Ditching Google and Facebook
Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,
In light of the recent trilogy of nasihahs that Sheikh Nuh read at the past three suhbas, which were based on a number of books and a lot of research by many authors on the dangers of unsafe and unethical Internet corporations, Sheikh Nuh has requested that an informative mail be announced via Zawiya Notices to the murids, with a direct request from the Sheikh that all murids follow- as soon as possible- the more precautional, more ethical (or at least less evil) means of communication and interaction with online technology that are mentioned in the following message.
The two major corporations this message is directed against are: Facebook, Google, and their subsidiaries, such as WhatsApp, Instagram, and YouTube.
The reality of these two corporations is no longer hidden. Scandals concerning their privacy breaches and misuse of personal information are all over the news almost daily. The latest being the live broadcast of the Christchurch massacre, but we might mention the lynching of innocent people in India by gangs whipped up by WhatsApp groups.
This alone should be enough for any Muslim to boycott any Facebook owned tools. Yet, many simply condemn Facebook on Facebook and WhatsApp. The accumulation of incidents involving these two companies has reached a tipping point, where mass action needs to be taken by their users.
Carole Cadwalladr is a brilliant British investigative journalist who works for the Guardian. For the last two years, she has investigated how Facebook, Google, and their allied companies have influenced people’s thought and behavior, the BREXIT vote, the rise of authoritarianism, Trump, and much more. Her work is about much more than the subversion of British political discourse. Recently, she gave a stunning public talk, with all those tech baron criminals and their investors present at the talk, and she did not hold back. It’s now gone viral. It can be viewed at:
BREXIT was really an experiment about what could be done, and how people could be influenced, and their thoughts and behavior changed.
Here is the accompanying article she wrote after the talk:
The issue is not just invasion of privacy anymore, although that's happening, but changing behavior and nudging people in a certain direction based on the data they hold. Just having concerns about privacy is now old news. Google helps nudge users into alignment with their goals, custom-prints personalized devices to collect more data, and even guides the behavior of entire populations. It is presented as good, and forward thinking, but ultimately the goals have to align with the view of the world of the geeks of Silicon Valley and their masters, rather than any ancient, traditional view of humans.
You may be aware that the former founders of WhatsApp have told people to delete Facebook owned companies, and they have left the company. As have the founders of Instagram. One of them gave $50 million of his own money to the establishment of the communication app Signal to make sure it’s on a sound financial footing.
Allah Most High says in Surat al-Baqara verse 217: (219) They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, "In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit."
These two corporations have proven that their sin is greater than their benefit for humanity. Their evil is cause to make them bereft of baraka, and hence, a person seeking baraka in his communications is better off with other alternatives as long as they are available.
It may seem uncomfortable to make the move or change from the convenience of a lot of these ubiquitous products to new unfamiliar alternatives, but making ethical choices in any movement in human history almost always involves inconvenient steps, especially for the pioneers who lead the way. Their struggle and persistence paves the way for the eventual good choices we see for those who come later. A recent example is the organic food movement, and the criticism and fun made of its pioneers, but of we which we all reap benefit. It’s convenient to eat at MacDonald’s, or eat junk food, or ready meals, but convenience isn’t always the best way forward.
It’s important to point out here that this isn’t an argument against new technology, like people once made against the printing press. It isn’t an argument against the Internet, communication, or computers. It is not an argument against phones and communication. It is simply an argument against two particular companies (Google, Facebook, and their subsidiaries), and advocating other companies instead. Much like Coke was once boycotted in the Arab World and people used Pepsi instead. It isn’t an anti-tech argument.
A number of us may not be able to make a complete shift or hijra from all of their products or sites or apps, perhaps some will be forced by their jobs to maintain a Facebook or Instagram or WhatsApp account. Others may have to do a gradual hijra. But the point is to move where you can, and where you cannot don’t use it for personal use, and above all not with fellow murids, in an effort to clean up our Tariq from evil means and maintain baraka in our communication.
Perhaps the fiqh rule that applies well here is the rule: ما لا يُدرك كله لا يُترك جُلّه (i.e. If you can’t do it fully don’t leave what parts you can do).
What each one of us can do in this issue differs, depending on a lot of personal and occupational factors, and here applies what Sheikh Nuh often reports from Sheikh Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri (rahimahu Allahu) about how much is considered the healthy third in eating mentioned in the prophetic hadith. He says: كل أعلم بثلثه
Each person knows his “third” best.
We know that towards the end of time everyone will be touched by ‘riba’ (interest), even if they try to avoid it. Nevertheless, they still have to try to avoid it. The omnipresence of riba is not a justification to partake in riba.
The first and most important request in this message is to make a hijra from using WhatsApp, especially for tariqa communication, and preferably for any communication within the ability of the user.
The alternatives are Signal and Telegram. Signal has the best and most trusted security, but Telegram is secure enough and is the next popular and ubiquitous communication app after WhatsApp. It may prove more practical to use Telegram until enough people go on Signal. iMessage remains a free and safe method of communication amongst iPhone using Murids.
It goes without saying that social media use, such as Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram should be curtailed. The problems associated with social media have been written about in Sea without Shore.
YouTube is problematic beyond being a Google company. It steals people’s time, taking them away from books and serious knowledge. Just about any theory can be ‘proved’ by a YouTube talk. Moreover, the queued recommended videos lead to more extreme, unreliable content, with increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories. People often do not realize just how insidious this is, nor how they got from A to B. Many people attracted to YouTube conspiracy theories are blind to the real conspiracy right in front of their face: that they are spending wasted hours on a site that is profiling and tracking their every interaction, while influencing their thought, and damaging their soul.
You can read about this trajectory of thought here:
YouTube can have some uses like learning how to fix part of an engine, learning how to cook, or how to lift weights, although all of these are always better learnt from a real person. When there is no real alternative, get what you need, which should be minimal, and get out. Do not be fooled into thinking the entertaining video you are watching is knowledge. It is little better than TV, and in many cases, much worse.
Messaging and YouTube are problematic for reasons beyond privacy. They interrupt and corrupt. They distract. They are a source of rumors and gossip. They take away family time. They make suluk near impossible.
Other Google and Facebook Services
While there is little benefit in any Facebook company, people do use Google companies for more serious work. This might be for docs, for search, or for maps. These are not without problems. Murids should think and make their own decision about how much they want to use these services, and how much privacy they are willing to trade.
For example, Google Maps and location tracking feeds into an enormous database called Sensorvault, which is increasingly being made available to third parties. It can be read about here:
There are good alternatives to many Google services, and where possible the alternative should be considered. For example, Protonmail, Fastmail, iCloud, your own server, or any email provider that does not harvest data, track, or use selling advertisements as their business model can be used in place of Gmail with little hardship.
Firefox and Safari are alternatives to Chrome. For those who prefer to use a browser based on Chrome, or need Chrome extensions, use BRAVE. This is a browser that is based on open source Chromium, as Chrome is, but is private and has adblocking, anti-fingerprinting, and anti-tracking built in. It is good, fast, and user friendly. And it looks and works like Chrome. Many people prefer using it over Chrome, and they don’t have to learn anything new.
Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Calendar, Drive are all convenient, but there are many alternatives, that are too many to list. The paid version of G Suite for business, that allows for collaboration, has more privacy features built in, and the user data is not used for advertising or tracking. Personal users can upgrade to G Suite to protect their privacy.
Groups of murids using Google Groups for communication purposes should transition to https://groups.io. The founder was the inventor of Yahoo Groups. There is no advertising or tracking.
On an end note, it is worth mentioning that although these are good first steps toward an ethical and more private internet interaction, do not think they are foolproof, nor that these particular choices will remain so forever. The safest and most beneficial approach may be to have as little to do with the Internet as possible, but, as long as this is not possible for the majority of us, then the only way is to remain vigilant and aware on the more ethical and safe choices online, and to take the initiative to move towards them. This is what the sheikh provides for murids through his constant nasihas and epitomes in the suhbas and through messages like this one.
May Allah Most High give us the wisdom to know the best path, and the strength to be steadfast upon it.
Wassalamu alaikum warahmatullah.