Reclaiming data sovereignty during the global pandemic
I’m moving. Digitally, that is.
I’m moving away from some of the biggest data hoarders, those with data-based power that is way out of proportion to the level of privacy protection and user controls that they provide (e.g., Amazon, Google, Facebook).
To me, data sovereignty means reclaiming ownership of my data, choosing platforms that are more transparent about what they do with data, and that pay you for sharing your data if they are using it or selling it.
I’m not a Luddite. I want to live and work in the modern world. That means sometimes rubbing elbows with the technocracy that’s getting rich from our digital addictions. I’m not ready to completely delete my Facebook account cold turkey yet.
Cleaning up my digital footprint is not about cutting off these platforms for the sake of data dogma. What I want to do is to consciously use them, instead of blindly letting them use me. I am divesting my data from the biggest players and diversifying where I keep my data stored.
Digital freedom, step-by-step
Here’s what I have done, and what I am doing, to take back my data.
- Removed my self-published book from the Amazon platform, and deleted my shopping account along with 16 years of purchase history.
- Deleted 13 years of email messages from Gmail, saved my email archive offline, and switched to encrypted ProtonMail using my own domain.
- Deleted a decade’s worth of meetings, reminders, birthdays and other data from gCal, and synched my scheduler with Apple iCal instead.
- Deleted Chrome browser from both my laptop and my phone and replaced it with Brave as my default web browser.
- Deleted the Google search app from my phone and replaced it with DuckDuckGo for mobile Internet search.
- Deleted Google Maps from my phone, reinstalling only if needed while traveling to an unfamiliar place and deleting it again immediately after.
- Deleted all documents stored in Google Drive, and moved my file backup and storage to my external hard drive and Dropbox.
- Deleted Facebook messenger from my phone, asking to be contacted via email for work purposes or Signal for personal messaging.
- Preparing to delete WhatsApp and move to Signal for messaging (Signal is encrypted, open source, and not owned by Facebook).
- And eventually, I will move my Facebook Group community, Regenerative Purpose Village, over to Mighty Networks.
All of these steps to greater digital freedom are simple, but they also take significant time to execute. Why would we bother with all this? Here are a few reasons why you might want to consider doing some of the same, as explained by a friend of my friend Marco (who does not have Facebook):
Presence. I want my life back. My phone and constant online presence can suck me into a vortex of addictive behavior. An effort to scale back my digital footprint helps me become more present for my real life.
Surveillance. I don’t like it when people look over my shoulder at my screen on the train or in a cafe. I certainly don’t like it when they do it covertly, as Facebook and Google do. We don’t know what they know, where they store it, what they might use it for now, or in the future.
Robots. Artificial intelligence is developing at a rate much faster than we can even understand. Because it’s not clear who is collecting data, what they intend to do with it, or even who knows who is collecting and using data, the potential for harm is huge. We can’t even imagine what the super processors of the future will be able to reconstruct with the metadata that is collected today.
Solidarity. Even though I might not have anything to hide, someone else may have with good reason. Say, a homosexual in homophobic Uganda where this way of being is punishable by death. My digital footprint and my metadata could be used to predict behavior for someone like me in a different context.
If we all take steps towards data sovereignty, collectively, it will have an impact. It will change the way our metadata is collected, stored, distributed and used. As I talked about in my book Regenerative Purpose, when we make small changes en masse, the accumulation of our individual daily decisions adds up to a powerful force for transformation.
Take a stand. Make a new choice. Tell someone else about what you are doing, and why. Let them tell someone else, and this way, the movement spreads. Together we can make big waves and create real change.
How to reach me: I’m deleting WhatsApp on Sept 1, 2020. If you have my WhatsApp number (it starts +66 … and ends … 78) you can find me on Signal with the same number. If you’re used to connecting with me on Facebook Messenger, you can reach me via email at: connect (at) heywendymay (dotcom).