Why you should care about privacy (even if no one else around you does)

There's a pattern I've noticed over the last couple years that goes something like this.

  • Person has a personal revelation or their curiosity is piqued and are interested in privacy
  • Person reads articles and researches ways to become more private after learning how companies are abusing our data
  • Person finds an online forum, such as Reddit, and ends up sprinting down the rabbit hole of alternatives, fixes, and 'get private quick' actions
  • Person does too much, too fast and becomes burnt out
  • Person questions if it's all worth it because it's hard and no one else around them is doing it so why should they
  • Person goes back to old, comfortable habits

It happens like clockwork and you can always tell what stage the person is at after talking to them for a moment or two.  But, there's a specific step I want to hone in on for this post.  The "no one else around me is doing it, so why should I bother" part.

Usually, this mentality comes during or directly after they try to change their daily habits, both IRL and online, all at once and become overwhelmed. They changed all of their passwords, email service, web browser, downloaded Signal, deleted Facebook and SnapChat, went and registered for a PO box, and shredded their credit cards all in the same week and are trying to cold turkey their way into privacy.

After spending hours of their time and a chunk of cash, they're sitting there wondering if it's all worth it. Their brain begins to cast doubt on their actions and look for justifications to drop everything and go back to how it was.  Mom and dad are out living their life happily even though they use Facebook, Windows, and Chrome.  Your best friend runs a successful local shop and uses Google for everything.  Heck, even your younger sister is all over social media and signs up for every contest known to man, yet, her life doesn't seem any different than yours when you've gone through all of this work to become more private.

So why care about privacy when everyone around you doesn't?  

Here's four reasons why you should care and why it's important you do.

You have to normalize it

Headlines about privacy and data abuse are at an all-time high but we still see the same arguments show up time after time.

“I have nothing to hide”
“They already know everything about me”
“I like Facebook and Google”

These statements don't always come from a place of ignorance. People, generally, know that Facebook and Google collects their data.  Maybe not to the extent that they do, but people know they're giving up information to use their services. Often time, these comments come from a place of disinterest or general skepticism.

There's a perception that if you're concerned about privacy, you're trying to hide something or you bear a tin foil hat and shout conspiracies on the corner. Basically, being private is currently seen as "not normal".  

Some of this is self inflicted, with privacy enthusiasts jokingly calling themselves paranoid, weirdos, or nut jobs.  It may seem like it's all in good fun but over time, it begins to reinforce that these beliefs and habits are atypical when they aren't.

When we look at someone wearing a coat, we don't suddenly wonder what they're hiding.  We think "oh, that person must be cold". Same thing with masks. Wearing a mask?  You must either be sick or doing your part to prevent the spread of a global pandemic that's killed over 215,000 people in the US coughwearyourmaskcough. The point is that it's no longer seen as odd to walk around everywhere with a medical grade mask on your face. It's been normalized.

This is the point we need to get privacy to and we do it by taking these actions ourselves.  You might tell 10 people to use Signal and maybe one person does. Even though the other nine aren't using it, you've planted a seed in their mind. Next time one of their other friends or family member mentions downloading Signal, they'll remember that you mentioned it a while back and will start to think "is this something I should be checking out?"

One we individually begin to normalize these actions, behaviors, and services, social proof will take over.

And why do you have to take a stand and do you part to help normalize it? Because...

Most people won't do it alone

We are creatures of habit and it almost always takes some sort of external force to get us to change our ways. That could be as simple as stepping on the scale one day and going “holy crap, I didn’t realize I put on so much weight” or as serious as a near-death experience that forces us to quit drinking and appreciate the small things in life. It could also be as simple as a close friend or family member asking you to download a messenger app or explaining to you why Facebook is bad.

Chances are you didn’t just wake up one day and think “I should care about my privacy.” You probably read an article, saw a documentary, had a chat with a friend, or were a victim of some sort of data abuse. Your friends won’t just wake up one day and start using Signal either. You have to guide them to it.

This doesn't mean monologue for 15 straight minutes of borderline conspiracy at them.  Nobody, including  yourself, enjoys someone preaching or talking at them. You also don't always need ultimatums either.  I know those are somewhat popular in the privacy community (ex: talk to me on Signal or don't talk to me at all) but that can easily backfire. Telling family and friends that you found an awesome new messager that's better than regular texting and you want to try it out with them is much more effective because...

Most People Will Humor You

More often than not, your friends and family value you and respect your values even if they don’t share them. Your friends may not humor you if you ask them to delete Facebook, but if you ask them to switch to a user-friendly app like Signal or Wire or ask them to use an encrypted email provider like ProtonMail, they'll probably take you up on the offer.

Friends and family are, generally, willing to jump into their app store of choice and download an app to try it out. People do it all the time for random games, apps that autotune your voice, or ones that make your head look like an alien. As long as you aren't asking them to set up a server or some complex onboarding process, most people will download an app, jump through a two or three step registration, and test it out for you.

They may only use these apps with youand that's perfectly fine. It opens the door for you to explain to them why you want to use these apps, how it benefits them, and why they should get their friends and family to use them as well.

Herd Immunity

The reason why every company harvests so much data is because there's so much value in it thanks to the large amount of people who willingly give it up.  Names, addresses, email accounts, usernames, social media accounts, SSN, birthdays, where they're born, pictures of themselves, kids, and friends, browsing history, shopping habits, location data, etc.

Because there's so much data on so many people, it becomes valuable. Not just monetary value in terms of buying/selling data either. It makes advertising better and more targeted, its predictions more accurate, and mass manipulation more damaging.

But what happens when people start to use services where Google can't read your messages and email or see your search history? Or ones where Facebook can't see every thought, opinion, or stance you have? Or use cash so every bank and retailer can't see each and every purchase you make?

What happens is that the data becomes less accurate, which lowers the value. And when the value reaches a specific threshold, it becomes worthless and the company will have to shift its efforts to something that makes them money or they die. It's a win for you because you've made the choice to use privacy respecting services but it also is a win for those who can't or don't want to switch because the company drops the collection due to being a low return on investment.

Even by yourself, you're ever so slightly lowering the amount of data they have, the accuracy of their data, and the value their data has.  But the wonderful thing is, you aren't alone.  There are millions of people who have taken steps to regain their privacy and the movement is growing every day.  You may not personally know anyone who has taken any privacy focused steps, but the world is slowly moving that way.

ProtonMail hit 5 million active users a couple years back. Facebook is down 2 million users in the US and Canada. Signal is growing by leaps and bounds. DuckDuckGo is consistently seeing increases in traffic every month.

Privacy is slowly building a wall that big tech and others can't get around.  You aren't alone in this.  Millions of individual people have taken a stance and made a change.  You don't have to do everything all at once.  Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is your privacy.  Take the steps, even if no one else you know currently is, because not only are you making the world better for yourself, you're making better for everyone.

This post was based on the post from TheNewOil.

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