Day 51 - All this about privacy

Privacy and security, as a single topic, is one of the pillars of discourse around today's technology. With phones, especially, concerns about privacy have been directed at Google while concerns about security have been cast over all major players in the technology sector. Though still complex, security seems to be a more straightforward topic. For example, all it takes for an app to be secure is for the maker to adhere to the fundamentals encryption. Privacy, however, extends to matters far beyond so-called guarantees. Google offers some of the strongest security guarantees in the business but in order to enjoy the world-changing services the company offers, we have to give up most of our privacy. Fingers are pointed at Google, and rightfully so, but accusations are not always sharp or insightful. Google is dishonest and opaque about what the company offers, how it operates, and what Google is.


For these reasons, the company deserves the highest scrutiny but as far as the privacy issue goes, we are all complicit in the phenomenon of Google. For the past few decades, people have turned their noses up to the very idea of paying for an internet service like email or web searching. The very idea was seen by many as an affront to what the internet was all about (the democratization of knowledge and commerce, apparently). Naturally, the power of advertising had to be harnessed to pay for web and app services. It was the only alternative. Google is simply the logical extensions of a market filled by consumers who refused to pay for web services. Oddly enough, the willingness to pay $1000 for a phone faced no obstacle or resistance whatsoever. The resistance was about paying for software-related services.   


And here we are today. There's a rise in the number of people who want to "de-Google" and are therefore willing to pay for services focusing on privacy and security. Perhaps we're seeing the beginning of a new phenomenon in which companies strike a balance balance between price (single payment or subscription) and privacy/security for basic services like email, notes, writing, and browsing. Perhaps, if privacy and security can be guaranteed for software, people will be more willing to buy cheaper phones. While Android remains one of the two superpowers in the OS market, surely a new operating system must be in the works for the next five years. Google itself might even offer the option of monthly payments for private browsing (though this is extremely unlikely). 


This is all tricky terrain. An important fact is that Google offers the best computing option for most people. Say what you will about Chromebooks, but they allow almost all people to do almost everything they need to on a computer. How many people in coffee shops need to be doing what they're doing on a $1500 MacBook Air or more for a MacBook Pro? How many people are paying for the extra RAM and an SSD for a Windows computer because they need the speed? A $500 Chromebook is a little piece of lightning that might have the best security available. And so many people are still overlooking these devices. There are good reasons to do so if video editing and gaming are main concerns. Otherwise, in a world where the Internet is virtually everywhere at all times, Chromebooks might be the best option for the vast majority of users. A possible downside is that, yet again, Google is a titan and their denial that their an advertising company is reason for concern.  


The basic issue is that we have so few options for quality services and operating systems. Luckily, a few options are superb. ProtonMail, Standard Notes, Brave Browser and Firefox (trying hard, Firefox is), Signal, and a few others. For integrated computing, Google is still far ahead, but only because too many people still refuse to pay for their services. ProtonMail, for example, is considered slow in turning out new services like calendar and storage. But how could it be any other way? People simply don't want to pay when gmail and Google at large offer so much for free. Well, we cannot have it both ways. If privacy and security are core concerns, we must pay for alternatives that do not rely on ad-based revenue models. If such a market grows, Google may have to adapt by allowing Chromebook users to use alternative browsers. Now wouldn't that be nice (although Chrome is outstanding on a Chromebook). 


To conclude, we all have to decide what we want in terms of privacy, security, and general quality of our web services. And once we decide, we have to accept that it might cost some extra money. To ease the pain of paying for an email account, maybe drink one or two less bear a month. Eat out one less times per week. Budget your groceries. It's all part of a healthy ecosystem of consumption that shapes our lives. The gods of entertainment want us to be happy, not distracted. Always remember, it was the need for entertainment that inspired that filthy caveman to pick up a bone and play a beat on a rock. 


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