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The Privacy Nihilism Litmus Test

"In anti-surveillance culture, privacy nihilism is the only true marque of authenticity."

Bob Leggitt
21 August 2022

Back in June, Brave Software CEO Brendan Eich took to Twitter to theatrically trash rival search brand DuckDuckGo, who were still reeling from two rounds of embarrassing media stories. DDG's bad publicity was thoroughly deserved, although it seemed more than a little rich for a dude with a search engine sitting on an Amazon server to be lecturing a Microsoft partner on privacy.

Eich, incidentally, knew he was safe from DDG exposing his sordid Amazon secret in retaliation, because it was just as great a secret that DDG runs on Microsoft Azure. The media blogs had only revealed a minor Microsoft tracker-preferencing scheme in the DuckDuckGo browser. The really serious stuff was still in the closet, so to speak. So the dynamics of mutually assured destruction still applied, and Eich was free to mouth off with near impunity. Here's a nice representation of the mutual dirt trove, encased in a clipboard grab from the very useful browser extension Big Tech Detective...


Nevertheless, former DuckDuckGo exec Brian Stoner did leap into the conversation. No retaliatory revelations. Just an attempt to stage-manage Eich's rampage of negative marketing. Eich instead doubled down, using Stoner's defence as an extended opportunity to further trash DDG and extol Brave's, ahem... holier than thou approach to privacy protection. But a phrase that Eich notably used twice in the verbal melee, was "privacy nihilism". First here, and then here.

Privacy nihilism is a belief that nothing can now save the public from Silicon Valley's pathological mandate of 24/7 surveillance. And it's extremely bad news for brands who trade on privacy. Once the public completely ceases to believe that preserving privacy is possible, then unless the makers of "privacy tools" can find another business model, they go bust.

Little wonder, then, that Brendan Eich was trying so hard to warn DuckDuckGo off any practises that might increase Privacy Nihilism. The nihilistic mindset is an existential threat to Brave, and also a major threat to DuckDuckGo - although DDG has begun to build a more mainstream userbase, many of whom don't rank privacy as their primary motivation for patronage. DDG would probably be more resistant to privacy nihilism than Brave, just as Vivaldi would probably be more resistant to privacy nihilism than Startpage.


But the truth is that none of the "privacy tech" brands can afford to let privacy nihilism run unchecked, and they are in morbid fear of precisely that eventuality. Here's a really direct example from Startpage, showing how desperate the attempts to stem privacy nihilism are getting...

"Stop saying "If you want privacy, go offline." That's not a solution."

Thing is, Startpage, IT'S THE REALITY. You're touting yourselves as the solution, but you're owned by a Google-affiliated data company, you depend on Google to exist, your CEO won't do interviews unless they're staged, your Privacy Consultant resigned and went on the attack, you bribe your way back into privacy tool listings that have kicked you out, your "PrIvAcY pRoTeCtIoN" browser extension is a useless sham, and your Twitter feed is the kind of juvenile, gamified cliche-drone that normally only spews from the bowels of companies with suckers lists.

If this is the solution, give me back the problem.

None of the privacy tools are a solution, and that's the point that privacy nihilists are making. Even if the brands pushing these tools are not merely Big Tech's Little Brother - and nearly all of them are - they're an inconsequence in a world where the infrastructure is under capture. Surveillance is now ingrained so deeply into the fibre of the Web that it doesn't matter how well-intentioned an alt provider is - they are a powerless micro-point of resistance in a supernetwork of organised stalking.

"The law was meant to protect us from monopolies of that size, but the preds bought the law."

It's not a level playing field. In fact it's virtually vertical. While the likes of Mojeek and Fastmail quietly promote independent products, Silicon Valley is directly invading schools, further-ed and places of work, like a drug-pusher with a bucket of free smack. Big Tech gatekeeps the whole Web with certification systems, "bot-blockers" and "Safebrowsing" schemes.

It's doing deals with your bank, firing hard cash at them for biometric data. If your bank is offering you a tenner to set up bio-driven 2FA, it's not because they care so incredibly damn much about your security that they want to incentivise you to protect it. It's because Amazon, Google or [insert-your-suggestion-here] turned up with a nice little earner, and despite their tradition as guardians of integrity, they just could not say no to the money.

Big Tech is even now doing deals with your ISP. Work your way round that with Ungoogled Chromium and a browser extension. And before anyone makes the suggestion, yes, they've done a deal with your VPN provider too. Oh, and I wouldn't bother with Tor.

The preds have so much money that they can buy anything and anyone. The law was meant to protect us from monopolies of that size, but the preds bought the law.


So privacy nihilism is both natural and inevitable in our current situation. And fascinatingly, it's become a perfect litmus test of authenticity. It decisively discerns the genuine voices from the "corpies", as I'm going to term them. The "corpies" being anyone in league with the privacy-violating corporations. Be they privacy tool providers who can't exist without Google, Microsoft or Amazon. Be they affiliate shills who covertly take cash from brands who trade on privacy, whilst pretending to be impartial... Let me assure you, there are plenty of those around. And there's a nice little queue of future hopefuls forming too.

"Your Twitter feed is the kind of juvenile, gamified cliche-drone that normally only spews from the bowels of companies with suckers lists."

But whoever they are, if they rely, for income, on a message that privacy is straightforwardly attainable, they will fear privacy nihilism, and do everything they can to dismiss it.

So look carefully at what people say in the melting pot of privacy discussion. You can tell who they really are by their stance on privacy nihilism. And if they reject it, you should not trust a word they say.

In anti-surveillance culture, privacy nihilism is the only true marque of authenticity. Big Tech literally monetises surveillance. That's its product. Meanwhile, it has the consent-respecting capacity of a rapist, an army of paid shills up to government level, the law and regulators in its pocket, a monopoly on Web access architecture, and the power to buy or co-opt any serious rival. Anyone dismissing privacy nihilism in the light of that is either a brand, a shill, or a fool.

In none of those instances would their words be of value to a wise individual.