Valentine’s Day Q&A

or: Interview With An “Average” Non-Privacy Person

If you follow me on Twitter or Mastodon, you likely saw over the last 6 weeks or so that I was planning to do a Valentine's Day Q&A with my partner featuring listener submitted questions. My partner humors me about privacy stuff, and she does care a little bit (for example, she often sends me links to apps and asks me to identify any serious privacy concerns about them) but overall she's nowhere as privacy-minded as myself. A lot of people seem to struggle with connecting with non-privacy people, and that can be especially devastating when you comes to someone you love. So while I don’t consider myself a flawless paragon of anything, I do have reason to believe that my partner and I have a very healthy, strong relationship and thus I decided it might be helpful (and fun) to have her answer reader questions so you can get a first-hand account of what goes through the head of someone who’s not a privacy enthusiast and how we make it work.

Bonus: at the last minute, my partner asked to make this a video interview, so if you prefer video content (or you’re just curious what my better half looks like), you can watch the interview on YouTube, Odysee, and PeerTube. Without further adieu, let’s jump in.

Q: How do you feel about the whole “privacy” thing?

A: When you first introduced it to me, it was kind of scary to realize that all of this stuff is happening behind the scenes and I had no idea! Now it’s kind of part of my day-to-day life. I guess for other people who are also actually into privacy, like Nate, it just kind of feels like an everyday thing now.

Nate: For the record, that just reaffirms my belief that more people would care if they knew how bad it was. I firmly believe that a lot of people who say “I have nothing to hide” or “I don’t really care,” you don’t care because you don’t understand how invasive it is.

A: Especially me, remember when I got really scared, I had my privacy scare. I thought that my job was looking at my text messages and I was like “oh my god” and I think after that I started using a VPN more. But I think it was one of those things that they could only see it if you’re logged into the [company] WiFi or something? It was like “well I’m gonna start using a VPN because I don’t want to use my data so I’m still gonna be logged into the WiFi but you can’t see me.” Though I think it was just an empty threat.

How much of my security posture has rubbed off on you?

A: I guess just the things that you listed: ProtonVPN and Signal. And I guess – because [Nate’s] the more technical one between us so you know what you’re looking for – I do allow you to actually get on my computer and my phone for any tracker kind of situation, with Windows and Firefox and things like that. I guess just kind of those things – Signal and ProtonVPN and whatever it is that you feel you need to do to keep me safe.

Note from Nate: I use the same stuff I recommend on this page and this page of the website to secure her computer with minimal disruption.

What privacy advice did you actually end up implementing in your life?

A: Signal and ProtonVPN. Well actually, I remember you set up a ProtonMail for me, so I guess that kind of counts in a way.

Nate: Yeah, you’ve been using that a lot more.

A: Oh yeah and SimpleLogin, too, I just remembered that.

Nate: Oh yeah, you actually asked me about that one.

A: Yeah, and cards. So there’s a lot more than just those two things. Very little by little.

What compromises have you had to make with me for privacy?

A: I feel like you’ve made more compromises than I have.

Nate: I mean that is… yeah, that’s true. I’ll be honest.

A: The reason why I say that is because – for anybody who is watching this who is a privacy person and they’re kind of wanting their partner to also be very privacy-centric, it is kind of that whole “trying to compromise” thing but you also have to let your partner be their own person. Definitely one of the biggest compromises, I think, is definitely TikTok.

Nate: Do we compromise on that?

A: In a way, because I guess to me you could always be worse and not want me to have that ever and be mean about it. I feel like if you had more of your way, you just would not let me have that app at all. Again, I just feel like you compromise more. If it wasn’t for me, we wouldn’t have a Roku TV. Compromises have mostly been on your side rather than mine.

What privacy measures that I take do you find the most annoying?

A: This probably would fall more under the compromise one: I really, really loved using Google Assistant on my Android and that’s kind of a compromise for me that I took is I don’t really do that anymore but I really loved Google Assistant in the sense of some of the funny things that she would say. The biggest thing: the f’ing VPN on the damn internet. It was just one of those things for me – especially when we first got the router – you were messing with it so much-

Nate: That I can understand.

A: Mostly because I would be on an off day and I just wanted to do whatever on the computer or the phone or whatever and I could not do it because there was no f’ing internet and I was trying not to just scream at you like “please, just stop! Let me have my day off! You can do this tomorrow, I don’t care! I’ll be at work tomorrow!”

Nate: That was a lesson I did have to learn was to wait until you weren’t having a day off.

A: If any of y’all ever get a DD-WRT router, please make sure that anybody in your household who also uses the internet: don’t torment them with this because it was a very difficult setup, it was really hard for me – it was that and, I guess I’m irritated about the VPN because of so many issues we’ve had with it. Really I think it’s just those two. Granted, I kind of would’ve liked a Google Home, but that’s a dream that’s dead.

Note from Nate: I am not as tech-savvy as a lot of my readers (or as some of you think I am). A DD-WRT router is not terribly difficult, but for me this was uncharted territory. I have never set up anything on a router prior to this besides the DNS, the WiFi name, and the password. When I got the DD-WRT device, I flashed it (which was remarkably simple), then I set up VLANs, VPNs only on certain ports and WiFi networks, port-forwarding for self-hosted networks, etc. Depending on your skill level and experience, this may or may not be difficult. There was a lot of trial and error for me, but if you have experience with networking you’re unlikely to encounter the same level of difficulty I did.

Where do you draw the line between privacy and convenience?

A: That’s a great question because I don’t know because I don’t think that line has been crossed. I guess in a way that’s kind of already been answered with the whole internet thing. There’s not really anything you have done that has completely impacted my life severely where I’m just like mad mad. I mean, there’s small inconveniences but those are usually fixed.

What do you think about Linux phones?

A: I don’t have an opinion because I’ve never messed with it. I don’t know if I would like it mostly because I don’t have any experience with Linux as a whole.

Nate: I can say from my experience that the Pinephone is not ready for the average user but in terms of a “linux-like” experience it really depends which one you go with because Ubuntu Touch, for example, you can’t use the terminal. It’s actually so locked down it is not designed to work that way. You have to use all the graphic interface stuff like the app store and stuff. So something like that, once it’s a little more polished, I think would be – assuming it had all the same apps and everything – it would be virtually indistinguishable from an Android or an iPhone, it would just be another option. Then there’s other ones like Mobian that are very heavy on the terminal and that’s a much more traditional “linux-like” experience. At least, in my experience.

A: If the day comes when it does become more user-friendly – that I don’t have to use the terminal or something to update all of this stuff and it just kind of updates automatically or at least tells me that it needs an update – if it’s something more like that…

Note from Nate: We got off topic here talking about how Android alerts users to updates, but I think the implication is that she’d be willing to try a Linux phone under these conditions.

Do you watch Surveillance Report?

A: I saw [this question] and I laughed so much and my answer to that is: I kind of technically have a front row seat to at least half of it, so no. My Surveillance Report is technically this [gestures at Nate] anyway. I don’t need to listen to the podcast when I live with half of the team. So, no.

What made you care about privacy? (In other words: “how can someone like me convince the people around them to care?”)

A: That is a difficult question because I didn’t truly start caring until it affected me. I’m gonna sound very braggy here: the only reason that I managed to get one of Nate’s friends on Signal at all was because I knew how to kind of “work it” in such a way that “it does this and that and whatever.” “There’s these things that I like about it personally that maybe you might like about it.” Like recently, with Tiktok videos, especially with a lot of them being three minutes long. For example, Nate doesn’t have TikTok, but there are some TikToks that I find that I really want to share with him. Since [Nate] doesn’t have the app, and you’d rather me not send them to you with a link anyways, I just download the video if I can and just send to you and I can actually send it versus if it’s just regular MMS, you can’t do that cause it’s like “oh the video’s too big! I can’t handle it!” and Signal on the other hand is over here like “la la la la!” just doing the thing. And the voice message, too. The voice message feature, I know most phones already have that but I’ve run into a problem if I’m sending a voice message to someone either on Instagram or even Facebook Messenger, you can’t do that. You can’t send long voice messages, you have a very limited amount of time to do that. It’s just really hard to get someone to care, it really is. It’s kind of like the whole “you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped” thing. If somebody is just stubborn like that and they don’t want to hear about it and they don’t care no matter how many times you try to drill it in their head that Facebook is bad and this is bad, the way that you’re doing this thing – if it has not affected them personally yet, it’s not gonna matter. Again, I didn’t start using ProtonVPN or get really, really terrified about my privacy being invaded until I was told to my face that my job reads my text messages. We all love our creature comforts and unfortunately a lot of them are very privacy invasive. I usually just say “hey, here’s an app, you can download it if you want to.” Like Signal, “here’s all the things I like about it,” and if they still don’t get it, then I’m just like “okay.” Keep fighting the fight. This is not me saying “stop fighting.” Clearly a lot of people care because otherwise we would not be sitting here right now talking about privacy.

Nate: For readers, the part of that that really jumped out to me – and this is something I’ve noticed when you get people on Signal – is you focus, like you said, on the features. A lot people criticize Signal, for example, because – it does have shortcomings, like requiring a phone number. They promised us usernames like three years ago, or maybe even more than that. What the heck, guys? But as she’s pointed out, all these features they keep prioritizing that seem really stupid that nobody wanted like GIPHY integration, those are the little features that reel people in. When we’re trying to spread privacy to the average person, they want the features. I kind of like the fact that Signal focuses on the features because that’s what’s going to reel in people that maybe don’t care about their privacy as much – or at least not right now – but now they’ve got that protection because they’re like “all my friends are on Signal, I can join group chats, I can send massive video files.” Those little features get them in and to an extent I personally don’t even care what gets people to start using this stuff. It’s a net win for them and for everybody when they start protecting their privacy, even if they’re doing it inadvertently. That’s my opinion.

A: Go look at all of the things that you use and be like “these features are amazing and this is what makes it amazing for me!” The way that people are wired is that they want to know why something works for you and how they can also benefit from it. That’s why everybody loves Facebook because they “benefit” from it. Especially for people who could potentially be making other products for privacy, figure out what you can do to get the average person who doesn’t really care about privacy, see what you can do to market that. “Why do I want Signal on my phone? Why should I use it? I don’t know anybody who’s using it!” Features are always important.

Did you have anything else you wanted to say?

A: If anybody ever has any more questions for me, just ask Nate and I can definitely respond. I don’t mind being asked these questions. It’s times like these where I’m like “maybe I should join The New Oil’s Matrix room...”

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