive search queries and shopping histories to social posts featuring your child’s face in them — these bits of personal data are saved and sold every second.Want to know what Big Tech knows about you? Basically everything.

3) Things are happening without your consent

In a partnership, consent is when one person agrees to or gives permission to another person to do something based on the knowledge of what it involves, the expected consequences and with the option to say “no”.  If we translate this concept to our relationship with Big Tech, things are not looking so rosy. It’s difficult to comprehend what goes on behind your back when you’re online, because trackers and cookies are invisible to the eye. But according to research, 87 percent of the world’s most popular web domains engage in digital tracking. Were you aware of that? Probably not.Even the cookie consent banners, which were supposed to ensure that website users consent to any tracking activities, ended up being counterproductive. Although people wanted to have a choice to reject data tracking, the cookie banners were quickly deemed annoying, thereby creating unnecessary negative connotations over privacy legislation.

The practices got so bad that the NGO noyb.eu sent over 500 draft complaints to companies who use unlawful cookie banners – making it the largest wave of complaints since the GDPR came into force. And only recently, the EU ruled that cookie banners were in breach of GDPR and posed “great risks to the fundamental rights” of Europeans. While it still remains to be seen what comes out of these recent actions, one thing is clear: when it comes to our consent, website providers have a lot to answer for.

4) You are not equals in the relationship

A relationship can be defined as unequal when there’s an imbalance of power between partners. In an unhealthy relationship, there’s typically one partner that holds all the power over the other. Generally speaking, if your partner and their needs continuously dominate the relationship without much concern for your own feelings, that’s bad news.When it comes to our digital lives, we have already established that Big Tech basically knows everything about us. And what exactly do we know about them?

5) They don’t respect your boundaries and request for privacy

Even when we do try to reign in Big Tech, we quickly hit a brick wall. Decline all cookies? You will find that many websites stop working. Want to limit companies collecting data on you? Oh, but you can only log in to this website with an account from another Big Tech service. You might crave more privacy online, but the reality is that Big Tech is not going to give it to you, as long as they don’t have to.

Let’s be honest: Looks like Big Tech failed our relationship health-check on all fronts. So, what now?

How to turn a toxic relationship into something positive

Sometimes, we stay in toxic relationships, because we remember the fun we had in the beginning. We want to believe that things can be different and give way too many chances to partners who will never change their ways. And not all toxic relationships are doomed. Some can change. But it takes time, work and the willingness of both partners to embrace the change. If only one party is working on developing healthy patterns and boundaries, you may be better off packing your bags and saying your farewells.

Here is some relationship advice that can help you guide your next steps:

→ Take off the rose colored glasses and see the relationship for what it really is
We have become so used to the data collection practices of Big Tech companies that we often forget that all that data is actually ours. Without us online, none of these companies would be making the kinds of profits they are currently making. Seems like only one party is reaping the benefits of this union.

→ Accept responsibility
Here’s the thing: when it comes to our privacy, it’s not enough to hope for the right legislation or a change of heart from Big Tech companies. Neither is it helpful to sit by and ignore the problem that is growing with every second we spend on the Internet. We are at a critical turning point in history. We know what happens to our data, we know the consequences, and we have the means at our disposal to take back control of what is rightfully ours. So we shouldn’t waste more time and instead take action now.

→ Figure out your core values and boundaries
Values and boundaries form your personal guidelines and determine what you are prepared to accept. You’re still using certain messaging services because all your friends are on it but have signed off social networks? That’s okay, you don’t have to do everything at once. You have to figure out what works for you. Find the channels that still align with your values, and quit the rest. Every little helps.

→ Get back out there!
Every moving-on process involves taking a look at “what else is out there”. While you’ve been under the spell of Big Tech, you might have overlooked all the other options out there that provide a similar service but respect your privacy. And some of them might actually be a pretty great fit for you if you only gave them a chance. From private search engines like Startpage to secure email providers like StartMail, encrypted messenger Signal, or alternative social media platforms such as Mastodon – there are plenty of services out there for you to try.

And, as in real-life, you might just end up realizing that “the one” you find your happy ending with is not the exciting partner who always puts himself first, but instead the one, you only only noticed at second glance, but who will respect you – and your privacy – every single day.

Was this article helpful?

Go Private

Make Startpage your
default search engine

Set as default