The Zen Of Regaining Privacy

privacy social media gathering data photograph of binary data being collected

Privacy and time concerns motivated me to disconnect from social media some time ago. The full dopamine addict set of LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter was on all my devices. Together with a Google account, these guys tracked my every move. Plus far too much of my time was being sucked away by this opiate combination.

For no good reason usually. I could find myself in times of fatigue cycling through the apps endlessly. It took some while to realise that it intruded on my ability to reflect and think critically. In that respect it was a great hiding place. Easier to scroll and get the hit from a new like or retweet than to have to tax the mind. Rational people would say “don’t be mindless, just delete them.” Great in theory. I know a lot more mindless than rational people it seems.

Disconnecting Social Media

LinkedIn got the chop first, some time ago actually, maybe two years ago. I could no longer cope with an inbox filled with exhortations from Salesforce specialists. I don’t even know what Salesforce does, in my defence. Recruitment consultants. Half-baked business proposals. It was a great day when I pressed delete on that one. I have never missed it for one second. I do get some quizzical comments about me not being on the platform. As though I have somehow missed the keys to the golden gates of business heaven.

Facebook was always justified by it being people I knew at some stage in my life, including close family. In many ways useful and sometimes fun. The quality check was that I knew the people I connected with. Therefore my world was limited, given my natural reticence for engaging with other human beings. So why the privacy concern? The Cambridge Analytica scandal disturbed me. I did my research and decided I wanted at least a pretence of being a private citizen. So I downloaded my data and pressed the big red delete button. WhatsApp got it too, just to really put the boot into Mark Zuckerberg, I’m sure he’s still in pain.

Phase Two

Now for a decision on Instagram and Twitter. That was a more difficult. There’s always an argument to maintain the status quo when you’re an addict. I argued it was that it was a business tool to keep tabs on competitors, customers and industry contacts. Any shaky argument in a storm. Actually my particular poison tended to be Twitter. It’s such a compelling news source, many times I saw news there before the news saw the news. Then people started to dismantle the news to suit their own view of the world. Within minutes it could be tough to sort the news from interpretation of the news. The way human beings wade into each other with such cognitive bias and disregard for not only libel laws, but basic human decency was also something I couldn’t look away from.

By now, I had throughly researched the amount of personal data being sucked from my keyboard by deft algorithms. The output of these algorithms can be frightening to the point of inducing borderline paranoia. Sometimes I was served an advert for an item or service I had recently been thought about. Not searched for, thought about. No privacy.

Jarod Lanier

Of course my microphone and camera were spying on me, it was so obvious. More likely my internet use over a long period was being aggregated. Then compared to the data of tens and tens of thousands of others with similar surfing habits. Tens of thousands of instances where people like me had their privacy ripped away. Finally serving with me something with a very high probability of being of interest to me. I made the decision to delete these. I listened to the audio book of Jarod Lanier’s “Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now”. By the end of chapter two, I had indeed done the deed. Jarod made me feel I wasn’t being rash and acting alone.

Private Browsing & Email

Google was next, I downloaded my account data and then deleted anything to do with Google: mail, browser, YouTube, etc. I understand there are thousands of megabytes of my email messages and search data and location records on a server farm somewhere in Nevada. I do get that “delete” has a different meaning in Googleland.

My new browser doesn’t keep search records. My email is hosted by an encrypted service in Switzerland. Personal email and this website is hosted in Iceland. My internet traffic all passes through several countries and the IP address changes by the minute. Do I think I’m really invisible? – not really, a decent hacker can find me. Is my personal data now all mine again? – not really, I couldn’t part with Amazon Prime, I watch Netflix, etcetera. Does it cost more? Yes it does, but it’s a liberating feeling. I pay more in order for Facebook and Google not to be able to monetise my personal data.

Finding The Zen Of Privacy

On the upside. I’m scorching through books, both reading and audio. I’ve set aside ten minutes a day to use a meditation app. Location services and notifications are been manually turned off on my iPhone. Now I focus on a task until it’s done, undisturbed by notifications of Russian bots liking my mediocre post on Instagram. Or some raging pedant has scorched my harmless tweet.

Sometimes a phantom vibration emits from my phone, I’m told that’s a real condition. I do go to a Social Media Anonymous meeting every so often. We sit in a circle trying to maintain eye contact rather than looking down permanently; if I can stop the miming of a scrolling motion, I’ll really be making progress. It has freed up time to do more useful and fulfilling things. My information comes from what I consider to be quality publications and podcasts. In fact I added to my roster at the weekend with a new subscription to the New York Times. If I was still on Twitter, I would know that that’s a failing publication. An orange-hued sociopath and narcissist in Washington DC said so.

The Facebook Dichotomy

As I edit this post, I read in the Financial Times that Facebook have delivered record results. Even though people are deleting the app from mobile devices, their user numbers have risen. As have profits from advertising to their followers. I’m heading in one direction, the world in another it seems.

I also read a great interview with Roger McNamee, a former mentor for Mark Zuckerberg and early Facebook investor. His soon to released book Zuck shines the spotlight even more brightly on issues such as privacy, election meddling, fostering hate speak, et cetera. The press I’m reading today focuses on Facebook as contributing to teenage suicides. As Facebook grows, the resistance becomes stronger. Every age needs its villains and at present it appears Mark Zuckerberg is one of the selected candidates.

To be clear, my change was driven by the whole digital eco system, not just Facebook. It just happens to be the platform occupying most media inches as I write this. I didn’t want to be completely silent however. Committing words to paper, even digital “paper” engages me, so here I am. I’m almost certainly here on my own. Given I’ve cut myself loose from Google and all its search, advertising and optimisation tools. And I can’t broadcast via social media platforms. But here I am, on my own terms, my definition of privacy intact.

Also published on Medium.

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