When I started researching privacy more seriously, I didn’t know what I was looking at is the face of a forlorn, desolate path that seems to go nowhere. I picked it up as a challenge, and within a few days, it became clear that privacy is, unfortunately, a journey of hard sacrifices to make.

I asked for help on Reddit’s privacy community and I was blocked from posting because my freshly-created account specifically for this purpose was too suspicious. It was just one stop of many I’ve made in the last two months. Article after article from Medium to Lifehacker was filled with begginer tips like “use VPN,” or “search with Duck Duck Go.” As I kept digging deeper, looking for more specifics and advanced techniques, the more it seemed that the internet I use every day suddenly had an end. A wall.

Everything on the screen had a dictated sense of purpose. I was supposed to follow the “good” answers laid in front of me: buy a visa gift card with your credit card; submit your phone number to get a discount; surrender your verified email address to chat with an agent. Not a single website gave additional options. Everywhere I looked, I had to give up a piece of my privacy or to lie and hope for the best. I chose the latter option whenever I could. The feeling that I’m doing something wrong intensified.

Then there’s the loneliness. I haven’t logged into Facebook for years, living with most of my friends and past co-workers behind. I’ve stopped using Twitter last year, and with it, I stopped following trends and celebrities in my industry. Most recently, I stopped using Instagram and lost touch with those who liked my photos, a window to the outside world especially during the pandemic. On the other hand, getting in touch with me became more difficult since I insist on less popular apps that no one wants to download. When I try to explain why, it often feels like I’m speaking a different language even with those close to me the most.

This seems to be the price for privacy. I am almost at a breaking point and I’ve only started. I understand now why there so little real information about true privacy: Those who stay out of the familiar platforms live in the shadows by default. It’s not that they try to hide, they just do what they can do to not to sell their lives away, which means they can’t reach us or we them. You can’t Google them up, friend them on Facebook, Follow them on Twitter… So they don’t exist to us, automatically-suspected criminal of the dark web.

So much of what we do, what we are, is not even ours to share but instead borrowed, hosted somewhere unknown to us, supplied only if we sign an agreement to give it up. And we don’t care to know. After all, when was the last time you read Facebook’s TOS? Twitter’s? Gmail’s? Apple’s? Instagram’s?

I wish I could tell you this is all just a cheap Matrix ripoff. I wish I could go see a therapist who’d assure me I’m exaggerating. The problem is is that I am better. I can’t unlearn what I’ve learned, unread what I’ve read. Instead, I’m figuring out how to bend the rules just enough to be more than a sheepish user.