“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
- Joseph Heller, Catch-22
My New Year’s resolution for 2020 is to break the chains that have been cast upon us by tech companies. This means switching from closed, proprietary software to free and open-source software (FOSS) when possible. It also means being more mindful of who has my personal data, as well as being in as much control over my information as I can be.
If you’re like many of my friends, by now you’re probably thinking, “You don’t need to care about all this if you have nothing to hide.” While it may be true that I have nothing to hide, that doesn’t change that fact that I should have the ability to. I would write a whole essay about why wanting privacy shouldn’t automatically imply that I’m partaking in deplorable activities and why it’s okay to want my privacy respected, but this TED talk already explains why privacy matters.
It’s now January 2020, 5 years after that TED talk and 6 years after the Edward Snowden leaks. Didn’t we already solve the whole privacy issue by now? The fact of the matter is that we haven’t. We still live in a tech-driven world with laws that haven’t caught up yet, and it’s honestly scary how much free reign this gives companies. If Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearing is any indicator, US lawmakers are nowhere near tech-literate enough to update our laws to protect citizens from being exploited by companies.
Our data has become a major money maker for companies, and we aren’t even getting paid for it. Software companies are constantly testing how little ownership over software we will allow, strong-arming lawmakers to create laws to help them take away our rights to the software we purchase. We don’t truly own the software we use, and in many cases, don’t have the option to even know what that software is fully doing. With how dependent we have on our online accounts and technology, it’s shocking that not more people care that their entire Google account can be terminated for spamming emojis on a live feed. Imagine waking up one day and losing everything on your Google Drive for interacting with a streamer on YouTube. We have to do something.
People have been taking actions to protect their digital rights for decades now. Recent movements, like the Degoogle movement, are just some of the latest to have sprung up. The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) has been defending our digital rights and privacy since 1990. And before them, the Free Software Foundation worked to promote our freedom to own our software and use it as we please since 1985.
While I may not be starting an entire movement or anything, I can at least do my part by being one less electronic consumer to exploit. Every week, I will be writing about an aspect of my technological life that I have changed to put tech companies in check and to take back control of my data, whether I made the change four days ago or four years ago.
My plan is to ultimately:
- Move away from proprietary software wherever possible, opting instead for free and open-source software so that I am not at the mercy of tech companies doing what they please with the software I use
- Reevaluate how privacy-respecting the technology I use is (messaging apps, email services, web browsers, etc), and make changes as needed
- Delete most of my social media and online service accounts, keeping as few as possible to keep in touch with people and function in the 21st century
If you’re reading this because you are just as tired as I am of tech companies owning our lives, I highly encourage you go through this journey with me.