Privacy theater and tech design

What digital tools can non-techies use until issues of privacy and human-centered design is more care-fully iterated?

I was finally prompted to write this post after listening to the EFF Deeplinks podcast with communications professor Alice Marwick, who says:

I think there’s … a more diverse group of people than we’ve typically seen studying privacy. For a long time it was just sort of the domain of, you know, legal scholars and computer scientists. And so now that it’s being sort of opened up to qualitative analysis and sociology and other forms, you know, I think we’re starting to see a much more comprehensive understanding, which hopefully at some point will, you know, affect policy making and technology design as well.

This prompted me to remember that we need to do all that we can to encourage people of all levels to be more aware that even today there are software choices available. Doing this will help improve critical postdisciplinary digital studies. This post is filed under hermeneutechnics as – to list just one reason – it points to the need to interpret not just the digital tool’s ostensible use as service but what the tool may also be doing with the sum of data it mines, aggregates, sells, processes, etc. The interview with Dr. Marwick also points to privacy “theater”, cited at the end of this post.

Below is the list of resources I generally share when people ask me for more human-centric digital tools. I welcome any further suggestions.

Lists of alternative software: and Degoogle by J. Moore. Also: Good Reports – this is by Mark Hurst, who is a friend to one of my classes. Mark hosts a podcast called Techtonic and also hosts his own forum (using Discourse) for people interested in sharing their critique of big tech. He runs that and other services at Creative Good.

Chatons – a list of human-centric digital tools that are hosted by generous volunteers in France.

Free Software Foundation resources:
The FSF’s guide to tools that are “better than zoom” and can be tried “for staying in touch.
The FSF giving guide has some useful listings, like external media that can help overcome firmware that restricts WiFi connectivity.
FSF tips on managing privacy.
The FSF’s free JavaScript campaign.
FSF tips on how to take steps to reach software freedom even for non-techies.

Zoom alternative: JistiMeet. Bonus: FSF members are provided a Jitsi Meet server for personal and non-commercial use.

YouTube alternatives:, PeerTube, ghost archive, and, if you are interested in [self-]hosting,media Goblin.

Mobile phone OS alternatives: Drew Devault’s take – mentions Postmarket OS.

Discord alternative: Jeff Atwood’s Discourse.

Hopefully, as Dr. Marwick suggests, we will begin “to see a much more comprehensive understanding” of fair information practice, which will hopefully “affect policy making and technology design as well.” In the mean time, “accountability for privacy harms” remains problematic:

Well, a lot of it is just theatrical, right? It reminds me of, you know, security theater at the airport. Like the idea that by clicking through a 75-page, you know, terms of service change that’s written at, you know, a level that would require a couple of years of law school, that it would take years if you spent, if you actually sat and read those, it would take up like two weeks of your life every year.
Page generated 03J14. Updated 03M01.

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