Is this blog dead? No, but you could be forgiven for thinking so. I will be posting a little more frequently than over the last year. That isn’t a high bar.
Given the long silence, there are quite a few topics I’ve been thinking about and discussing with friends and colleagues. You’ll have to check in from time to time to see those discussions translate to a blog.
On the death of blogs and privacy
Blogs have changed since 2006 when this blog started. I don’t know when “peak blog” was, but it seems to be in the past. The audience monopolisers of facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, youtube, Instagram and more have, by turns, elevated and expanded voices, then monetised, controlled and manipulated those same audiences. In some, often ultimate tragic, scenarios, audiences are pushed to extreme views as an inevitable result of revenue-maximising, attention monopolising algorithms.
Brexit and Trump are the two big stories about the role of social media and revenue-maximising, attention-sink algorithms. There are countless more. I found this sobering TED talk about the disconnect between reality and perceptions. The talk uses a small Welsh village as a powerful example to demonstrate the impact of social media and at the same time the lack of transparency that makes these claims difficult to provide and all the more terrifying.
My journey away from the brink
In the last few months I’ve been on a security and privacy journey. Ironically, I harbour suspicions that this journey itself may be the result of the same pressure to extremes that youtube in particular is famed for. But each time as I try to opt out of webs of tracking and analytics cookies and code I am reminded how much tracking and identification is going on in the background and how defenceless almost all internet users are.
Sheepishly, I realise my prior habits of eagerly providing all my contact details and information to google, facebook and LinkedIn for vague, unspecified reasons makes me some of the most naïve out there. Facebook has been dead to me for several years. Since then, the base of research highlighting facebook’s adverse role in mental health, time-wasting, election meddling and terrorism makes that decision look even better than it feels.
Some unsoliciated privacy advice
If for some reason you are still on facebook, download your data (including contacts and birthdays if that is important) and delete your profile. Then avoid the nagging siren songs for a couple of weeks from facebook to try to entice you back onto the rocks. Your life will be better.
For now, I think I will continue to use Twitter and LinkedIn to post new blogs to reach a greater audience where users have become so used to those being the only places to monitor for anything.
I still watch clips on youtube, but I do so without logging in and with tracker blocking extensions loaded up in full force. I am aggressively migrating away from Gmail (about 90% complete) and now only check Gmail via an email client that doesn’t require me to log in to google. It’s easier than you might think. I hope you too will ditch Gmail, so that my emails to you aren’t also put into the machine for their monetary purposes.
I’ve ditched Chrome and am fortunate to have an iPhone and, generally, Apple seems less utterly compromised on this front.
Whatsapp remains a problem. Facebook owns WhatsApp and collects tonnes of metadata. Download signal and use that and help me slowly wrench the network benefits away from them.
Born again without google trackers
So that’s all background to this technical update on this blog, which is actually the primary purpose of this post. Almost since inception, I have used google analytics to track users and interest on my blog. It’s useful to understand which posts are most useful and interesting. However, I feel I owe you at least as much privacy protection as I’m trying to give myself. As of a couple of days ago, I have removed google analytics from this site and am using a self-hosted tool which keeps your data out of evil hands.
You are very welcome to block this tracker too.
Future blog topics?
I will explore thoughts on privacy (and longevity, and AI and risk and capital and hyper-selection and fairness and more as usual) in coming blogs.
Possibly helpful resources on privacy
Here are some of the resources I’ve discovered and have influenced my thinking and the tools I’m using as widely as possible.
- Firefox with appropriate extensions and add ons (ublock origin, canvas blocker)
- (or if you want to go all out, TOR browser…)
- Book to get you motivated – Ten arguments to delete your social media accounts now by Jaron Lanier
- Podcast for those with long commutes with Sam Harris and Jaron Lanier (author of 10 arguments to delete your social media now)
- Signal messaging app
- If you must keep Gmail, use something like thunderbird email client (open source, free, cross-platform. There are slicker options available too. There are many more private email options compared to Gmail, but I’m not going to recommend one as suitable across a wide range of use cases and individual preferences.