Today is Data Protection Day. I don’t know all of my gentle readers, and I do not give unsolicited advice to strangers, so I won’t nag you to change your habits. There are plenty of people and groups which can give better advice to people interested in data security and privacy than I, including the GNU Project, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Bruce Schneier, and Eleanor Saitta. What I would suggest is that you throw a few dollars or Euros in the pot of some of the free software and online services which you use.
The Internet today is built for surveillance and advertising, because in the political economy of the nineties and oughties those were the easiest ways for people who wanted to post things to make money. Projects which refused to do either have done many valuable things, but have always been limited by the fact that developing and maintaining software is long and hard work, and its hard to get people to undertake long hard projects for free when there are people who will pay them handsomely for the same work. The Heartbleed bug and the collapse of Truecrypt showed that many open-source software projects are fragile because there is so much work to be done and only so many people willing and able to do the most tedious and necessary parts of it for free. Because powerful actors in the software world like to compel others to change, just keeping a project running can be expensive, as many Firefox add-ons threatened by the forthcoming changes to their APIs are finding (anyone who uses Firefox should read up on this issue, because the new APIs may not allow some currently popular add-ons to work at all, and some less popular tools for humanists like Alpheios may not be able to afford to make the necessary changes). But we now have the beginnings of an infrastructure for paying for creative work by donation, and if enough people participate that might lead us out of the trap. Pay-by-donation also solves the problem that most users in, say, Kenya can’t afford to spend as much for a piece of software as most users in, for example, South Korea.
My budget is tight (my main source of income pays approximately 1,100 Euros per month in a city where most students pay 300-500 Euros per month for housing). But in 2015 I donated at least a few Euros to projects including:
– The Gutenberg Project
– Adblock Plus, because there are enough spies and distractions and security risks on the Internet without gratuitously accepting more (Wladimir Palant, the developer of ABP, has been criticized for both accepting donations and for operating a paid service which examines ads to see if they meet certain ethical standards and stops blocking them if they do; of course, if he blocked all advertising by default he would be criticized for that too)
– NoScript, because the Internet is quicker and more secure when scripts only run when you want them to run
– Privacy Badger, because I believe in defence in depth
– Studio Tax, because it is quicker and more reliable than working out my taxes on paper
– Tor, because unrestricted ability to read and write scares people who need scaring, and because as a citizen of a Five Eyes country I have contributed through inaction to some very bad things. I can’t undo that, but I can contribute actively to people who are trying to stop them.
– Ubuntu, because they make an OS which just works and which I can trust better than Windows (although the Unity shell for Ubuntu has its own privacy issues)
So why not support a starving tester or security analyst today?