How do people change their technology use in protest? Understanding “protest users”

Hanlin Li, Nicholas Vincent, Janice Tsai, Jofish Kaye, Brent Hecht

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Researchers and the media have become increasingly interested in protest users, or people who change (protest use) or stop (protest non-use) their use of a company’s products because of the company’s values and/or actions. Past work has extensively engaged with the phenomenon of technology non-use but has not focused on non-use (nor changed use) in the context of protest. With recent research highlighting the potential for protest users to exert leverage against technology companies, it is important for technology stakeholders to understand the prevalence of protest users, their motivations, and the specific tactics they currently use. In this paper, we report the results of two surveys (n = 463 and n = 398) of representative samples of American web users that examine if, how, and why people have engaged in protest use and protest non-use of the products of five major technology companies. We find that protest use and protest non-use are relatively common, with 30% of respondents in 2019 reporting they were protesting at least one major tech company. Furthermore, we identify that protest users’ most common motivations were (1) concerns about business models that profit from user data and (2) privacy; and the most common tactics were (1) stopping use and (2) leveraging ad blockers. We also identify common challenges and roadblocks faced by active and potential protest users, which include (1) losing social connections and (2) the lack of alternative products. Our results highlight the growing importance of protest users in the technology ecosystem and the need for further social computing research into this phenomenon. We also provide concrete design implications for existing and future technologies to support or account for protest use and protest non-use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number87
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Issue numberCSCW
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Online survey
  • Protest users
  • Technology non-use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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