Open Thinkering


Herd immunity for privacy

Self-hosting is the holy grail for privacy advocates. And I don’t mean having a VPS hosted for you somewhere; I mean having your server physically located on your own premises.

Messaging, including email, is particularly important when it comes to privacy. Now, there are three reasons I choose not to run my own email server:

  1. I have no desire to be a sysadmin, and these things can be fiddly to set up and subject to downtime.
  2. Due to the preponderance of spam, the big players have developed procedures and policies making it difficult for self-hosters to get their emails delivered.
  3. If my focus is privacy, well almost everyone else I will contact uses Google, Microsoft or Apple, meaning Big Tech will get my data anyway.

The third point is an important one to dwell upon, and is the reason why I continue to argue for privacy even in the midst of a pandemic. I can take all the defensive actions I like, but if my family and friends don’t change their practices, then I’m going to get diminishing returns.

In addition to the email example above, consider the following scenarios:

  • Images — you have to be part of a social network to stop people being able to tag you, which is a bit of a dilemma if someone tags me in a photograph on Facebook or Instagram (where I don’t have an account)
  • Location — when I travel, I’m often with family or friends so if they’re sharing their location, my location is also being shared.
  • Tracking — when using shared computers it’s not difficult for Big Tech to associate accounts coming from the same residential IP address to make inferences .

This all might sound a bit tinfoil hat, but privacy is the reason we have curtains on our windows and why we don’t tell everyone what we’re doing all of the time.

I realise that we can’t turn the clock back, and goodness know privacy advocates have made some missteps along the way. But now we live in a world where both governments and Big Tech have a vested interest in the general public lacking what I’d call ‘herd immunity for privacy’.

So although it seems like somewhat of a futile task at times, I’ll continue to pragmatically protect my own privacy, and encourage those around me to do likewise.

This post is Day 26 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

5 thoughts on “Herd immunity for privacy

  1. Well said. I grapple with the fact others around me constantly use location services and tag/photography of me and the kids (mostly own family!). I’m really enjoying your recent blog posts sir. Hope all is well and hope I get to bump into you in the not to distant future!

  2. Privacy and data protection has become one of the main issues that really concerns me from a technical perspective. You raise some valid and interesting points. I don’t use FB or WhatsApp. My email is protonmail and always use a VPN. It’s a small step but I feel it’s the one in my control. With regards to a phone I still trust Apple who guarantee data protection and never share use it. All data is locally stored on my phone and iCloud is encrypted and ever used to marketing. It’s the only reason why I am still using a smartphone. If you still like Android try e foundation. It’s android without Google. Never tried it as am happy with Apple so far.

    1. Hey Atif, thanks for the comment. I think the VPN and Apple comments are interesting, as you’re trusting the former almost like another ISP and the latter who are one of the richest tech companies in the world?

      Ideally, I’d like a third option to the duopoly of Apple and Google (e foundation is still using AOSP). What we need is the ability to *guarantee* privacy instead of having to trust what faceless corporations tell us.

      To my mind, we’re in a situation a bit like the following. We don’t want people walking past our house to look into our window and see what we’re doing; we want some privacy. But instead of the ability to put up curtains or blinds, we’re trusting companies who tell us that they’ve put one-way mirror material on the window so we can see out but no-one else can see in…

      1. I do agree with you from Philosophical point of view. However I do believe the guarantee that is needed will also require to some degree of trust. Trust is the key element here I think. You are correct that I am currently trusting the likes of Apple and VPN providers to fulfil their end of the bargain. If that is the case and there has been no indications as such that those agreements have been broken then I guess some products are better than others. The privacy that is actually needed requires ideological framework which I am unfortunately very passimistic about.

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