The founder and CEO of Telegram, Pavel Durov, has recently announced that the platform has reached 700 million users, and launched a new subscription tier for paying users. In this digital and interconnected world, these are big news. This is because the awareness and concern for one’s privacy have significantly risen in the past decade.
“On the one hand, there are many people who are concerned about their online privacy. On the other hand, there are many who mock them for that, arguing that law-abiding civilians shouldn’t care about their data being collected,” said Ofir Bar, a veteran investor with a special interest in entrepreneurs, startups, and innovators. “However, the amount of effort that the FTC (USA’s Federal Trade Commission) puts into restricting Facebook is proof that these privacy issues are a real threat.”
The ‘fear of Facebook’ led millions to shift to private social networks such as Telegram, and it seems this is just the beginning. As awareness of online privacy grows, more and more regulations and technologies appear, bringing a promise to create a future of co-existence between the digital age and privacy.
A change of mindset
It’s easy to take our daily (and free) use of services offered by companies such as Google and Facebook for granted. However, one must understand that in order to sustain itself, every company has to create revenue somehow. Moreover, it’s important to accept that no company will hand a product or service without expecting an immediate, future, direct or indirect benefit. The common saying ‘If you’re not paying for the product you get, you are the product’ is quite true, and many are well aware of it. However, how many would give up entirely on using Google and Facebook in order to preserve their privacy? Probably not many.
For this reason, conducting in this interconnected information age requires a mindset change. Those who are protective of their privacy may want to consider moving from ‘free’ products to paid products. In any case, one has to understand that they have a choice between paying with money or paying with privacy. Having said that, some companies and startups act in light of the belief that one doesn’t necessarily have to choose between these two options.
Searching for privacy
Telegram is a quite unique company since it provides users with privacy together with a free-of-charge service. This has been made possible mainly thanks to the fact it was founded by a billionaire who dedicated himself to fighting governmental spying on civilians. Other privacy-focused interfaces, such as the DuckDuckGo and Brave internet browsers, don’t have this privilege. Therefore, their sources of income are donations and… ads. Counterintuitive? Not necessarily.
Although these browsers collect data on their users in order to show them well-tailored ads, they do it in a much more subtle way than other similar interfaces. For example, Mozilla Firefox, another internet browser that puts an emphasis on privacy, enables its users to personalize their ‘cookies’ preferences and data collection.
Another example of a data collection bypass is Fathom Analytics, a competitor of Google Analytics. This interface business model is quite ‘old-fashioned” – the clients pay for using it, but they gain back their privacy. Needless to say, Fathom Analytics is having a hard time competing with Google Analytics.
Good and evil are created by man, not by technology itself
The days when people enjoyed complete privacy are long gone, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the world is headed to a ‘Black Mirror’ future. Technology is constantly improving people’s lives, and naturally, this progress also holds some potential for danger. “Just like a hammer can be used for both building a house and destroying it, the same is true about technology,” Bar inferred. “We ought to both embrace new and helpful technologies and simultaneously learn how to harness them. This will lead to a better future, in which people will master technology, rather than the other way around.”
This experienced investor may be onto something. Good and evil aren’t direct by-products of any technology. It is how technology is used that determines whether it will bring prosperity or destruction. In the meantime, awareness is the best tool a consumer can use in order to navigate this privacy-lacking world: Being aware that one is constantly being monitored by commercial and governmental interfaces can help them notice whether they are being misled by foreign interests or not.