A few weeks ago I made a decision that I had been weighing for a long time: to delete my accounts from all social networks. It was not a choice that fell from the sky, out of the blue, but the result of various events and reflections that have accumulated over the years, until they became impossible to ignore.
These days privacy is increasingly becoming a chimera and sites such as social networks or several e-commerce are the quintessence of this dystopian paradigm.
But I think it’s better if I step back a moment.
It all started in 2013 when Edward Snowden (whom I personally consider one of the greatest social heroes of the past 100 years) filled the newspapers after the NSA revelations and shocked the world, or at least shocked my world. Maybe many will judge me naive but before that time I had never contemplated that the web could be such a dangerous technology for individuals. Governments manage to turn anything into a nightmare by simply taking it in their hands, a superpower similar to that of king mida but much more harmful. That was the first sign, the first unpleasant symptom that there was something deeply wrong with the tools we use every day with infinite lightness.
Of course there had already been cases where people had been persecuted or fired for what was written on social media but this was different, this was a game changer.
Unfortunately I was not resolute and so time passed and over time I (like many others) forgot about Snowden and his sacrifice for the sake of freedom, that freedom with a capital F, not the one that tastes rotten and is so omnipresent on the mouth of many Americans.
The years passed and I continued to strut on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like, increasingly trying to convince myself that, in the end, only terrorists and really bad guys had to worry about their online privacy, not a good guy like me.
Then one thing happened, a thing that was supposed to make any sane person wake up instantly. In my Nation there is a totally incapable leader which betrays himself with each sentence he pronounces but that is very good at relying on people’s fears, addressing the blame for everything that goes wrong to immigrants and the poor. No, he is not Trump, I don’t live in America but in another western “Democracy”. However, one day the aforementioned leader shows up for an election rally in the center of my city and I decide to participate as a free citizen. It turned out that I wasn’t free at all.
The policemen at the checkpoint ask me for the documents and come back after a few minutes saying “you were not suitable, you cannot enter”. I bandaged my head for days trying to understand the reason, I even called the police station but I was not told anything. I have never taken a fine in my life and I have no type of criminal record or anything else.
In the end I had the lighting: Facebook.
I remembered writing some posts on facebook where I questioned the aforementioned leader. Nothing too offensive or threatening, just my modest and calm personal opinion.
A few weeks later I had confirmation from an acquaintance who works in the police force. Now I don’t know how this story sounds to you but I think it’s chilling. We entered (and I mean all of us) into a police state without even realizing it. And the most beautiful thing, the one that will be making the governments overturn with laughter, is that it is we who choose it, we choose to provide them with all our information, to become itinerant databases at the service of the great political and commercial hegemonies. But our function in the world must go beyond this.
Yeah, yeah, all beautiful words, but the key point is that not even this terrifying fact made me abandon social networks, which, by the way, now have the same effect on our brain as opiates (I invite anyone who thinks otherwise to cancel at this moment from all social media without thinking twice).
The definitive shock came two weeks ago, when I learned that slate star codex, one of the most beautiful blogs in the entire word wide web, had been canceled by its anonymous author because the new york times threatened to reveal his privacy, which could cause him serious damage.
It was as if upon hearing this, all the fears shared over the years had burst into an explosion of anger and paranoia. At that moment I finally and definitively realized what an extraordinary treasure is privacy and how much our duty is to protect it at all costs. Maybe if I had listened directly to Snowden 7 years ago I wouldn’t have had to go through such unpleasant events.
This post is not written for those who have never thought about this subject but for those who, like me, have stopped more than once to reflect on what they are leaving online about their identity and asked if it is really worth it.
The answer, my friends, is an absolute and serious no.
At this point the next logical question becomes: is online privacy possible at all? Again, the answer is a solid no. Total anonymity is an unachievable utopia. As you go online, you leave traces of your passage and the more you leave, the more your profile can be built up by inference: privacy has an asymptotic trend, it can tend to zero but it can never touch it. However there is a substantial qualitative difference between let’s say reveal 100% of who you are (personal data, political opinions, paths that you travel every day, who you are with, what you search online, what you eat etc.) and reveal lets say 1.6%.
I would like to conclude this post with some tips for those wishing to follow the sacred path of online anonymity:
1) Social Media are poison, There is no middle ground. The only exception are those anonymous social networks like Reddit or Mastodon.
2) Major e-commerce Website (like Amazon) are poison. Much better if you go for a walk and buy things in the shops of your city while they are still there.
3) Unencrypted cloud services like DropBox are total poison, subscribe to an encrypted cloud service like PcCloud.
4) Do not use gmail or other Google services, subscribe to an encrypted mail like ProtonMail.
5) Always use Tor Browser or, if you really can’t, use Firefox after adjusting the privacy settings, don’t use Google Chrome.
6) Subscribe to a VPN service.
7) Buy cryptocurrencies and use those for online payments (different Hosting, VPN, travel services etc. accept them).