Kool-Aid with Karan

Making Personal Privacy Accessible

Over the past six weeks I’ve discussed alternative tools to help protect users’ privacy in various circumstances. From online browsing to email, I’ve attempted to provide user-friendly, privacy-oriented alternatives to mainstream products. In the wide world of software, there is an entire ecosystem of open source products ready to fill almost any niche use case. Today, I would like to highlight a few products for a variety of devices and applications that I think are interesting and useful.

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On July 15, 2020, Twitter got hacked. The hackers gained access to a swath of high-profile individuals’ accounts like Elon Musk and Joe Biden, and used that access to scam other users into handing over bitcoin. Having coincidentally written about decentralized social media the day before the hack, I thought it would be a good idea to further break down what decentralization means.

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Pillar of Value:

Social Media = Public Square

Presenting ourselves to the world comes with inherent risk. With every piece of ourselves we share online, we risk compromising our personal privacy and security. We show our faces, share our feelings, and sometimes engage in difficult discussions. The beauty of social media is that the global community can, for the first time in history, engage in the same discussion all at once. The new connections we make and old ones we maintain through social media more often than not outweigh the risk. Yet, scrutiny and periodic reevaluation of the platforms we use to share our lives is vital to maintaining an open and trusted medium of communication. If the last decade has taught us anything, it's that social media platforms of yore are no longer providing a beneficial service that outweighs the immense damage they've caused to our privacy.

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Pillar of Value:

Office Suite = Notebooks

The office suite on our computers functions like a physical notebook and pen. We write our ideas, create charts, and perform calculations in our notebooks to save and sometimes share with others. The office suite familiar to most is Microsoft Office. Regardless of whether you buy a Mac or Windows machine, buying the Microsoft Office suite of tools is almost always a necessity. If you’ve ever bought a new computer, you’ve inevitably performed the Microsoft license dance. Maybe you check if your family and friends have a spare license you can use. You might even ask a niece or nephew if they can purchase a license for you with their student discounts. In the end, you are beholden to Microsoft for your everyday digital notebook needs.

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Pillar of Value:

Emails = Letters

Almost anyone with internet access has a personal and a professional email address through which hundreds of emails are exchanged weekly. With the ubiquity of email in the online ecosystem, it is important that we ensure our emails are kept private. One of the most common email providers is Google through their Gmail service. Gmail provides a host of features that are enticing and highly valuable. Between their ability to provide near unlimited storage and additional access to the Google suite of external tools, it’s the go-to email provider for many people. However, with every Google service there is a catch. Google is only able to provide comprehensive products for free because they use and sell the data they collect from you in exchange for that access.

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Pillar of Value:

Conversations = Texting

The connection between texting and conversation is an obvious 1-to-1: the exchange of words between two or more people. Unlike a face-to-face conversation between people, text messages sent between parties leave a record. This is where End-to-End Encryption (E2EE) is important. E2EE is a secure method of protecting text conversations where only the sender and receiver in a conversation can read what is written. Chances are you're already using a messaging service that has E2EE. Apple’s IMessage and FaceTime are E2EE as well as Facebook’s Whatsapp Messenger. Now, the question we must ask is whether we trust the companies hosting the servers through which we communicate.

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Pillar of Value:

Train of Thought = Online Browsing

Audio accompaniment available here.

Our inner train of thought is the most personal piece of our identity. Our train of thought is not shared with anyone and dictates how we communicate and act. Internet browsing is the online version of your train of thought. The moment you open up your internet browser and type a query into a search engine, you are drawing a path of links and pages mapped across the internet. Over time this map begins to resemble our inner thought processes as we look online for answers to our questions. As with your inner train of thought, it is important to protect your online train of thought from others. The biggest threat to your personal internet browsing comes from entities tracking and collecting your online activity. Three of the biggest culprits are Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Online activity is tracked across websites by companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon through certain types of cookies. Cookies tend to get a bad name in the privacy space because of the cross-site tracking capabilities of ones deployed by large data collectors like Facebook and Google. However, many cookies deployed on websites are just temporary stores of data and allow websites to function more smoothly and are relatively innocuous.

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