Drull's blog

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

How and why I started caring about privacy.

Just another kid with internet access…

For the most part of my life, I haven’t cared a lot about my online privacy, specially when I used to be a kid. I can still remember creating several online accounts and proudly filling all of them with my real private information. I didn’t care about what I was putting there, and I had no idea of what they were doing with all that. A kid like me would never imagine that those cool apps downloaded on my phone were in reality collecting all of my data and selling it to third parties to generate a profile of me and track my activity.

But things change… and with change, new opportunities come into our way. So I naturally became more tech-savvy with time and learned more about the world that we live in. I started getting into politics when I was a teenager. I… think that’s normal for a teenager who has access to Twitter… I guess… but I have never felt like expressing my own ideas online, since I have always been very discrete and don’t like drawing too much attention to myself.

After I started learning more about programming and other tech stuff, I came across a YouTube channel from a guy who used to work in Silicon Valley. Now, some of his videos are political and talk about some “weird” things he has seen during all these years working there. My intention here is not to get political, so I won’t be talking about my political opinions or what you should believe. My intention is to focus on the privacy side of things and why it matters to me.

So, one thing that called my attention from this channel is that he used to work as a data scientist in San Francisco. During most of his videos, he would talk about why social media is dangerous and why we should stop using it. At first, I didn’t believe what he was saying and though it was just some boomer ranting online, but time proved he was right. In {$current_year}, I believe it is safe to say that most people who use the internet on a daily basis, would be able to come out with at least one negative thing about social media, and it’s impact on humans, specially teenagers.

I believe most people who are reading this already know the problems associated with high phone usage, and that most modern apps are designed to be extremely addictive. That makes sense, since the more addicted you are to an app, the more data it is going to be able to collect on you, generating revenue for the company behind it. At this point, this is already basic knowledge for anyone who works in the field or has been using the internet for a long time.

The problem

What some people seem to fail to understand is that this data collection isn’t only about generating an annoying ad before your next YouTube video, but about control. This harvested data can be bought and used by anyone to do almost anything they want with it, and after I realized the risks it can bring to my life, I started taking it a lot more seriously.

When I see someone or even myself advocating for online privacy on social media or in real life, a lot of comments received are from stupid people who have never studied about the topic, but like pretending they know something about it probably because they think the number of Twitter likes they get is equal to their IQ score, love to say that “privacy doesn’t matter” or “They don’t even care about you” or the classical “Nothing to hide, nothing to fear” and, in my opinion, the worst of all: "They already have everyone’s data, dude, duh" (this one only shows conformism from the person’s side. It isn’t even a valid argument). These comments show that most people, unfortunately, have no idea of what is being done to their data yet, and I don’t blame most of them. Some of these thoughts have already passed thought my mind in the past, and I agree that it can be difficult to see what is behind all of this massive data collection.

The problem with all this is that, by knowing your interests, it becomes way easier to control you and exploit your weaknesses. Companies exploit it trying to sell you products, predicting your behavior (sometimes future) and use all these datapoints to build a profile of you that will be used and abused by marketing experts.

If it was just about trying to sell products to me, I personally wouldn’t care much. At the end of the day, I always have my UBlock Origin extension installed and have no money to spend, but it does not stop here. Remember when I said that anyone can buy your data? Yes. The government can collect and buy it too.

We don’t need to look back too long ago to see how much and how fast society has changed. People are more and more behaving the same way, consuming the same type of content, supporting the same ideas and hating the same people. Even though there are still different groups that combat each other ideologically (for example: left vs right), people who are part of these bubbles are told what to believe and what to fight for. This extreme polarization is beneficial for the government and for companies. The first will have faithful supporters no matter what. The second will squeeze the highest amount of revenue from them.

Knowlege is power.

Analyzing some of the events that have occurred not a long time ago, it doesn’t seem to me that we are heading towards a good direction. Governments are clearly abusing our data and using it to take authoritarian measures, as seen in China and recently in Canada.

This is unfortunately a trend that is not going to stop any time soon. Actions like these will start happening more often and its consequences will be more harmful as people continue to integrate internet in every aspect of their lives.

Migrating my digital life

This process of becoming privacy focused is not something that happened over the night to me. It was and still is being a slow process that takes effect little by little. I remember starting to switch to Linux after learning that Microsoft has keyloggers built into their system and that windows is a privacy nightmare. Of course, I didn’t completely wipe windows off my machine right away. I started with a dual boot, slowly migrating my files, programs and getting used to the system. This is something that I recommend to everyone: If you want more privacy, don’t jump in headfirst. It should be a continuous and slow process. You should feel comfortable with the changes you make and always try to move forward.

After starting to switch to Linux, I started watching some videos about it, and naturally, I got in touch with the FOSS and privacy movement. I started watching a bunch of content creators, reading articles, listening to podcasts and replacing my apps with open source alternatives.

There are 2 videos in particular that I remember had a huge impact on me: Go Incognito: A Guide to Security, Privacy & Anonymity | Front to Back by Techlore and Delete google from your life now by The Hated One. Having access to these channels opened my eyes and made my “conversion” a lot easier. Then I started slowly removing google from my life. I started from changing some intrusive settings in my account until finally becoming prepared to flash a degoogled custom ROM to my phone. I still have a Google account, but it is not active at all. I moved from Gmail to ProtonMail, went from Google Drive to filen.io, from YouTube to NewPipe/Piped from Google Chrome to Librewolf, stopped using their search engine by choosing something private and set up a Bitwarden account to store all of my passwords. I have always tried to me a digital minimalist, so switching some services was not that big of a deal, it was just a matter of getting used to something new.

With time, I stopped using social media, deleted all of my tweets, removed photos that contained my face in it and I don’t regret it. I love the fact that I don’t need to deal with all those schizos from Twitter anymore and don’t waste my time getting mad at them for posting cringe.

Another benefit of stopping to use social media is that you realize you have so much time to get your stuff done. If you still use it, I recommend installing an open source screen time tracker on your phone and testing it for one week. Depending on how many hours you spend, you might reconsider if it is really beneficial to you or not.

For the internet, I follow the principle of “Everything you post of online can and will be used against you”. This is something that has been proved to be true, and even if you delete things, someone will find a way of bringing it back to life.

Final considerations

If I wrote here all the steps I take and all the tools I use to secure my privacy, this article would become a book, so I want to write a separate post just for that in the future.

So, with all being said, do I think that all this is worth it? Yes. Can it be done by anyone? Yes, but it depends on your threat model. There are people who can’t stop using social media, because that’s what they use to make money. Maybe some people need to use Google services because of college, work or whatever else. Some need whatsapp because everyone uses it, and their friends don’t want to switch to something better. No one on the internet will be able to tell you what is best for you, but it is important to know of the risks associated with the usage of these platforms, and how to avoid them.

If you want to start taking your privacy more seriously, my advice is to start small. As I said, it should be something continuous and slow. See what you can do for yourself in your time and in your context. I bet you will see the benefits of it and won’t regret your decisions.