Undoubtedly, the length to which many companies go in pursuit of their customers’ private data should be treated very seriously. Not only the companies themselves often use this data in dangerous and irresponsible ways, but also they subject it to the threat of hacking. The bigger and the more detailed database a business has on its clients, the juicier the morsel is for data thieves.
All in all, the rising trend of people taking their privacy with a great deal of caution is a good thing.
But like all good things, it does require a certain amount of moderation not to become a mockery of itself – and it appears that too many privacy enthusiasts lack this moderation.
For some of them, anything short of a military-grade setup for their personal computer is weak and untrustworthy. Everything is either black or white to them, with no shades whatsoever. These are the people who are willing to spend not hours but days and weeks on end reading VPN reviews and testing various services to create the perfect, Platonic combination of a virtual private network and Tor to make sure the state or the corporations don’t know what they are looking up on the internet
(at glorious dial-up speeds, no less).
And you know what, this is completely fine. If somebody wants to make data privacy their hobby or even a part-time job for no other benefit than the peace of mind, it’s actually a great thing.
Alas, there are certain issues with this kind of attitude towards personal privacy that, ultimately, make the entire cause weaker.
First of all, there is the problem of gatekeeping, be it voluntary or not. Like in any community, there are some extremely vocal members who dominate any discussion as well as control the general narrative. Though most often not out of any ill intent, these users make the whole community look a tad unwelcoming to a newbie wandering in.
While it is true that asking easily google-able questions on forums is generally frowned upon, what we see too often in privacy communities all around the Web is downright hostility to those who just start their journey towards improving their confidentiality. Heavens forbid someone asks how to make Google Chrome less creepy – no, the only answer here is clearly to delete the thing entirely and never mention it again.
Such an attitude is sure to scare some people (and more than a few) off, to say the least.
Secondly, such fanaticism in protecting one’s privacy sometimes exhibited by the members of various internet forums also harms the cause in a different way. The flaming insistence on taking the most drastic measures available, combined with the lack of sensible explanations for the reason to do so makes the community look like a bunch of conspiracy theorists to an outside observer.
And when something looks funny (or pathetic), it’s very easy to dismiss – even if it, in fact, is important.
Our fight for privacy should be a concentrated global effort if we want to actually achieve anything.
Therefore, spreading the message that our data privacy is at risk is supremely important and to do that effectively we must be more open accepting of novices.
After all, riding the train of self-righteousness and exclusivity never worked well in the public eye.
About: James Herrin - Cybersecurity researcher who studies the ways of reducing cyber risks and improving Internet safety.