Why You (Yes You, Reading This) Need to Take the Lead in Privacy & Security

I have a lot of my friends on encrypted messengers. Some of them even have an encrypted email provider. But for a lot of them, I’m the only person they communicate with using those services and when I try to convince them to get their friends and family to join, they respond with something along the lines of “they just don’t care about privacy or security.” But it’s up to you to lead the charge into an era of privacy and security, and here’s why:

1. They Probably Won’t Do it on Their Own

Humans are creatures of habit, and it almost always takes some sort of external force to get us to change our ways. That could be a simple as stepping on the scale one day and going “holy crap, I didn’t realize I put on so much weight” or as serious as a near-death experience that forces us to quit drinking and find Jesus. It could also be as simple as your close friend or family member asking you to download a messenger app, or explaining to you why Facebook is bad. Chances are you, the person reading this, didn’t just wake up one day and go “I should care about my privacy.” You probably read an article, saw a documentary, had a chat with a friend, or were a victim of some sort of data abuse. Your friends won’t just wake up one day and start using Signal. You have to guide them into it.

2. You Have to Normalize It

Even right now, with headlines about privacy and data abuse at an all-time high, I still regularly run into the same resistant arguments: “I have nothing to hide,” “they already know everything about me anyways,” “I like Facebook,” etc. But when you insist on this stuff, it normalizes it. I talked in another blog post about the idea that if everybody used encryption, it wouldn’t seem suspicious or weird. I used clothes as an example: nobody ever looks at somebody in a coat and goes “oh, what are they hiding?” They think “oh, that person must be cold. Fair enough.” (Unless maybe you’re wearing a coat in Miami in the summer.) When you insist on using privacy-protecting services and practices, it normalizes it and people respect that. Once, at work, the marketing guy asked if it was okay to post a picture of me on the company’s Facebook page celebrating that I had achieved a major certification. I’m sure legally he had every right to do so, but he respected my privacy and knew I hate Facebook and wanted to be sure I was okay with the information he was planning to share. (And, actually, the post was fine by my standards. I gave the okay.) When you normalize privacy, people will respect it and not think of it as strange.

3. It’s a Moral Issue

At the height of the 2016 election, when I was sadly still a Facebook user, I saw a meme that still makes me chuckle and I wish I had a copy of it. A friend of mine was third-party and was vehemently opposed to the “two party system” that US politics has evolved into. He posted a meme once of Jesus teaching the masses saying “when confronted with two awful candidates, always pick the lesser of two evils because doing the right thing is a waste if nobody else is doing it.” Privacy is the same. Just because Facebook already has your data or because nobody else cares about their privacy or security doesn’t mean you should sacrifice your own. Don’t be afraid to take a moral stance. Of course, don’t be a self-righteous dick. One of the reasons our marketing guy at work respected my views on Facebook is because I’m not arrogant about privacy. I will definitely tell people why I don’t want to use a certain product. When we finally started working from home in the wake of the pandemic, I sent my boss an email politely requesting that we not use Zoom, citing my reasons why, but also explaining that I knew we had to do what was best for the company in the end. Originally he had planned to use Zoom, but decided at the last minute that Google Meet was better for us since we already used G-Suite products anyways. I don’t know if I had anything to do with that decision, but I’m certain I didn’t do any harm. Stand up for your convictions, but also balance it out with a healthy dose of respect for others and reality of the situation.

4. Most People Will Humor You

Today, I messaged my mom on Signal and told her that I’d like to switch to Matrix. I explained that lately Signal has been doing some stuff that I don’t fully approve of, and I feel like Matrix better fits my values. I also explained, however, that I will be holding onto Signal for those couple of people who won’t bother to switch. Despite it’s recent issues, Signal still has top-notch security and I would rather people use Signal than Facebook, WhatsApp, or regular SMS, so I’ll be keeping Signal to talk to them. I definitely expected my mother to be one of the people who would reply with “no thanks, I’ll stick to Signal” but to my surprise she asked me to send her a link to a Matrix client. I had to walk her through some steps over the phone but eventually we did get an encrypted room set up for us to communicate and now we’re on Matrix. The point is, most people will humor you. More often than not, your friends value you and respect your values even if they don’t share them. Your friends probably won’t humor you if you ask them to delete Facebook, but if you ask them to switch to a user-friendly app like Wire or ask them to use an encrypted email provider like Proton or Tutanota, they probably will when talking to you. (I made the deal with my mom that if I set up a Proton account for her, she would be willing to use it, and she has.) And while they may only use these apps with you, that’s better than nothing. And it opens the door for you to explain to them why you want to use these apps, how it benefits them, and why they should get their friends and family to use them as well. But it all starts with you.

But How?

Honestly, my best experiences have always come with approaching it from a place of transparency and humility. When I started using encrypted messengers, I asked my friends and family if they’d be willing to switch, explaining that I don’t want my cell carrier reading my messages. Only one person resisted the change, and that was cause he didn’t have room on his phone for another app. Eventually even he came around once he had a bigger phone. When I start dating someone, I tell them up front that I’m very interested in data privacy and that if things go well I’ll probably ask them to use some type of encrypted messenger. You’d be amazed how often that person asks which one and starts trying to set it up without me even officially asking them to switch. It’s shocking. The important thing is to be patient with people, to explain to them why it’s important to you, and realize they’re doing you a favor. In the end, it may grow on them. My mother asked my sister to start using Signal without me prompting her at all. My partner got all of her coworkers and some of her Facebook friends on Signal with no input from me. But it all starts with you taking the lead and being the example.

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