Basics

About the Opt Out Project

Three alternative cell phones, circa 2016
Three alternative cell phones I hacked in 2016, looking for alternatives to Apple iOS and Android. Left to Right: Sailfish 1.0, Mozilla FirePhone, and Ubuntu Touch. Janet Vertesi

I started opting out in 2012 when I stopped using Google tools and deleted my account. Since then I have built up a treasure trove of knowledge, devices, and services aimed at keeping me and my family away from the evils of data-collecting algorithmic systems.

The last ten years have seen me doing things that most people, honestly, thought were crazy. Now, they're asking how I do it.

That's why I started this site. I've decided to put information about these tools and alternatives in one spot for others to find and use. Many of these tools are reviewed in the tech press, others are more bespoke but there is information out there if you know where to look. My goal is to bring it all together in one place, to guide you through the process, and help you opt out as well.

I'm fed up with living in a dystopian version of the future. So I decided to do something about it. We should all be able to live our lives without these data-sucking and socially destructive tools torquing our world. I hope this site helps you to follow along.

What this site is ... and is not

My friend Natasha is always teasing me,"You'd know about this if you were on Facebook," she says, tantalizingly offering some piece of gossip or news of an upcoming event in town, "but you're not on Facebook because you hate technology."

It's not true. I actually love technology. I'm a sociologist of science and technology. I got a whole doctoral degree in the study of technology and society. I publish research in human-computer interaction and I work with NASA spacecraft teams. I'm now a professor at Princeton, where I am an expert in technology and society. I'm in the Sociology department with a courtesy appointment in Computer Science. When I'm not teaching or researching I spend my spare time hacking phones and building stuff with Raspberry Pi's.

Of all people, I'm not one to hate technology. So I don't think the answer is to leave technology behind altogether.

That's why this site is NOT going to help you with a tech detox. I'm not here to hate on technology, or tell you to go live in a cave.

That said, I do think we need to leave these technologies. Google. Meta. Algorithmic systems that blend search or friendship with advertising, serve information up with a heaping dose of surveillance, and lead us all astray. Companies that went from "Don't be evil" to, well, being evil. Companies that ignored the warning signs and marched us boldly into a world suffused with dysfunction.

And there were warning signs. I was there, at the conferences and meetings where we warned them. Driven by profits instead of ethics, they did it anyway.

Some people think regulation is the best way forward. I'm all for smart regulation of these devastating technologies. But whenever I think about government regulating these tools, I remember that senator asking Mark Zuckerberg to shut down Finsta. Those guys aren't riding in on a white horse anytime soon.

Voting with our feet is the quickest option we have, the best way to tell the tech industry that enough is enough. It's no great sacrifice--there are alternatives out there, better visions of what our lives could be like. There are systems that don't require capturing and storing all our data, mining us exploitatively for profit, and serving us the kinds of misinformation and advertising that has us hating our neighbors.

It's time to opt out.

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