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Onboarding I: Digital Privacy Tools

When I spoke with Douglas Tuman on his MoneroTopia show recently, I brought up the topic of onboarding. People like Douglas and Sunita seem to be driven to spread the word about Monero and digital privacy, with a view to onboarding more people. But one of their Monero Talk guests, Juraj Bednar, suggested that we should forget about onboarding others and just cater to those who have a genuine interest in using privacy tools. Douglas commented that "that's the real cypherpunk[^1] view", which means, you don't want to advertise the tools too much, because you "don't want the culture to get ruined," which, in this case, is the genuine interest in digital privacy.

That conversation helped me think more deeply about the question of onboarding. While I'd always assumed putting your efforts into getting more people involved in adopting tools is better for privacy in the long run, what Douglas and Sunita are trying to do, I began to wonder in what ways Juraj might be right. Below, I will outline my experiences with encouraging adoption of digital privacy tools. In another post, I will look at encouraging a digital minimalism lifestyle, and I will end the cycle with a post about onboarding discussions in general.

Monero and Cake Wallet

It is easy to start a conversation about crypto currencies. Everyone has heard of Bitcoin and how people became extremely rich. Most people would like to experience similar easy good fortune. So when you start a conversation about Monero, there is often a secret hope on the listener's part that you might have some kind of insider information that may allow them to 'get rich quick'.

That is not quite my experience with buying Monero, or XMR. I bought at a time when it was doing relatively well and the Fiat coin (regular money) value of my Monero has never gone above what I purchased it for, and often quite far below.

The selling point of Monero is that it is a good privacy coin. It is sometimes referred to as the equivalent of digital cash. People often associate this kind of crypto currency with criminal activity, but that's akin to saying that cars or boats are bad because they are used for smuggling drugs by some people.

So I try to turn the conversation to why digital cash might be necessary in the future. Cake Wallet is a very helpful tool for onboarding Monero. You can ask someone to download the app, and tell them you'll send them a little bit of Monero, just so they can see how it works. It's very easy to do and a good conversation starter.

However, the conversation also dies down pretty quickly. Friends, family, even my kids ask me: I have this Monero, but now what? I don't have a ready answer for them. It's becoming easier world-wide to spend your Monero on gift cards with major online shops, but you can do that directly with regulary money too. The idea of the importance of developing an alternative circular economy is only really interesting to those who already understand the need for one. This brings me back to Juraj Bednar's point about giving up on the idea of putting a lot of energy into onboarding other people to using privacy tools. I'm still in two minds.

Signal - a success story

One clear success story is the Signal messenger app. It replaces mainstream apps like WhatsApp, which is encrypted but owned by Meta, a company that does not prioritise user privacy and in fact makes money on user data.

Signal is a real success story for me, because I've somehow gotten most of my friends and family members of all ages to talk to me on Signal, which has enabled me to delete WhatsApp for good. I think its success comes from the fact that it is private by default, but, unlike most other privacy tools, with Signal, there are no trade-offs. It does everything as well as WhatsApp does, perhaps better. And it provides encryption and privacy by default. It would be ideal if more tools were this slick, so that using them didn't require extra motivation drawn from ideology, something most people are not interested in for simple daily applications.

De-Googled smartphones and feature phones

What's effective about a smartphone with a privacy ROM like CalyxOS installed is that you can show it to people while explaining how it does not send data to Apple or Google like regular store-bought smartphones do. You can let people hold the phone and try the OS. They will see an attractive, snappy interface with all the usual apps, and some privacy alternatives. It's a good conversation piece that way.

The same is true for feature phones. As I mentioned in my chat on MoneroTopia, I sometimes show my students, friends or family members my Light Phone 2, which I always carry with me. The Light Phone has an attractive, minimalist visual aesthetic. The e ink screen looks cool, is responsive, and the smallness of the device is appealing. The Light Phone is an even better conversation starter than a de-Googled phone is, because it has a striking appearance and reveals its purpose - disconnecting from coloured screens and addictive third party apps - effortlessly.

Being able to show these devices is a success story for starting conversations about digital privacy and minimalism, but I am not so convinced they are doing all that much for actual onboarding. I am, thusfar, still the only person I know in my work and social environment who carries a feature phone or uses a de-Googled smartphone. I show my devices often and have a lot of conversations with many different people, but these have not resulted in actual changes in use as far as I can tell.

Conclusions

The desire to talk about digital privacy tools is effortless for some, myself included. I find the notion that people are working hard on developing and improving tools like Monero, Signal and custom ROMs for de-Googling phones, so that other people can gain more agency and step away from what feels like an 'on the rails' system, a fascinating topic. I'll happily talk about it, and I spend a lot of my free time listening to podcasts like Monero Talk in order to learn more. But I am still in two minds about to what extent I should get my hopes up about actually making an impact on others, beyond planting the seed of an idea. In my conversation with Douglas, he argued that privacy will be big business, because people are going to discover they want it eventually. I am not yet so sure, but plan to keep following these developments.

Documentation

Onboarding II and Onboarding III

Juraj Bednar's website

Monero Talk

Cake Wallet

Monero information

Juraj Bednar on Monero Talk

The Light Phone website

CalyxOS

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#cakewallet #calyxos #digitalprivacy #lightphone2 #monero #onboarding #parenting #signal