Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

An Experiment in Blocking Use of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft

Kashmir Hill, Gizmodo:

Maybe you’re in the camp of people who worry that these companies have too much access to our purchases, our movements, our social networks — and perhaps even our thoughts. Maybe you’re disturbed by the concentration of so much economic power in a handful of companies built on the West Coast’s [fault lines][fl]. Or maybe you want them to have less insight into your life so they have less sway over our society. But how? How do you reduce their power? Is it even possible?

The common retort to these concerns is that you should “just stop using their services.” So I decided to try.

In the first week, she tried blocking Amazon:

Amazon is not just an online store — that’s not even the hardest thing to cut out of my life. Its global empire also includes Amazon Web Services (AWS), the vast server network that provides the backbone for much of the internet, as well as Twitch.tv, the broadcasting behemoth that is the backbone of the online gaming industry, and Whole Foods, the organic backbone of the yuppie diet.

Keeping myself from walking into a Whole Foods is easy enough, but I also want to stop using any of Amazon’s digital services, from Amazon.com (and its damn app) to any other websites or apps that use AWS to host their content. To do that, I enlist the help of a technologist, Dhruv Mehrotra, who built me a custom VPN through which to route my internet requests. The VPN blocks any traffic to or from an IP address controlled by Amazon. I connect my computers and my phone to the VPN at all times, as well as all the connected devices in my home; it’s supposed to weed out every single digital thing that Amazon touches.

Ultimately, though, we found Amazon was too huge to conquer.

I think this is a fascinating project. I could give up Amazon’s online store for the rest of my life with little difficulty, but because the company’s long reach has gone largely unchecked, it’s now such an integral part of the internet that I don’t think it would be possible for me to forego everything that is dependent on their services. I find that pretty alarming.