Over the last few years, I've gotten a steady stream of messages from people complaining about how Google and Microsoft spies on them and asking me what, if anything they can do to stop it. Many of these people have gone through extraordinary steps to prevent such spying including paying for VPN subscriptions, using Tor, and even not using services from these companies from their home computer. But each and every one of them are missing a very important and critical point that I hope to make clear to you today:
YOU ARE NOT A VICTIM OF MICROSOFT OR GOOGLE!
Furthermore, these companies are not as the narrative goes, 'enslaving humanity and stealing our privacy'. YOU ARE CHOOSING TO BE ENSLAVED AND TO GIVE AWAY YOUR PRIVACY. Yes, you read that right: nobody is 'stealing' anything from you; you are giving it away for a little bit of convenience. You are no more being stolen from than if you asked me to check your mail while you were out of town and I said 'sure, but it will costs you $5.00 a day'. Am I stealing your money? Of course not. It's a voluntary relationship that you are entering; one that you can also end at any time you want.
Both Microsoft and Google depend on the fact that most people, including myself, are lazy. We don't like to jump through hoops just to get things done. We like things streamlined, fast, convenient, and easy. We don't want to have to think. We want stuff to 'just work' and 'be magic'. In fact, I think these companies have gone a step further and deliberately tried to dumb us down about our technology so they have the opportunity to step in and be our saviors, in exchange for our privacy of course. Unfortunately, for most people, it's a deal they are all too willing to strike. Most of us don't value our privacy. We don't that when a government agency or a company reads our email we aren't just compromising our security and privacy, we are also compromising the other persons privacy and security. You might have the right to not care about your privacy and to give it away for a little bit of convenience, but who gives anyone the right to give away my privacy for their convenience.
So now that we've explained how we are willingly enslaving ourselves, the big question needs to be answered.
It's one thing to accept that we're complicit in our own enslavement but it's another to discuss what it's going to take to end that enslavement. Thankfully, in this case, the answer is pretty simple:
DON'S USE PRODUCTS THAT ENSLAVE YOU.
For just about every single Google or Microsoft service or product that you use at home or in the office there is a privacy respecting alternative out there. These alternatives might not be as flashy as Windows or as easy to use as Google Docs or Office 365 or as no-setup required as Skype but they are out there and all you have to do to end your enslavement is to take the time to use them. It's going to take a bit of time and it's going to take a bit of effort. You might even have to learn something new or deepen your knowledge of something you already know but the only thing keeping you from freedom is you.
So what next? Start by taking baby steps. If you're using Gmail, start to look for privacy respecting alternatives. look at Proton Mail or, better still, learn how to run your own mail server and take total control of your email. If you're using Skype just to chit-chat with family, seriously look at programs like Jitsi and encourage your family to move to it too. Using Google Docs or Office 365? What's so horrible about emailing a document back and forth between you and your coworker? Sure, it's less convenient but it can be much more private. Use Windows or Mac? Download and take a serious look at Linux. Step by step you can take your privacy back from these companies. Revoke the deal you made with them and set yourself free. Stop the excuses and, like Nike says, just do it!
The bottom line is that you aren't going to free yourself in a day. You didn't get in this web of surveillance and spying overnight and you're not going to get out of it right away. But every step you take is a step that is closer to freedom. More importantly, it's taking data out of the hands of someone you shouldn't trust and putting it where it belongs: under your control.
Lastly, I know some of you reading this will think this article is harsh. It is. It's deliberately so. I'm tired of hearing people complain about how they wish they had privacy like it's some sort of forgone conclusion that it's gone and there's nothing they can do about it. Microsoft isn't going to empower you. Google isn't going to empower you. These and companies like them have a good, solid, financial reason to keep you asleep in convenience. But it's time you wake up. Because only then can you realize the truth: you can empower yourself. And that, my friend, is true empowerment that no company can ever take away.