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Opinion | Margery Eagan

I’m engaged in an evil enterprise with every click, and I can’t stop

Google employees in San Francisco (above) and offices across the country walked out in protest on Nov. 1 over the company’s handling of sexual misconduct cases.
Google employees in San Francisco (above) and offices across the country walked out in protest on Nov. 1 over the company’s handling of sexual misconduct cases.(Eric Risberg/File/AP)

Like many, I enjoy feeling morally superior to President Trump, the multiply accused sexual predator who loves dictators and the National Rifle Association and babies separated from mothers at the border.

But I’m having trouble maintaining my holier-than-he-is stance this Christmas season as I sit before my Apple computer clicking on Google to buy gifts from Amazon that family members have requested via Facebook.

Trump may or may not have colluded with Russia.

I am colluding every day with those tech companies, each accused of one kind of sleaziness or another.

On Cyber Monday, I did my part in boosting Jeff Bezos’s multibillion-dollar net worth by $6.28 billion, although, just days before, Amazon employees all across Europe were protesting horrible working conditions. “They are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious, and being taken away in ambulances,” one union leader said.

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This followed years of investigations here and in Britain about Amazon warehouse employees urinating in bottles and trash cans to make strict time targets.

Some Amazon workers are paid so little that they qualify for food stamps and Medicaid. In other words, American taxpayers are subsidizing Bezos, the richest man in modern history, now worth $140 billion. Taxpayers in New York and Virginia just shelled out billions to host his new Amazon headquarters.

And despite widespread criticism after the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre, Amazon refused to ditch the NRA’s TV propaganda channel from its streaming platforms. So did Apple (which makes my iPad, and smartphone too) and Google (my favorite search engine).

Do you, too, enjoy Amazon Prime’s free shipping, a Google Gmail address, and a sleek Apple phone? Then you’re complicit in this mess, just like me.

Tech writers like Daniel Cooper say it’s nearly impossible to buy a smartphone that isn’t linked to a sweatshop or child labor horror in some desperately poor nation.

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Is Verizon your carrier? East Coast Verizon customers probably get their phones and tablets from a windowless, non-air-conditioned warehouse on the Tennessee/Mississippi border now under investigation for worker abuse. Multiple workers there were denied lighter duty in pregnancy and suffered miscarriages. Last year one employee dropped dead on the warehouse floor, but other employees were forced to keep working around her body.

I briefly stopped Googling 24/7 when more than 20,000 Google employees and contractors walked out of its offices last month protesting, among other things, honcho Andy Rubin’s $90 million severance deal despite a credible accusation of forcing an employee to perform
oral sex.

Duckduckgo.com, where your data’s not for sale, does work fine. But it’s not the same.

Then there’s Facebook.

“Do you have a moral duty to leave Facebook?” So asked S. Matthew Liao, a New York University philosopher, last week, listing some Facebook sins: spreading white supremacist and anti-Semitic propaganda, enabling Cambridge Analytica to get voters’ personal information, hiring a GOP-affiliated opposition research firm to go after billionaire George Soros, disseminating hate speech that caused gruesome ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

Liao then asked whether sharing cat photos can ever excuse keeping a Facebook account.

He might have asked, too, whether hating the mall can ever excuse handing your entire holiday gift list to Bezos.

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If all this weren’t enough, I just read the memoir by Steve Jobs’s firstborn, Lisa, which details his sadistic abuse and how he told her she smelled “like a toilet” days before he died.

Again, I briefly turned away from my MacBook Air, but then came crawling back.

Am I taking the principled position here and giving up, or at least cutting back, on Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, or Instagram, which Facebook owns? No, which leaves me pretty high on the hypocrisy scale. So I have no advice to anyone else who’s sold their soul, save this: Ditch the self-righteousness. It’s unearned, and unbecoming.


Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.” Her column appears regularly in the Globe.