Who am I?

Janet Vertesi with linux phone, logged in as root
Me and my fifth generation Sailfish smartphone. No creepy listening in, login as root, and I always know where my data is. Janet Vertesi 2022

I left Google in March of 2012, Facebook in early 2016. In 2014 I went viral for keeping a pregnancy away from detection online. I still buy everything related to my children untraceably.  In my spare time I hack cell phones.

Why do all this?

I'm an expert in the relationship between technology and society. I'm a professor at Princeton University in the Sociology department, where I'm affiliated with Computer Science, the Center for Digital Humanities, and the Center for Information Technology Policy. I have a PhD in the study of science, technology, and society, which is actually a field. I research NASA's robotic spacecraft teams, studying how they work together and sometimes assisting them in organizing their teams for success.  I also publish in Human-Computer Interaction, alongside computer scientists.

It's this expertise that drove me to what I now call my Opt Out Experiments.

I've always been into computers. My dad brought our first one home in 1984, and I was hooked.  I've always had a reputation for being a geek and an early adopter. I even study robots in space!

But things changed once tech companies discovered they could mine user data for advertisting. Despite study after study showing the perilous road that Silicon Valley was on, companies refused to change their path. Ignoring the rising rates of teen suicides, social unrest, conspiracy theories and misinformation bubbles, people kept logging in. 

Algorithmic recommenders. Filter bubbles. Predictive policing. Biased datasets. Manipulation. Persuasive design. All of it fueling and fueled by a rampant collection of personal data.

I was there while this was being developed and rolled out. I saw the writing on the wall. Anyone with my training could see the technological dystopia we're currently enduring, coming from a mile away.

Maybe they thought we were just naysayers instead of experts, but we couldn't stop Silicon Valley from trampling all over those hard-won lessons from the history and sociology of technology. As a result of their indifference, people are still blissfully clicking and scrolling, and in so many predictable ways, the fabric of our society is fraying under the strain.

Opting out is about putting the power back in our hands, where it belongs. Amid all the heady rhetoric from Sillly Valley, it's easy to forget that technologies aren't some meteorite from outer space that hit "society," transforming it from out of nowhere (trust me, I study NASA, it's not that easy). Technologies are tools we build, along the lines that we choose. The everyday devices in our pockets and on our desktops are just one vision among endless alternative possibilities. It could always be otherwise.

It still can. There are lots of ways to make digital devices, systems, and services work. Possibilities imbued with data stewardship and personal privacy. Tools that bring us a better, more harmonious, social world.  We can choose--and build--differently.

That's why I started opting out. I have spent the last decade ditching toxic technologies, avoiding Big Tech's venomous tendrils like the plague. I did it all without living in a cave, throwing my devices away, or becoming a Luddite. I'm online, and my life is suffused with technologies. But I choose thoughtfully, ethically and responsibly. I'm not interested in if the latest blingy device comes in rose gold. Instead, I embrace companies and communities who help me to keep my data private, and to steer clear of those who don't. Sometimes I build things myself so that I know exactly where my data is.

Since more and more people seem to want to know what I do and how to follow along, I started this site. I'll review some of my favorite tools and alternative options for you to consider. I'll share tips for how I manage my data in the face of an Internet hellbent on its lucrative extraction. I'll explain some of my more elaborate experiments, and occasionally muse about what I've learned about Internet privacy while opting out.

You can follow along online, and sign up for my mailing list to learn about fresh posts and ideas.

The opinions expressed here are entirely my own. I'm not paid for reviews of products, I'm just telling you what works for me. I'm not a journalist; I'm an academic, but I'll make every effort to make this readable. Also, since I'm all about data privacy and ownership, nothing on this website is stealing your data. You can browse, read, and subscribe in peace.

It's time for change. Techlash is rampant, people are angry at the FAANGs and tired of the Metaverse, Crypto, and the "next big thing." Fortunately, we can, truly can, leave these systems behind in the dirt. We can put our eggs in a better basket than this.

Let's get started.