A few days ago, I got an email from Google saying that my Tee Tweets business profile would be taken down because I haven't logged into it in a while. This came shortly before the news that Google will start deleting old accounts.

I tried to log in and keep the profile alive, but the Google account tied to this business profile has SMS-based 2FA enabled.

Since I don't have access to the phone number that's tied to the account, I can't log into the Google account—and likely never will, unless there's some way to assign that specific phone number to myself again.

Google support is nonexistent, so this business will now be removed from Google, simply because I can't log into my account, as Google demands.

This got me thinking about all my other recent internet experiences and how poor they've been.

Sharing photos without a sneaky third party is nearly impossible

It's modern day, and there's still no easy way to share photos from the trip without a sneaky third party. If you have Google Photos, you can create shared albums with others, but guess what—they need a Google account too.

So you're forced to have a Google account, and so is everyone else that you want to share photos with. This means you're subject to all of Google's tracking, data harvesting, facial recognition, and every other Big Brother tactic that Google comes with.

You can also create shared albums on Apple Photos, but with Apple, the vendor lock-in problem is even worse, because it comes with multiple costs. First, you need to have an iPhone itself. Then, you need an iCloud account (which is equivalent to a Google account). Then, you need to pay for the storage to actually house those photos, because, be real—the free 5GB simply ain't cutting it.

All of this just because you want to share photos with friends and family.

In my case, I have a Synology NAS at home, which means I can use Synology Photos. Synology Photos is a Google Photos clone with almost the same functionality, but none of the sneakiness from Google.

My photos aren't being used to train AI and facial recognition systems, sent to data brokers or government agencies, or stored on sketchy servers around the world.

Still, the vast majority of people don't have the resources to buy and manage their own servers. I put in the time because I know the importance of this, but it doesn't mean I enjoy it or wish it was this way.

I'd much rather have the convenience of the 99%. It'd be great to one-click share my trip photos with friends and family without needing to worry about where the photos will end up or what will be done with them without needing to buy and manage my own server.

Messaging is completely broken

Something I confirmed during my extended trip is that having an iPhone is a very US thing. The iPhone and its proprietary iMessage dominate the US market. But outside of the US, people have all sorts of phones, and they communicate through other platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, and Facebook Messenger.

Still, think about all the places where you can be reached:

  • Facebook Messenger
  • WhatsApp (owned by Facebook)
  • Instagram DM (owned by Facebook)
  • Twitter DM
  • Snapchat
  • Slack
  • Telegram
  • Discord
  • LinkedIn
  • iMessage
  • Signal

Building platforms that don't talk to each other has resulted in new software like Beeper and Texts, which aggregate all your chats into a single application.

Illustration of a person being overwhelmed with all of the different communication platforms that exist.

I was an early user of Beeper, and I hated it. Not because the experience of the application itself was poor, but because it made me realize how broken the internet is.

Why do we need to be reached in all these different places? And if we do need to/want to be reached everywhere, why can't the platforms talk to each other?

Why are we building platforms instead of protocols?

Because a mere handful of influential people decided to lock us into their platform, now we need more software on top of existing software to solve a problem that could've been prevented in the first place? Doesn't make sense to me.

Maps and navigation is a duopoly

New place means needing directions. Unfortunately, you're bound to Google Maps or Apple Maps.

You could use an open source alternative like OpenStreetMap, but you're not gonna get the same experience compared to the two tech giants.

To use Apple Maps, you need an iPhone once again. You can use Google Maps without a Google account, but this means you're still subjected to all of their invasive tracking practices, even when you don't have your location turned on.

Everything on social media is proprietary

An old childhood friend will send me funny tweets very often. To open the tweets, I need to copy the link, remove the unique tracking parameters in the URL, and then paste the URL into my browser.

Twitter's not as bad as Instagram, because you can at least view the tweet in a browser without needing an account.

But Instagram/Facebook? Terrible.

During this recent trip, my friend wanted to send me travel stuff she saw on Instagram. Since I don't have a personal Instagram account, she'd text me the link on Signal. Then, I'd need to:

  1. Copy the link
  2. Remove the URL tracking parameters
  3. Find a third-party Instagram post/reel viewer
  4. Paste the URL into the third-party website
  5. View the post

Same for TikTok.

Look at how much harder it is to simply view something on these platform.

If you click the shared link and you're not subjecting yourself to all the privacy invasions of having the native mobile app installed on your phone, the link will open your browser. Which—wait a second—demands that you log in or sign up to view the post.

Why do you need to subject yourself to all of that just to view a 10-second travel tip?

Person with their hands over their face due to being overwhelmed by all the social media platforms and their proprietary practices.
Person with their hands over their face due to being overwhelmed by all the social media platforms and their proprietary practices.

What's more is that all these platforms—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat—all have their own proprietary formats and way of doing things.

They're not asking you to do things a certain way, they're forcing you to do it.

You'll often find the same content on these platforms, just repurposed and shared a different way.

Facebook has its own dimensions, formats, and limits. So does Instagram. Twitter, too. TikTok. Every single one of these platforms don't want you talking to the other one.

Play by their rules, or don't play at all.

Think about how much better—and easier—it would be if you could join your preferred type of social network and interact with people on the others.

For example: you could join a text-based network like Twitter. Your friend, who loves photos, joins an Instagram-like network. You each experience what you want on the frontend side of things, but on the backend, you're actually on the same distributed network, so you can interact with each other.

This is actually possible on the Fediverse, using Mastodon and PixelFed.

That was the whole point of social media in the first place, wasn't it? To interact with each other?

It's a crazy thought, right? Social media... but actually social?

It feels silly to have to write this in the first place. No one should be longing for a social version of social media.

More terms and conditions, increasing your digital footprint

Traveling means renting hotel rooms. To rent a hotel room, I need to create an account agree to their terms and conditions. Mind you—these are all boutique hotels, so every hotel is different. They all have different systems, processes, terms, conditions, privacy policies, and everything else.

I'm actually glad to see variety in hotels. After all, a duopoly of Marriott and Hilton is not something that benefits any of us as consumers.

Still, I can't help but think how much better it would be—both from a UX and privacy perspective—if I didn't have to increase my digital footprint by filling out information multiple times and agreeing to endless (and varying) terms and conditions.

An art exhibit that showcases platforms' endless terms and conditions and privacy policies that users agree to.
An art exhibit that showcases platforms' endless terms and conditions and privacy policies that users agree to.

This data silo problem will hopefully be solved by Solid, a project led by Tim Berners-Lee in conjunction with MIT.

What if there was a way for me to own all of my data, and let hotels access whatever they needed, whenever they needed? Then, when it's no longer needed, revoke it instantly.

Nothing is free, not even Wi-Fi that's advertised as such

During the trip, there were many open Wi-Fi hotspots, but they all require you to give up something in exchange. You can sign in and tie this hotspot with your Google account, Facebook account, Twitter account, or LinkedIn account.

Or, you can go the email route, but then they ask you for your name, date of birth, who you're traveling with, and one or two other questions that increase the barrier to the access point.

You can provide fake information, but many of these pages have now started to verify fake email addresses. And even if you do provide fake information, it's not like you're anonymous anyways.

After all, you're literally connecting to a hotspot, which means that—unless you're on a reputable VPN—all your browsing traffic, messages, and internet connections are being exposed to the internet service provider (ISP) anyways.

If you have thoughts on this piece, I’d love to hear them.