Interview with AJ Rice, Founder & CEO of Privo Mobile

Consider how each tech product you use affects your privacy and weigh that against the benefits of each product. There are real tradeoffs...

AJ Rice, Founder & CEO of Privo Mobile

Have you heard of Privo Mobile? They make dumb phones for kids that have no internet connection. You grew up with such phones so what’s wrong with providing such devices to today’s kids? That way they will be protected from the bad influence of social media and many other bad things coming from the “online world.” Yet, their parents will still be able to contact them whenever they need to do so.

Today we’re interviewing Privo Mobile’s Founder & CEO AJ Rice who also happens to be a privacy advocate. Here’s what he had to say…

Can you shortly introduce yourself?

My name is AJ Rice; I’m a privacy advocate and the Founder & CEO of Privo Mobile. We’re a tech startup making (private) dumb phones designed for kids with a modern user experience and interface. We’re launching in July. Our phones have no internet, no social media, and no games, so parents can keep in touch with their kids without exposing them to the dangers of smartphones.

UPDATE: Privo Mobile’s first device is now up for pre-order on Kickstarter.

What do you see as the main challenges for our privacy today?

While I’m troubled by many aspects of the widespread erosion of our digital privacy, I’m especially concerned by the data that’s collected about us even when we are not using technology. This includes facial recognition and other biometric data, as well as location data and other data collected by mobile devices.

As a privacy advocate, I’ve come to realize (but not accept) that most of what we do on the internet is far from private. What’s far more worrisome is the loss of our privacy persists even when we’re not using technology. We’re moving towards a society in which not only everything we do on the internet but also everything we do offline (our location, our purchases, our interactions) is no longer private.

Some would argue the data is anonymous and therefore not harmful, but the data is so detailed and granular that it can fairly easily be used to identify us and is effectively no longer anonymous. The consequences are far reaching. The erosion of our privacy enables companies to manipulate our behavior and our beliefs. The organizations that have our personal data have financial incentives (primarily to collect more data about us and to get us to spend more time using their products) which are not aligned with our interests. They do and will continue to use our data in whatever way is most profitable with little to no regard for the consequences in our lives.

What can we as individuals do about it?

These problems seem daunting, but we as individuals have a unique power – the power of the purse. The easiest/best thing you can do protect your own privacy and the privacy of society writ large is not use/buy products which don’t protect your privacy and use/buy products that do.

In the past couple years, people have started talking more about privacy but have continued using products that abuse it. Showing companies that you care about privacy, through your actions not just words, creates a financial incentive for them to do more to protect it.

Can VPNs help? Do you use one?

VPNs can help protect our data from internet service providers, who often sell it to a variety of data aggregators. That’s of course assuming your VPN doesn’t also sell your private browsing data. VPNs are also vital to remotely access a secure network.

I use multiple different VPNs for different purposes (business, personal, etc.). I’m also a big fan of the Tor browser which has built in VPN capabilities.

What do you do to protect your personal information?

I do a variety of things to protect the privacy and security of my personal information. Network security, strong passwords, and dual-factor authentication are key components of protecting sensitive accounts.

For protecting the privacy of my everyday behavior, I use a Privo Mobile dumb phone to limit mobile data collection. I generally try to use products which protect my privacy and don’t use products that don’t. In practice, that means I use DuckDuckGo for search, Tor or Firefox (w/ an ad blocker) as my browser, I don’t use any Facebook products or other social media (except LinkedIn), and I don’t use devices which use my face to unlock or are voice-activated / always listening.

Do you have some other advice for our readers so they could, at least partially, regain their privacy?

Think about the business models of the products you use. If they make money by selling your data or selling you ads based on your personal information, they have an incentive not to protect your privacy.

Consider how each tech product you use affects your privacy and weigh that against the benefits of each product. There are real tradeoffs. Some are tradeoffs worth making, others are likely not. Only you can decide.