Privacy is no longer the inalienable right that it once was. Instead, it is now a currency. It is bought and sold, under-regulated, and invisible.

"If you're not paying, you're the product."

It's become clear that there are multiple sources of surveillance in the United States: the government, which conducts its operations in the name of national security and public safety, and corporations, which operate for profit. While the government likely hides darker motives, they operate publicly for a much more noble cause than corporate surveillance, which cannot even attempt to hide under the guise of "national security." (It's worth noting here, however, that U.S. government mass surveillance has not prevented a single terrorist attack).

I've found a sort of solace in the state of corporation-operated surveillance, however: instead of having a single big brother, there are a swarm of little brothers running around, all grasping for whatever data they can about the populous. While it's unfortunate that our privacy has been commoditized, it's comforting to know that the effort is spread out among hundreds—if not thousands—of corporate entities.

This situation developed out of a fundamental American misunderstanding of the nature of these companies. As is well known now, their services aren't free. Phrases such as If you're not paying, you're the product! help to explain the situation, however they are still misleading: you are paying, however money is replaced with privacy (a currency whose value seems to be rapidly increasing!).

Not only are you being bought and sold, you're paying for the experience.

Fortunately, there is a way out—but it's not easy. First, you must delete your Facebook. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about this one. Privacy and Facebook are mutually exclusive, and there are better ways to keep in touch with friends. Meeting in person, texting, and calling among them. Plus, these means of interaction have the added benefit of being private.

Next, stop using Google. This one is a bit harder, as Google's products have become almost a necessity, however it's possible:

  • I ditched Google Drive for cloud storage on my own personally controlled encrypted server. While this approach works well for me, it isn't suited for a non-technical person, so to anyone else, I recommend Dropbox. (While Dropbox is not a service designed with privacy lovers in mind, it utilizes a 'pay for it' model, meaning that you aren't the product, you're the customer.)

  • Instead of using Google's contacts and calendar service, I use ownCloud to host them myself. Note: ownCloud is also an alternative for cloud storage, however Dropbox does a better job.

  • Instead of Gmail, I use ProtonMail. It's encrypted and hosted in Switzerland, so your data will be safe with them. They provide a free plan which very few people will outgrow, but for those who require more storage, various paid plans are available. It's also open source.

  • And just don't use Gboard. Ever. It serves no practical purpose, and there is no excuse for giving Google access to everything you type on your phone.

For texting and calling, do your best to ditch your carrier. The security telephone calls is abysmal, and SMS is no better. Instead, use Open Whisper Systems' Signal. It's open source and end-to-end encrypted, and provides group messaging, calling, and media sharing. Apple fans: while Apple was admiral in its summer 2016 resistance to the FBI's request to provide the private signing keys to the iPhone, iMessage is not open source and so Signal will always provide superior security.

This is just a brief introduction to the various services you can use to reclaim your privacy. I will follow up with a complete list in a following post.

The fact that these services have not gained mainstream adoption and instead have to pander to privacy enthusiasts is very revealing about the public opinion and understanding of privacy. Perhaps one day, we will become the customers again. But until then, the price of privacy will continue to rise.

Personally, I'd rather sell a kidney.