Changes Aren’t Permanent, But Change Is
As a veteran, my approach to healthcare and job opportunities has always been different than most. I’ve always been in reasonably good health, never been much of a thrill seeker, and have a pretty robust immune system. Other than a hardcore sweet tooth, I generally take at least some care of myself. As such, that meant I could be a little riskier, allowing for a successful freelance career. But then, I got married. Suddenly, the math changed and I had to start considering health care when I considered employment. This is hardly a unique situation: after adopting pets you have to consider who will feed them when you’re on vacation, or when you have kids you have to consider what will happen to them if anything happens to you.
Yet, for some reason, people in the privacy community have a hard time wrapping their minds around change. To some extent, I get that. I think at some level we’re all a bit resistant to change. Change can sometimes make us feel out of control, or sometimes it’s just the plain old “fear of the unknown.” Sometimes there’s a valid reason here; for example, I’ve successfully managed to get nearly everyone I know using Signal. If Signal turned out to be unsafe tomorrow for any reason, it would be a monumental nightmare to not only pick a service that’s as polished, stable, and feature-rich but also to convince everyone to move over. It’s also unwise to simply rush into the latest new service blindly because it’s new. It’s always a good idea to slow down and first see if these services even stand the test of time and second wait to see what the experts think (or to examine the project yourself if you are one such expert).
But other times, I think we just get stuck in our habits. When I got into privacy, iPhone was clearly superior to Android in the privacy/security front. At the time custom OS’s were nearly unusable for a normal person and Android’s security was a joke. But while I advanced in my personal privacy journey, the entire Android landscape matured and soon Android became an increasingly appealing option for me. Making that change represented a huge disruption for my existing day-to-day life. I mean sure, at the end of the day a phone is a phone and they all more or less function the same, but anyone who’s ever made the switch or even temporarily had to use the other OS that isn’t their daily driver knows that it’s a bit of a shock and it takes some time to get used to the differing menus, capabilities, or thought that went into the design. In the case of Android specifically, I also had new apps, features, and possibilities to explore.
It is vital that as a community we become accepting of change because it will come for all of us whether we like it or not. There are plenty of recent examples. Encrypted messenger WickrMe was fully retired this year, but even before it was shut down it was on a downward spiral. Michael Bazzell claimed he had detected it sending telemetry back to organizations such as Microsoft and shortly thereafter Wickr was sold to Amazon. Two more recent, salient examples include the sales of Raivo OTP (once recommended on The New Oil) and Simple Mobile Tools. In most cases, there is little or nothing standing in the way of negative changes, whether it’s as simple and (arguably) innocuous as introducing telemetry that you disagree with or full-on shutting down or selling out.
In the world of writing, aspiring writers are instructed to “kill your darlings.” That means no matter how attached you get to a work, you must be willing to set those feelings aside and do whatever it takes to make it the best possible version of itself. That might mean cutting a part you really like, rearranging some sections, or just throwing out the entire thing and starting over. (I did a large amount of that in writing this very post.) In privacy, we must have the same attitude.
Compromise and “enshittification” are extreme examples, but I would argue they’re probably the least common culprit forcing us into change. I’m willing to bet that by sheer numbers, simple life circumstances and growth are. As mentioned above, getting married changed a lot of things for me, privacy included. Prior to being married, I didn’t even own a TV. Now we have two smart TVs because my wife loves to consume streaming content. As such, we also use ProtonVPN on our router because they promise to work with streaming services (a promise that thus far has been kept). But if I were still single, I would probably be using IVPN or Mullvad on my router and I would also be far more aggressive with tracker blocking. A single woman dating may download one of those safety apps that shares her location with trusted individuals to stay safe on dates. A parent may decide that – at least while their children are younger – it’s worthwhile to enable location tracking their phones (or to give them phones at all) in case something bad happens. They may also decide to use certain mainstream, less-private services to better control their child’s content intake. I’m not condoning helicopter parenting, for the record, but the internet is a vast and dangerous space and it would be pretty reckless to just let your young children run wild on it without supervision.
Another example might be outdated devices. Perhaps you were quite happy with stock Android so long as it was still receiving security updates, but if you suddenly found yourself in possession of a device that has reached “End of Life” and you didn’t have the funds to upgrade, the math might change. You might decide that it’s worth it to flash a custom OS so you can still receive at least some updates.
And of course, there’s always growth. Many of us never stop to consider this, but for most of us we make a lot of changes when we first start our privacy journeys. We go from Windows/Mac to Linux, SMS to encrypted messaging, Gmail to encrypted email, Google search to private search, and more. Sometimes we even make multiple changes, testing out several messengers, email providers, Linux distributions, and more. Why then, once we settle into a suite that works for us, do we suddenly decide that this is it, finality, the end, there can be no room to improve after this – at least, not significant changes like the ones that got us here? This is ridiculous. It’s called the “End-of-History Illusion”: the belief that you have experienced substantial change or growth up til now but now things will just be the same forever from here on out.
Change can be scary, but it is vital. As we go through life, different services will come and go and in some cases services that are perfectly fine will no longer fit our needs. We shouldn’t be afraid of change. Change allows us to grow and improve, but it also allows us to live fulfilling, full lives. Privacy is a human right, but so is food, education, and shelter. Despite this, most of us don’t spend all of our free time learning about water quality, teaching, or construction and architecture. We appreciate these things and want to have a functional knowledge of them (how to spot bad water and buildings we should absolutely steer clear of) but most of us have other hobbies, interests, priorities, and desires. Privacy should be no different – it should protect us and our rights, but it shouldn’t prevent us from getting the most out of our lives the way we want to. I’ve written on this subject before, so I won’t rehash it here. I’ll just leave with the parting thought that time waits for no one, so it’s best to accept the impermanence of everything in life, especially technology and ourselves. Don’t be afraid to embrace evolution and change up your privacy strategy as needed. As the band Rush so famously put it well: “changes aren’t permanent, but change is.”