Over a long period of time, I tired and become exasperated with the ‘free’ services I was using to manage my ever-expanding digital life.
Don’t be evil?
The ‘free’ services often started out as useful and more convenient than their stand-alone commercial competition. However, as time went on and I became invested in their ecosystem, the service would lose features and functionality previously available. The interface would be stripped of options and pathways, streamlining the experience, lowering the cognitive entry cost to the lowest common denominator. A gradual erosion of usefulness and control over my data stored.
Unbeknownst to me, the carefully curated information I was feeding into these walled gardens, was being picked over and analysed, by algorithms. These silent prying eyes were building a picture of who I was, or what I was doing.
My mail. My voice. My movements. My money.
What I watched. What I listened to. What I read. What I shared.
My communications with other like minded individuals.
My dreams and aspirations, my likes and dislikes.
They were tracking my personal footprints across their systems, also allowing collaborating (and paying) vulture capitalists to pick over my identity and activity for their own needs. My digital self, sold on to strengthen unregulated monopolies and gullible advertising firms.
All OUR data, weaponised against us, as we suckle at the dopamine drip of a socially connected digital utopia.
My privacy was being compromised and the machinery and good faith were being withdrawn.
“You have privacy concerns? Why not take control under our Privacy settings panel?”
A Privacy Panel that undulated and morphed into a more and more cryptic, complex array of options, hiding pitfalls and traps within legalese doublespeak and faux choices.
Hijacked and Blackmailed
Taking control of my privacy started to become like negotiating yet another mobile phone deal, where everything is a web of jumbled options specifically designed to trick me into making the most lucrative choice for them, and to bargain away concerns with a fake sense of a deal.
It’s a pressured sales pitch, with blackmail and hijacking thrown into the mix.
The Honeytrap and the milking shed
I was being coerced and herded along with my friends and acquaintances into various milking sheds for our data. Export and exit options taken away. Portability and interoperability removed, or hived off for premium subscription features.
I was losing control over my stuff. I’d been sold a neoliberal fable about progress and the digital future being online. I’d been reassured that these pioneers wouldn’t be ‘evil’. When they had built the data harvesting machinery, they realised the information gathered was valuable and lucrative. Reduced control meant only exposing the mechanisms for keeping their nutrient source.
The loss of control, was marketed as ‘ease of use’ or accessibility and the convenience of ‘free’ digital services for everyone. The future. The big tech digital utopian lie.
Come and taste the candy. Tell your friends! In fact, tell us who are your friends, and we can hook them into the honeytrap too!
The gradual constriction
I’ve been on the Internet and pursuing a digital life since the late 1980’s.
I’ve seen it at it’s birth, and the raw power available to tech savvy users. It felt good then. A new world. A new adventure. An implicit utopia promised only by the blossoming of open protocols.
The limited but accessible and convenient front end of this “black boxed” spying machine invited you in to a world of possibilities but was a corporate mirage for a controlling asylum.
Over time you become aware of a gradual constriction, you start to notice your new attire is a virtual straight jacket and it is beginning to ever so slightly suffocate you.
The jacket keeps on reconfiguring itself, changing over time, adding more buckles and straps in different places, pulling in tighter and tighter.
Taking more of you. Giving less and less.
More attention, more data, more connections, more media.
Less and less freedom.
Less and less contro.
Binding you and your friends, family and interests to the constantly monitored interrogation chairs within the asylum.
I’d had enough.
So I took the decision to burst out of these shackles, no matter how inconvenient or painful it may be. I would rid myself of these free services and escape the asylum.
Out of the jacket.
Out of the milking shed.
Away from the honeytrap.
To go to where I wasn’t the nutrient source. I was the priority in this technological equation!
I was the data caretaker and controller. I would take it upon myself to enhance my own digital life using tools and systems that were free. Without caveats or conditions.
Back to basics.
An ethical digital life.
Not one tainted with lies or traps.
I’d like to thank those who inspired me to take on this challenge and make the change.
pointed out the joy of Neocities, and the simplicity of being able to easily host an information site without much effort or fuss.
showed me what could be done with the simplest of designs, and its ethical solar self-powered hosting.
is a curated crib sheet that will show ethical, easy-to-use and privacy-conscious alternatives to the data hungry spycorp softs.
a site delivering invaluable information regarding protecting your privacy and configuration the ethical options available.
a video channel detailing many aspects on preserving your privacy, security and the measures you can take to minimise the attention of surveillance capitalism.
A NEW WAY
I have created a list of the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), along with any ethical services I use. These tools crafted for people to use technology to fulfil their own needs, to configure their own way, has really helped me pursue the digital life I want. Support FOSS, if you can.
Some Shackles Persist
There are a number of services I haven’t found an ethical alternative to, especially ones that include media (film/movie/game) delivery.
It seems the DRM systems attached to the fragmented services, are all tied up in monthly subscription schemes. The mobile phone thing again.
I’ve got various content I’ve bought, splayed across disparate corporate delivery mechanisms, all locked away and only available for streaming with accounts and tracking using proprietary apps on a myriad of devices.
I buy, I don’t control how I consume.
At the moment I can’t see any way out of this trap.
Short of buying the film/movie on DVD or BlueRay and ripping the content off the disc in some form. To have digital “backups”.
Similarly, audiobooks would need to “recorded” by capturing the audio stream out of the DRM locked application.
A lot of books purchased through the Amazon Kindle store or the Google Play Books store are locked away using Adobe DRM, and I’ve yet to find a way to unlock these in a format I can use on a DRM-free book reader. Select titles through Google Play Books are actually available as DRM-less, but they are mainly odd linux manuals or other reference materials.
There is hope, Cory Doctorow kickstarted his latest novel Attack Surface in ebook format and audiobook format to see if he could crowd fund it and escape the all cloying monopoly Amazon has over these media. He did it! It can be done.
Bandcamp is my preferred music source these days, where you can explore and purchase music at often very reasonable prices, whilst also supporting independant artists.
There are a number of aspects to my digital life that are still locked away, and require further investigation.
Hardware wise, my phone choices are very limited, but there are some new options appearing on the horizon (Librem 5, Pine Phone, Fairphone) that may be worth looking at, once we have a decent privacy aware ethical Linux phone.
I hope this journey shows that there are a LOT of alternatives to the corporate spyware that is routinely spoonfed into the emerging tech aware general public. You have a choice. You can take back a lot of control.
But there is still a long way to go.