Privacy podcast, IRL

Mozilla, the organization behind Firefox actually does more than just build software. In its advocacy efforts, they roped in Veronica Belmont to make IRL: Online Life Is Real Life, a podcast that explores various aspects of privacy in everyday life explained in a way that can be understood by everyone. It is into the third season and the current episode takes a look at the dilemma of sharing data with companies for free services and privacy.

Nothing to hide

I was privacy conscious before but documentaries like “Nothing to Hide” has opened my eyes towards the historical significance of privacy as well. People who are generally in the opinion that since I am a normal person, I don’t have to fear surveillance should watch the documentary to gain more insight as to why everyone has something to hide or at least would not be comfortable with it being public.

Grand Bargain

Coming back to the topic of the IRL’s recent episode, we have become quite accustomed to accepting long terms of service agreements for online services. This extends to application permissions that can be overreaching. We move past those in the hopes of getting something out of those applications and in some cases we do. The episode takes a dive into whether this is worth it and how it can have an impact on someone’s life.

Paying for privacy

Old methods and practices are always resurfaced as we find newfangled business models are insufficient to handle privacy concerns. The question is if we pay for services, will that buy us more privacy.

  • Platforms like patreon offer a way for creators to reach their fans directly and sustainably.
  • Paying for a mail host gives us the confidence that they will maintain our mail and are not in it for extraneous purposes.

It should be quite evident that paying for these services removes incentives for companies to spy on users and concentrate on the product instead. To be honest, I am not sure that everyone would be able to pay for every service we use for free today. A lot of us use multiple news sources but paying for each of them can be difficult.

No one left behind

There is a real concern that the section of the internet users which is not able to pay their way out of this will be disproportionately affected. Till now these issues have not been looked at seriously because of online advertisement. But due to increase in the use ad blockers we have had banners asking to disable the plugin and allow tracking to view the content.

A straightforward solution will be to allow people to share subscriptions and make them cheaper; family plans comes to mind. We should also realise nothing comes for free and accept some loss of functionality by limiting our use to essential services. More importantly by paying for those essential services we get more privacy!

Middle ground between self hosting and advertisement driven services

Motivated individuals can maintain their own services on a personal server for a small group of people. For example, personal mail servers was the norm in the 90s but it has died out considerably due to amount of administrative burden and inherent complexity of these services.

To this extent, I have seen a couple of groups popping up offering free services powered through donations and free software that can help people move from ad-driven services. Disroot and Asymtote are examples that I found online. I believe forming groups among like-minded people and creating such small services is the way forward. Importantly the author behind Asymtote is keeping the infrastructure open so people can create clones and stand up their own versions. Sharing of infrastructure can help with reducing costs and burden with regards administration and bus factor.

This post has been braindump of sorts but hopefully the links here and the podcast can help people to think about these issues before signing up for more services and think about self hosting as a cheaper alternative. If you have money, please pay someone rather than using an ad-driven service for your own privacy and safety.

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