There’s a lot of talk about privacy these days. Companies like DuckDuckGo and ProtonMail are growing in popularity as more people leave the blatantly-privacy-violating FAANG/FAAMG players. I would define [digital] privacy as an intangible currency, the posession of which guarantees that others only know information about a person when they explicitly choose to reveal it. Most platforms have no genuine concept of this, and when they do, as Brave does with its Basic Attention Token (BAT), privacy is only a connected idea. Privacy can’t be earned—only spent when someone chooses to sign-up for services at a company with a lip-service concept of privacy (all companies now feign great care for privacy because PR). Privacy gradually accumulates over time when these service ties are cut off, as your data in their computers becomes stale. Claims of privacy must be cryptographically verifiable, or they are not verifiable at all. In order to examine the type of cryptography used and to ensure that it is always used, software must be freedom-respecting (or at least source-available). Privacy is a hard thing to keep up, and keeping it is like defending a fortress.

[Digital] freedom, on the other hand, is like an ecosystem. Keeping it up is the work of a permaculturalist. The ecosystem is the interconnected works of all free, libre, and open-source softwares. Each component has the capacity to support the growth of other parts, creating network effects. To grow freedom, one has to live in the ecosystem and contribute one’s creative software expertise wherever they can. Develop new projects. Patch extant ones. Adapt old projects to new ends. To defend freedom, one has to resist the urge to annually till the soil—to uproot things and put them in little terrariums for venture capitalists’ offices.

The advancement of freedom leads to the advancement of privacy. When systems are composed completely of free software, the privacy-valuing citizen can run their own instance of that software (or have someone they trust run it). Of course, it has been said that large tech companies open-source almost everything because it’s the data that is proprietary. Networks like Mastodon’s Fediverse break this problem down by federating rather than centralizing access to platform data. At any rate, a world where all software was free-as-in-freedom would not have the same scale or sort of big-tech privacy issues that we’re weary of hearing from news outlets today. Let’s pursue freedom, and privacy will follow.