In October of 2018, I ran my emails through Mozilla’s Firefox Monitor tool. It checks if your email was ever involved in an attack, or if your information was posted on the dark-web. I soon discovered 10-15 of my accounts had been breached.
The solution: I chose a password manager I liked the look of, and spent two days of my weekend updating every password, for every account I could find. Annoying! However, I’m fairly confident that if there are any future breaches of my account security I’ll be able to get in quickly and update my information with ease.
This post isn’t really about security (trusting that the “weakest link” can’t be used to crack into a “fortress”) as much as whether I really need the “fortress” at all. Seeing the hundreds of accounts I had signed up for in my “digital adolescence” pass by my web browser tabs in such intimate detail one after another… it all culminated in a great cathartic cleansing for me. I started making plans to escape some of the services I don’t use or need. Including some really big ones: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube.
Trust Vs Values
A short time later, during our trip to New Zealand, E and I had a wonderful discussion, comparing our relationship with each other as friends to some of the relationships we enter into with tech companies. As soon as you apply the lens of friendship over your relationship with Twitter, things start to feel really weird.
Trust is a weird concept because it’s almost used as an umbrella term, for a feeling of safety. Take the following examples:
- Trusting that your significant-other is not planning to poison you.
- Trusting that your private FB data isn’t being sold to third parties without your consent.
In these two examples, we are (most likely) not considering that either of these scenarios are even possible. The trust/faith comes into play to protect us from having any kind of anxiety about these scenarios. We never have to actively spend time worrying about these things when we trust that our relationships are healthy.
E thinks our definition of trust comes down to our values as people. It can be difficult to define what those values are - but its like an on/off switch - whenever our trust has been broken, we know it instantly. Trying to define in clearer terms what our values and expectations are for our relationships, mean there are fewer surprises and we give less opportunity for exploitation - or to find a work-around for our trust.
we have to assume everything we put on the internet will be seen by or used by others - Mum (Mum)
Mum’s right, of course. It’s internet 101. It’s the way to ensure our safety. But why is this the de facto now? Why is this understood as the norm? Why is this internalised complacency the default response for anything that pops up regarding privacy concerns. Have our values shifted over time, or did we never stop to define them?
As a musician, I have internalised a need to protect my intellectual property first and foremost. I want to hold copyright over my ideas, so that others can’t profit from them. That’s the first rule of being an artist (especially in a country that doesn’t value the arts as much as it values sporting “heroes”, but I digress), as an independent artist, holding onto copyright is sacred.
Yet my ideas, photographs, comments, thoughts and purchases are tracked by all these networks and that sounds okay because it’s the “social norm”, and I don’t want to socially isolate myself.
There was never a thought for me that I’d have to trust FB not to isolate me from a core communication method with my friends and family if I ever tried to leave the relationship.
I’ll be dead one-day and [there’s] no one here to carry my genes anywhere so I should be fine - Jacob (friend)
FB is a gas-lighting asshole of a partner who’s telling me who I can and can’t talk to. They’re hanging onto pictures and texts from me even though I’ve explicitly told them I want them deleted. They’re telling me they’re going to make it much harder to stay in contact with friends and family, since my family are locked into the same social-contract I was. What an incredible abuse of power.
Actually quitting stuff though
So, before I got up the motivation to finish this post, this episode of IRL Podcast: S04E05: The Surveillance Economy popped into my inbox. I listened to it. I nodded my head, and grieved for the world in silent understanding.
I’m the kind of person that doesn’t mind spending time on things like this. I regularly reformat my computers and I don’t let notifications build up too much. I like my emails archived, and my apps, operating systems and
node_module’s all up to date. However, there’s also a reason I haven’t changed banks my whole life (or telco’s, or electricity providers for example). I understand how the unknown can sound like a lot of mental overhead, and too much hard work.
It got me thinking about what it actually takes to leave these sour relationships, if perhaps you’re not so much complacent, so much as the kind of person that just wants (quite rightfully) to live care-free.
I think without a service to jump to, a lot of the current users are not going to give up the benefits that it provides - Alice Marwick (guest, IRL podcast)
In response to the dilemma of whether to give up privacy for the so-called feature set: I would have to at least offer the argument that the “feature set” may not be what you think it is. What are you really missing out on? We have finite time on this planet and there will always be another form of communication.
Actually quitting is about more than finding a 1:1 replacement service. In some cases, you have to accept not having a replacement - you have to be okay with “FOMO”. The feeling does go away over time.
Reasons to keep using facebook: 0
Another great way to keep sharing your ideas and learning from others, would be to start your own (preferably self-hosted) blog, and reading other people’s blogs. If you really need a micro-blogging service, you could even try federated open source projects like Mastodon, or Pixelfed. Although they may end up suffering from their own long-term problems.
“If you think of twitter as a party; it’s like - why am I at the same party as Donald trump?, and it’s not just a party - it’s a yelling party” - Dave Rupert, shop talk show.
There is no short term solution to undo years of bad behaviour.
- Define what your values are. Are they slowly shifting because of complacency?
- Start a blog. Follow some bloggers. You probably know a bunch from FB.
- Get your security up to snuff! Go and research some password management software.
BONUS TIP: If you need to keep accessing FB Messenger, to keep up with your mum - you can sign up with a burner phone number (I did).