Be quiet to protect your privacy

There are things we shouldn't disclose: that we cracked a website, bought cryptocurrencies and gold, robbed something, etc. To avoid being identified we must use technologies that allow anonymity (such as Tor and virtual private networks), pay in cash, and not show IDs, that's clear. However, we often forget something very basic: to be quiet.

Creating an anonymous digital identity, for example, is very simple: you register with a username on a website using a VPN or Tor and upload content. Losing that anonymity, on the other hand, is also very easy: just reveal some data related to your real identity. These digital identities can have data, but they must be false. The way we write can also reveal our real identity, so it's recommended to make an effort to change your writing style.

The people you interact with shouldn't know anything you want to keep hidden, even if they are people you trust. You never know if those people you trust today will still be trustworthy tomorrow. The con man who sold the Eiffel Tower twice, Victor Lustig, was arrested because his mistress became jealous of a relationship he was having with another woman and decided to rat him out.

Of course, many times we want to brag about our feats. We want to brag about our hacks, we want to show off.... Better not to do it. It's better to be humble and make up some excuse. “That's money my father gave me”; “I have cryptocurrencies, but not much”... In short, the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut if you don't want to get caught and you don't want to be in the spotlight. Don't be the fool who brags about buying 100 grams of gold and the next day finds his house ransacked.

Don't waste your life with ads

You are watching a video you like. The video is interrupted. An annoying ad. Back to the video. A sponsorship. Subscribe. Leave a comment...

Slowness, pollution, consumerism

Digital ads make you buy useless things you don't need and waste precious time. In addition, ads cause pages to load more slowly and create huge CO2 emissions (both directly and indirectly).

Ads that kill

Advertisements have always been used to manipulate our perceptions using psychology. Advertisers sold tobacco as a symbol of liberation, unhealthy foods as if they were healthy... Then health problems and death followed for people who were convinced by those ads.

You pay for them with your money and time

If you buy a product advertised on the Internet, the part that companies spent to produce and propagate the ad is paid by you: with your time and money (we are talking about a billion-dollar industry).


You can't express unconventional political opinions, nudity is not allowed... Advertisers don't like to take risks, everything has to be under control. If they don't like you, your video will be demonetized, it won't appear in the search results. Anything that doesn't contribute to consumerism must be ignored, because it doesn't make them money.

Zero privacy

With the rise of targeted advertising, many companies monitor everything you do on Internet, creating psychological profiles that allow advertisers optimise ways to manipulate you.

A life without ads

For all these reasons, I block ads on websites, videos (including sponsorships), etc. With the time I save, I can find the information I'm looking for more efficiently and read articles or watch videos without waiting. This has allowed me to learn more in less time and to spend more time doing what I really like.

If I buy something, I try to buy it wisely:

  • What are the ingredients?
  • Are there higher quality options?
  • Where was it produced?
  • How much does it cost?
  • ...

If I like something and I want to support it, I do it directly (without intermediaries) so that they get more money than they would if I gave away my time to abusive advertisers.

Of course, advertising on the Internet will continue to exist, because there will always be sponsored articles, corporate-funded videos or things like that. Luckily, it is possible to avoid many advertisements using programs like uBlock Origin and Piped.

Privacy is a collective issue

Many people give a personal explanation as to why they do or do not protect their privacy. Those who don't care much are heard to say that they have nothing to hide. Those who do care do so to protect themselves from unscrupulous companies, repressive states, etc. In both positions it is often wrongly assumed that privacy is a personal matter, and it is not.

Privacy is both an individual and a public matter. Data collected by large companies and governments is rarely used on an individual basis. We can understand privacy as a right of the individual in relation to the community, as Edward Snowden says:

Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

Your data can be used for good or bad. Data collected unnecessarily and without permission is often used for bad.

States and big tech companies blatantly violate our privacy. Many people tacitly acquiesce by arguing that nothing can be done to change it: companies have too much power and governments won't do anything to change things. And, certainly, those people are used to giving power to companies that make money from their data and are thus telling states that they are not going to be a thorn in their side when they want to implement mass surveillance policies. In the end, it harms the privacy of those who care.

Collective action starts with the individual. Each person should reflect on whether they are giving out data about themselves that they should not, whether they are encouraging the growth of anti-privacy companies and, most importantly, whether they are compromising the privacy of those close to them. The best way to protect private information is not to give it out. With an awareness of the problem, privacy projects can be supported.

Personal data is very valuable — so much so that some call it the “new oil” — not only because it can be sold to third parties, but also because it gives power to those who hold it. When we give it to governments, we give them the power to control us. When we give them to companies, we are giving them power to influence our behaviour. Ultimately, privacy matters because it helps us preserve the power we have over our lives that they are so intent on taking away. I'm not going to give away or sell my data, are you?

Fix or kill automatically installed JavaScript?

This article was first published by Julie Marchant under the license CC BY-SA 4.0.

In Richard Stallman's essay, "The JavaScript Trap", it is pointed out that people run proprietary software which is silently, automatically installed into their browsers every day. In fact, he very much downplayed the problem; not only are most users running proprietary programs every day merely by browsing the Web, they are running dozens or even hundreds of such programs each day. The JavaScript Trap is very real and prolific; the Web is said to be so broken without these non-standard, usually proprietary extensions to HTML that Web browsers have moved toward not even offering an obvious option to disable JavaScript; disabling JavaScript, it is argued, will only cause confusion.

It's obvious that we need to solve this problem. However, in focusing on whether or not scripts are "trivial" or libre, Mr. Stallman misses a crucial point: this behavior of automatic, silent software installation is, itself, the main problem. That most of the software in question is proprietary is merely a side-effect.

Keep reading Fix or kill automatically installed JavaScript?

No Cellphones Beyond This Point

This article was originally published by Alyssa Rosezweig under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

I refuse to carry a cellphone – to my puzzled friends in our techno-obsessed society, here’s why. A number of you have already asked what my number is to text me. Perhaps you were a teacher in one of my classes asking me to run some proprietary software in class. Maybe you were a family member, concerned that in an unsafe situation, I would not be able to call for help.

There are four layers of reasoning beyond my refusal to have a cellphone, despite being an active Internet user. In order of least to greatest importance:

First, mobile electronics are uncomfortable to me. My time on computers is largely spent on writing, programming, and art; for me these tasks require full-sized keyboards or drawing tablets. This is not an ethical reason to avoid phones and tablets, of course, and I recognise that many people have uses more suited to the tiny form-factor.

Second, cellphones users create cellphone culture. In a fraction of an adult lifetime, cellphones have changed from nonexistent to socially acceptable to use while talking to someone in real-life. This culture is not inevitable for digital electronics – many people use technology responsibly, for which I applaud them – but it remains depressingly common. If I were to have a phone in front of my nose while pretending to talk to my own friends, it would continue to perpetuate the notion that this is okay behaviour. As I fear I might become someone who misuses technology in this way, I avoid carrying a cellphone at all to avoid the ethical risk.

Third, cellphones are grave risks to freedom and privacy. The vast majority of phones on the market run proprietary operating systems, like iOS, and are chock full of proprietary software. Additionally, unlike most laptops and desktops, many of these operating systems run signature checks. That is, it is cryptographically impossible and in some cases illegal to replace the system with free software. This in and of itself is a reason to refuse to touch these devices.

The real situation is unfortunately worse. In conventional electronics, there is a single main chip inside, the CPU. The CPU runs the operating system, like GNU/Linux, and is in full control of the machine. It is not this way for cellphones; these devices have two main chips – the CPU and the baseband. The former has the usual set of freedom issues; the latter is an Internet-connected blackbox with a terrifying set of capabilities. At minimum, due to the design of the cellphone networks, any time that the phone is connected to the network (that is, the baseband is online), the user’s location can be tracked by triangulating cell towers. Already the risk is unacceptable for many people. Traditional telephony operations are vulnerable to surveillance and tampering, as neither calls nor texts are encrypted. And, to add insult to injury, few phones feature acceptable baseband isolation. That is, the CPU, which might run free software, does not control the baseband, which for practical purposes is illegal to run free software in the United States. Rather, in many cases, the baseband controls the CPU. It doesn’t matter if encrypted messaging over XMPP is used if the baseband can simply take a screenshot without the CPU-side operating system’s knowledge nor consent. Alternatively, again depending how the baseband is connected to the rest of the system, it may have the capabilities to remotely activate the microphone and camera. 33 years late, a world in which everyone carries a cellphone surpasses George Orwell’s nightmares. Maybe you have “nothing to hide”, but I for one still care about my privacy. Cellphones are spooky. Count me out.

Finally, in light of the grave implications for society and freedom, I refuse to perpetuate this system. I could decide to carry a cellphone anyway, deciding that as a boring person I can sacrifice the freedom in the name of instantly-gratifying convenience. But by being complacent, I would only add one to the size of the problem, a heavy ethical burden when using the cellphone network contributes to the network effect, as the name suggests.

If I were to have my phone out in front of others, I would be signaling that “cellphones are okay”. If anybody looks up to me ethically, they too might continue to use a cellphone.

If I allowed my friends to text me rather than use more ethical media, I would be signaling that “texting is okay” and “it is reasonable to expect people to text”. If they were on the fence about the ethics and need of carrying a phone, this might push them to keep it.

If I used a phone for activities in class, I would be signaling that “21st century students should have a phone”. I would rather be the final holdout in the class to remind them that this is not an ethical assumption.

If I get a puzzled look from my acquaintances, confidants, and teachers, I now have the opportunity to educate them about free software and privacy. Few people are aware of the risks of these “portable surveillance devices” as Richard Stallman would write. These “awkward moments” are perfect opportunities to help them make a more informed decision.

By carrying a cellphone I would be perpetuating something evil. By actively refusing to carry one, I push back and actively do something good.

So, rather than use a cellphone, what are my alternatives?

For most digital tasks, including writing this post, I use a laptop running free software. As a bonus, to connect to the Internet, I use a Wi-Fi card which runs free firmware!

To talk to my friends, I use decentralised, open specification protocols where possible. In particular, I’m available on email, XMPP, and Mastodon. In some cases where this is not possible due to the network effect, I use free centralised systems like IRC. Occasionally, I use proprietary systems that have been reverse-engineered for use with free software, like Discord [the reverse-engineering project she linked to no longer exists]. Where possible, I layer on strong encryption implemented with free software, like GPG and OTR, for extra protection against privacy threats. If locational privacy is an issue, I will connect via Tor. Any one of these measures is a major step above phone calls, text messaging, Whatsapp, or Snapchat. All of them together will shield you from most adversaries.

To connect while I am away from home, I look for public Wi-Fi networks, which can be made secure when paired with encryption and Tor. If this is not an option, I may need to ask someone else to borrow their electronics – this is unfortunate, but while the network effect is in play, it is ethically acceptable to exploit it. Most of the time I will avoid connecting to the Internet away from home anyway; I’m more productive offline!

So, yes, I do get by without a cellphone. It is not always convenient, but productivity, freedom, and ethical behaviour win over convenience any day.

I encourage you to do the same.