Over the last few years I have chronicled my struggle to maintain my privacy while maintaining an effective online presence. If you are an avid reader, you know that I believe that I am fighting a losing battle. Today marks the beginning of a new chapter as I have finally realized that most people just don't care and nothing that you or I can do will ever be enough to make them care.
The details of what led me to realize this aren't particularly relevant. Needless to say I have been attempting to transition away from Discord onto Matrix / Riot. For those not in the know, Discord is a proprietary text, audio and video chat service aimed at gamers. It is 100% proprietary and has a privacy track record that is questionable at best. Matrix is an open and decentralized platform which aims to provide similar functionality without the accompanying loss of privacy. Riot is a popular client for Matrix servers.
I don't use Discord a lot. I mainly use it to talk to a handful of people. Most of those people either ignored my attempt to discuss switching services, indicated that they couldn't make the social sacrifice required to move or just outright gave me flak for attempting to do so. But that's not what we are here to talk about today. No we are going to talk about how my tiny and seemingly meaningless experience trying to dump Discord (which I summarily did this evening after deciding to simply ignore the feedback I received) is a symptom of a larger problem. That problem of course is the fact that people don't care about their privacy.
Despite an endless stream of scandals, Facebook is still the world's largest social network. By all available measurements it would appear that the users are hopelessly addicted to the service despite the fact that it is clearly making them miserable. Countless studies have been done and articles have been written which summarize their results. Nevertheless people refuse to leave. I left. Personally I'm more happy and mentally well adjusted for it. But the reality is that Facebook can still track me. It is still gathering information about me.
How is that possible? Nearly everybody else I know is still there. They are still posting status updates (some of which undoubtedly reference me either directly or indirectly), uploading pictures (some of which undoubtedly include me) and generally sharing bits of information about themselves which can also be applied to me. The cold and hard reality is that Facebook still knows plenty about me, whether I care to participate or not.
I face the same problem with DNA testing services. Personally I believe that the current crop of DNA testing services are some of the worst businesses the Internet has spawned. Not only are they gathering millions of peoples of DNA at cut rate prices, but they are also scamming you by providing questionable and false test results. The reason for this is obvious. Testing your DNA isn't their primary business. Collecting your DNA and monetizing it is. Even without the obvious profit motive angle, the ongoing risks to your privacy here are staggering.
Of course I have abstained from using these services. But I have close family members who have used them. So that pretty much means that I can now be genetically identified with a reasonable degree of accuracy because I have close relatives who have decided to submit their DNA samples to third parties of questionable trustworthiness.
The inescapable conclusion is that people don't care about privacy. The vast majority of the populace is willing to give up whatever a corporate entity asks them to in exchange for some pithy of convenience. In the process of selling themselves out, they are selling out those of us who would choose a different path.
So what can I do? I can't win this battle and neither can you. Perhaps this is one of those situations in which things are going to have to get a lot worse before they can get better. But in the event that society doesn't wake up to the ugly consequences of the exchanges they are choosing to make, at some point I need to grapple with the idea that nobody is ever really going to care enough to inconvenience themselves.
That's a depressing and ultimately sobering thought.
P.S. In the event you have come here wondering what happened to me on Discord, you can reconnect with me on Matrix by signing up for an account via Riot. They have some nice mobile clients as well. My handle on Matrix is @jaylittle:matrix.org for anybody who is interested. You should also be able to look me up using my email address.