What price privacy?

The Dumbest Blog Ever§ recently highlighted that ‘together, Apple and Google phones account for 99% of the smartphone market in the US‘.

I avoided the dumbphone trap myself for years, relying on a ‘burner’ phone that did only what it said on the tin (phone calls and text messages). I’ve had it for years. It only cost me a fiver, and as I kept it for emergencies I haven’t actually had to top up its (pay-as-you-go) account for ages. Just call me a cheapskate.

My brother gave me his old dumbphone when he ‘upgraded’ his, and I’ve been using that for a year now. I can’t deny that this new (to me) widget is useful in many ways, and don’t resent the monthly tenner I pay for the connection. I find it especially invaluable in waiting rooms and queues; I’ve never mastered the knack of chit-chatting with strangers, despite that being a time-honoured tradition.

I am leery of the creepy tracking issue, though. When 99% of dumbphone users adopt a sheep-like mentality, refusing to rise up as one in united outrage against the constant spying, those who care are backed into a corner, with no way out.

‘The American Dream’ promotes this vaunted thing called ‘individuality’. Ironic.

'Stupid Sheep' by Nina Paley, CC BY-SA 3.0
Stupid Sheep‘ by Nina Paley, CC BY-SA 3.0

While it’s true that this perpetual intrusion on our privacy makes this marvellous technology so (relatively) inexpensive, it does so by allowing its vendors to hawk our personal information to all and sundry.

There are alternatives.

  • Once upon a time, we used to send letters in things called ‘envelopes’, protected by custom — and in some cases, regulation and even law — forbidding their opening by anyone other than the addressee. Most email systems these days do not have this feature; but some do. ProtonMail, for instance, features both ‘end-to-end‘ and ‘zero knowledge‘ encryption, which is a geeky way of saying that nobody but you and the other party can read your messages.
  • Many seem to be addicted to messenger apps to keep in touch with friends and family. But we needn’t use the ones that allow snooping: you can choose to switch to Signal for its secure text conversation facilities.
  • Cloud-based storage is in the ascendant. But, because of its convenience, most avail themselves of the offerings of the ‘Big Tech’ giants (such as OneDrive, Google Drive and Dropbox); the data stored there may be secure from loss, but not from prying eyes. Secure cloud alternatives exist (I use Sync.com myself).
  • Your Internet service provider (‘ISP’) can record every bit of your data traffic. ‘Virtual private networks‘ (VPNs) protect against this (and some offer encrypted services too) — though you do have to choose your VPN provider carefully, as they can potentially snoop on you, too.

Impressed by its simplicity and speed compared with the bloated, sluggish, advert-riddled competition such as Lycos, AltaVista and Infoseek, I used to be an advocate of the Google search engine. That was back in the days when they proudly espoused the motto “Don’t be evil” — which has been quietly ditched since Google’s reorganisation (placing it under the ‘Alphabet’ umbrella). The insidious danger that lurks beneath the tracking is that Google’s search learns what I like to search for — and in so doing it insulates me from differing opinions. It places me in a filter bubble, an echo chamber where there are no dissenting voices; and that’s where extremists such as flat Earthers, Moon-landing and global warming deniers, anti-vaxxers and Trumpists reside.

These days, I use — and advocate — DuckDuckGo instead, which is just as simple, just as fast; and the ‘Duck Side‘ doesn’t track me, doesn’t ‘helpfully’ learn what I like, and doesn’t offer biased results.

Meanwhile, all I hear these days when I raise the subject of privacy is, “It doesn’t bother me, I have nothing to hide.” Yeah… I think that will be the last free thought most (are allowed to) have as we are frogmarched into a totalitarian global corporate state….

§ Here’s a pingback, Herb, as a thank-you for the thought-provoking link!

Header image: ‘Stupid Sheep‘ (image size reduced, canvas size increased)
by Nina Paley (“Nina’s Adventures”) CC BY-SA 3.0

About peNdantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
This entry was posted in ... wait, what?, balance, Capitalism, Communication, Computers and Internet, Core thought, Education, Ludditis, Phlyarology, Strategy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to What price privacy?

  1. Margy says:

    You’ve brought up many good points… and I think you are saying it is good to listen to dissenting voices because skepticism is the antidote to sheepism.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. leavergirl says:


    Liked by 2 people

      • leavergirl says:

        Heh. I have been having a hell of a time posting on wordpress sites. Don’t know what is going on.

        Anyway, I pretty much hate duck. I saw another search engine go by the other day that said it was not tracking, but forgot to note the name.

        Duck says they don’t track, but the searches are full of vapid crap, and it’s impossible to dig your way to buried blogs and other out of the way info.


  3. Herb says:

    Thanks for the shout! Since you are an H2G2 fan I expect you are familiar with the seemingly prophetic Max Headroom?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Frogmarched, that’s a good word.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for the useful information! Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How is it that you pay $10 for your phone service? From what I’ve seen, one line is usually 4-5 times more than that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pendantry says:

      Ah, I see I said ‘tenner’: I suppose I should have specified ‘£10′. The tariff I’m on gives me unlimited minutes & texts, and 6GB of data. I use the phone almost exclusively via Wi-Fi (easy enough to do atm as I’m working from home due to the pandemic), so I don’t need a very high ‘data bundle’.

      I would be reluctant to pay more than that anyway, though. The deals that offer a *cough* free upgrade *cough* every so often don’t fool me… you pay through the nose for such ‘freebies’. TANSTAAFL.

      Me, I intend to continue using this handset as long as it still works, and recycle it when it fails. Yes, buying a new one will be expensive, but I figure I’ll have saved more than its cost by not paying more than I need to for my connection. Oh, and there’s the tiny matter of ‘externalities’, the burden on the environment caused by humanity’s gadget addiction.

      Oops, sorry, I didn’t mean to rant. Honest! :)

      Liked by 1 person

      • 6GB is good for that price. I was paying $50 for 2GB a couple years back… And like you, I mostly use wi-fi (if at all). I forgot that you’re across the pond.

        People upgrade their phones every year, or two at most. INSANITY! Where do they get all that money? But also, WHY? If it does what it’s supposed to do, will you really notice this extra pixel in your camera?

        Liked by 1 person

        • pendantry says:

          “Insanity,” indeed. In my view it’s a sorry symptom of crazy consumerism. As for ‘why?’, well, I think that’s largely the result of the mass delusion that the economy is all-important; a fixation founded on the inability to accept that infinite growth on a finite planet is an impossibility. That can’t change while ‘normality’ is defined and reinforced by those whose ultimate goal is to add yet another meaningless zero onto the already obscene (and utterly inedible) sum total of their wealth, and those economists and politicians who are firmly in their thrall.

          PS I’m not across the Pond… you are :P

          Liked by 1 person

          • Your PS had me in stitches.

            It’s sad people can’t figure out how to occupy their time with anything else than mindless scrolling.

            Liked by 1 person

          • pendantry says:

            Glad I made you chuckle, thanks for letting me know. Just one such counts as a ‘success’ for me these days, given that the ‘mindless scrollers’ you mention will (totally unwittingly — and that’s the point) bring about the end of civilization as we know it.

            Liked by 1 person

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