Rethinking Our Place in Digital Platforms

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The Left needs to start organizing on privacy-respecting digital platforms. We can’t—mustn’t—rely on centralized ones; they have enabled bad actors, be it the people on the business side (service providers, including Capitalists) or on the client side (end users, including members of the State). It will continue to happen, as long as people flock their platforms.

Mass Surveillance, Surveillance Capitalism—whatever it’s called or form it takes, it’s a real threat. Not only to the movements that matter, but to everyone. We are supporting it, directly and/or indirectly, whenever we engage within the centralized platforms.

We (un)knowingly share our data, our friends' and family’s, and our colleagues', which are then fed to their servers for analysis. The algorithms that these Big Tech designed will not be fair, will not be inclusive, and will be used to oppress marginalized people. And, we think, the movements that matter often comprise marginalized people.

In order to start mitigating risks, we must use different services for different tasks. Don’t put all the eggs in One Drive one basket. This technique is often referred to as compartmentalization.

In this context, we won’t be using the definition related to psychology and psychiatry. What we mean by compartmentalization is by isolating different tasks to different software.

Consider these examples:

For… Instant Messaging Email Video Call
School, Work Viber Gmail Zoom
Friends, Family FB Messenger, WhatsApp ProtonMail, Tutatnota Discord
Activism/Political Work Signal, Element Riseup, Disroot, Mailbox Jitsi, Jitsi Meet

These are just examples. You will have to discuss with your colleagues how to go about moving your organization to decentralized platforms.

It will be inconvenient for a while; any transition is. Convenience, after all, is one of the main selling points of centralized platforms. But convenience is rarely robust. Convenience, in the context of capitalism, takes people as hostages who’ll inevitably develop a Stockholm syndrome.

We’d rather sustain ourselves far into the future, no? So, let’s all (try to) be patient, even if current circumstances dictate otherwise.

There are alternatives

This is a non-exhaustive list of lists of alternative platforms for interacting with comrades:

  • Privacy Tools: Provides services, tools, and knowledge to protect your privacy against global mass surveillance.
  • PRISM Break: We all have a right to privacy, which you can exercise today by encrypting your communications and ending your reliance on proprietary services.
  • AlternativeTo: A directory to help find alternatives to other software, with the option to only show open source software

Why do we still use the mainstream ones?

Most of the alternatives are Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). In developing nations that seem like they’d need it most, some people refuse FOSS because it supposedly cheats people out of learning the “best software” used in the developed world.

Besides, piracy of proprietary softwares is tolerated, if not outright encouraged. Why bother?

We support expropriating the products of capitalism. In the case of proprietary software, however, there could be hidden costs.

When Microsoft saw the value of monitoring their users at the operating system level, piracy almost become a non-issue. This is evident when they eventually released Windows 10 for free, a leap on their part, knowing that previous versions had to be bought.

Still Microsoft: they have been generally okay with pirating their Office Suite for personal use. This is part of their strategy: when they sell the Office Suite to schools and businesses, people are already familiar with their software from “using it at home.” And now that they are moving their services to the cloud (Office 365), they’re still banking on people to use Microsoft Office Suite because it’s “what we’ve been using.”

Also mentioned, convenience is one of the major reasons why we still use these platforms. The Big Tech companies design their services to deliver the most convenience in the least amount of time. Naturally, people want ease of use. If there are more people in a given platform, the next logical step would be to focus your efforts in that platform, to reach as many people as possible. Why bother with “niche” ones?

Importance

The face of the future into which we accelerate is two-sided: digital and dystopia. Choosing not to participate towards building that path is the first step at attempting to secure a decentralized future.

Any technological system cannot scale up without needing resources, without employing questionable human resource practices, without inadvertently harming and destroying the environment1. (Yes, crypto-bros, we’re also looking at you.)

Going digital need not go to dystopia. Small scale is the only sustainable system. These small systems will then federate with one another to form larger networks. This is how we can build a robust digital space—no single point of failure, no central entity.

Perhaps, we should take it a step further, and also question whether going digital is even necessary in all of our efforts? Sure, communication benefits from its digitalization. We have reduced spaces and time to Here and Now. But we have to continuously examine its effects in our past, present, and future relationships with people, and even the nature around us.

In the end, respect their decision

We don’t mean to preach from a higher ground. These are only recommendations, but we don’t expect to change anyone’s disposition.

When you, dear reader, have similar discussions with your organization, remind everyone, including yourself, that such discussions should invite the exchange of ideas and viewpoints. Don’t be toxic about it. We believe what we believe based on our lived experiences; if you think that sharing your thoughts about digital privacy might improve the collective’s agenda, start from a humble perspective.

As long as there’s no harm being actively done, we must always respect people’s choices, and perhaps, try to talk to them next time.

We deserve our own digital safe space. We deserve to share it with with our friends and family. TNU


  1. This problem with scaling up systems can also be observed in other fields, not just in technology. ↩︎



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