Christian Stewart is a privacy researcher and reporter. Follow his latest coverage on YouTube.
I've been a heavy advocate for using multiple tools and alternative services to protect your personal information for years. However, as I've seen people pile on one privacy tool after another I've realized that people have perhaps taken it too far.
The goal of many people looking to protect their privacy is to minimize the influence and power of large corporations and government agencies that are collecting their data. What happens then when people completely dedicated to privacy and find themselves controlled by their desire to protect their personal information.
There is tons of communication taking place on the internet every second of every day. With many private messaging services, all parties involved have to use the service to communicate privately. If you're so dedicated to privacy that you're unwilling to use non-private messaging at all, you may be missing out on certain conversations that you'd otherwise be a part of.
Don't get me wrong, I still think privacy is important and should be given more attention. I'm not arguing that internet privacy is pointless or unnecessary, but I am saying that completely isolating yourself on the internet eliminates much of its convenience and utility.
By simply being a person who uses the internet, you're engaging in an open flow of information. The nature of the internet means that you're giving up some privacy to be on the web at all. In the same way that by leaving your house you are giving up some privacy, going on the internet presents some risk and sacrifice of privacy. The internet offers incredible access to information and opportunities so for more people, these trade offs are totally worth it.
Going all in on privacy can feel good at first, but eventually you may realize that you've isolated yourself too much. If 90 percent of your friends rely on Facebook for communicating, but you've moved from social media to encrypted messaging platforms like Signal, you may find that you're no longer communicating with the majority of the people you know. You may realize that you're dedicating more and more of your time to finding the next great privacy tool.
Before you start using every privacy tool you can find, the first step you should take is performing a threat assessment. A threat assessment basically just helps you understand which information you are most concerned about keeping private and how to achieve the privacy you want.
Without a threat assessment, you're basically in the dark as to whether or not the steps you're taking are working towards your goal. By understanding your personal expectation of privacy, you can often eliminate unnecessary tools or services you're using because marketing or other claims influenced you to do so.
Privacy is still incredibly important and I think it still plays an important role in keeping power distributed rather than in the hands of big businesses and government agencies. Which privacy tools are "vital" or "essential" is really up to you and your comfort level with sharing your information online.