Ever voiced a criticism of a product, service or idea and promptly received the reply: "If you don't like it, leave?"

It's the ultimate in free-market thinking, to reduce your thoughts and feelings down to an in/out binary decision, then exercise that in silence. Just leave. Don't buy it. Don't use it. Walk away and stop complaining. The argument is bollocks and it only requires a slight pause for thought to realise why it's so.

I'm going to use Google as an example. They're truly a pervasive company and in my opinion a privacy nightmare. They know what you're searching for, what websites you visit, the contents of your emails, your physical location, your contacts and communications. Almost every part of your being, they can know. It hasn't always been that way, but the walls between their services have been slowly, ever so slowly, eroded.

It's a big buy-in for what are a fantastic range of products. But is it too much? Let's say you find the privacy controls that Google present to you unacceptable. After all, their controls only extend to the public, not to what Google can internally do with your data. So you decide enough is enough and "just leave". That means you're going to have to:

  • Stop using Google products. No more Google searches, storing documents in Drive, using Gmail or Calendar. No more Maps, StreetView. Switch to a different browser, you can't use Chrome. Find a different language translation service. Give up your Android phone and stop watching videos on YouTube.
  • Stop using Google products! Google do more than that, however. You're going to have to make sure the websites you use don't use Google Analytics, or Google Web Fonts. You'll have to take your personal websites out of Google's search results and also any other third-party website that mentions you.
  • STOP USING GOOGLE PRODUCTS. Block all network connections to Google. Seriously, you've left. That means you can't send email to, or receive email from, Gmail users. Straight into the spam bin with them.

Ok, this is a pretty ridiculous example, but it makes the point sufficiently. To exercise your right to not use the Google ecosystem is, in reality, functionally impossible. All you can do is reduce your scope of usage to a level you deem acceptable, or campaign to change those practices you oppose.

This is important. Environments which encourage those who hold criticisms to remain silent and/or go away are by definition exclusionary and discriminatory. If I take the nuclear option above, it erects a massive wall around a large proportion of the Internet that I'm excluded from. Now consider a fictional social network where sexist imagery is frequently shared by its userbase. Would we be happy if a user raised this concern, only to be told to "just leave" the site? Of course we wouldn't accept that.

"Just leave", like any of these simple statements that some see as a panacea of wisdom, hold true in a very limited set of circumstances. You can choose to leave a supermarket if you think they're too expensive, but it's not as easy to emigrate from a country if you disagree with the Government's policy. Instead, we should create environments where people are free to voice opinions, for them to be listened to and if necessary adopted. We cannot assume that the users of our service approve of everything we do, because they're still using the product. We cannot use our dominance or privilege to bully out alternate viewpoints. We have to work together to survive.