Worried about 'friend' obsessed about privacy—do not know if it is reason for concern?

hello, sorry if this is not permitted here, however I did not find another place to ask.

so, I have a ‘friend’ of quite some time, I am their only friend or person they converse with - or was, I think, because they disappear a lot. I have never saw them in real life, however we spoke a lot using message for like, 6 years, with video calls which means I know them fairly well.

3 years (or so) ago, I perceived they got a bit distant with time, and today we exchange like, 2 messages per month, which is unusual. in this meantime they asked me in order to switch messenger apps quite a few times, i thought excessive of it but did anyway. they deleted all things and texts we had for me too, I did not like it. granted there was a big risk of leakage due to info and I made some mistakes with it, but yea.

and then they started to say stuff like “hey, you should do xyz, should care about privacy, this and that”, nothing pushy, just informational, with a few articles to read. I believe what they say now and am taking own measures, however very low compared to theirs. they also said they reset pc more than 20 times in the last few years.

the point is: although I believe the privacy issues nowadays, I guess they are taking too serious of a problem. they are not ‘important’ person or target but their ‘threat model’ seems to be extreme. to the point of ditching all tech except phone+pc, they told me they bought pixel w gos (had to research it), never put sim card on it, they take like days to respond and give excuses like “srry, phone was in another room inside special bag”. stuff like that. they are obsessed and stopped all things like gaming and youtube, which I do not know why. they say they feel exposed all the time even with internet turned off.

the final reason I am here is bc I am a bit worried. they tell me they do not leave house in months (bc of other things, but idk if its true), they live with their grandma and no one sees them otherwise. they always were very introverted and did not leave home, however I do not know if the reason changed and if they are ok. they say no bc they are tired but I do not know how to respond. family does not like them, never did anyway, so no one to call for check.

question is: for ppl who have gone through privacy obsession like them, changed everything and did a lot of things to protect themselves: do you think their behavior is normal? should I be worried? does anyone know person who went through similar phase? is there anything I can do?

I suggest psychologist bc they have no one to talk, but they can not pay for it. they also say that psychologists write stuff down and inside pcs, and that it gets saved on cloud with their real name on it, which they do not want. even though they say they want to go if had money.

I just wanted to help. sorry for the wall of text and terrible writing skill and language, I am just lost. someone pls tell me their experience or thoughts. its that its been 3 and a half years already and no improvement. I wanted to game with them but no response anymore. thanks


I’m not a pro or anything, but it seems to me like a serious case of social phobia and paranoia escalated by a lack of social skills, connections and a newfound fear of surveillance and exposure. They seem to be trying to cope with that, obsessively cutting themselves off the world by all means.

Though it isn’t necessary that your friend is going to hurt themselves at some point, but if what you’re saying about them not having anyone else to talk to, to vent to and to be checked up by occasionally except for you, they’re not having a good time for sure. You are right to be worried.
Cutting themselves off the net or technology isn’t bad on it’s own if they have an otherwise fulfilling life, but it doesn’t seem to be the case (based on what you’ve described).

If you really really want to help them, you’ll have to take initiative and make them really know that they’re valued and cared about, that they don’t need to sacrifice the joy of their life for a little piece of data not given away. You definitely could introduce them to a forum of like-minded people, like this forum, for example. Maybe you could organize and pay for 1 or 2 online psychologist sessions for them if that’s what they say they want and need, but can’t afford. Again, the amount of help you can provide really depends on how much you care about them. It’s your call. But it doesn’t seem likely to me that they’re gonna get out of this mindset on their own, unless they find anyone else in their life to look after them.

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Again, this sounds like a classic case of them trying to protect against everything all the time. It’s simply not practical. I’m not sure if your friend has gone down a rabbit hole, but it’s generally pretty hard to change peoples opinions. You can try and reach your friend and try to talk to them, but it’s probably for them to discover that there’s only so much anyone can put up with.

At worst, this should serve as a reminder to focus on your own threats. Think about what exactly you would like to protect against. Then, think about what you are giving up. Would that be voting rights? Money? Convenience? Friends? Is all of that really worth it?

I’m going to use my own threat model as an example here:

  • I don’t feel comfortable with big tech mining my internet activity
  • I don’t feel comfortable with government authorities having my personal messages and access to my files
  • I want to remain relatively safe from internet fraud through phishing and phone calls
  • I want to remain safe from people who may choose to harass me based on actions I may choose to perform in the future

For this, here are some common actions I take:

  • I use FOSS email services and don’t sign up/use alias services whenever possible
  • use FOSS operating systems on phone and laptop
  • I use a better browser than chrome with tracking protection (do this even if you don’t care about privacy, not much to lose but a lot to gain)
  • I use signal dot org with anyone that also has it. However, I still keep WhatsApp for work content, where I am less concerned about privacy.
  • I stay off social media for privacy (and productivity) reasons
  • I use a password manager and secure passwords
  • I opt out from data brokers and use separate phone numbers for government, personal, and work.

Most of this requires very little effort on my part, but has massive gains, not only in terms of privacy, but in terms of convenience and mental health as well. For the first time since I started using the internet, I can check and read every single email that I get, because I barely receive any spam at all.

However, it’s very easy to get carried away much of the time by talk of police spying, triangulation, and bounty hunting. These are all valid concerns for people hiding from the government (eg a protester), but in my case there’s no reason to be worried about having SIM cards in my phone.

If you were to look back to what I’m uncomfortable with, it’s clear that there isn’t any serious risk of the government knowing where my specific IMEI is at any given time (my schedule is predictable and they could figure it out anyways). Therefore, I can live with the risk of having SIM cards, and move on with my life. Similarly, I shouldn’t have any issues showing my passport at border control.

tl;dr: Always remember what you are protecting against. Not every tool is for everyone. However, if there’s no downside to a more privacy respecting option, why not just use that instead?

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I’m not a psychologist but all this sounds painfully familiar and from personal experience I can tell there is a good chance your friend suffers from depression and anxiety.

Please try to convince your friend to seek help because all this can easily spiral out of control and lead to other things. If it hasn’t already and just they haven’t told you.


thanks for responding

do not need to respond this, but in case: do you think it can really be thought of as paranoia even if the concerns actually hapen? like, data and spying, which sadly are real in today’s world. they say they hesitate talking about that with professional bc they could be misunderstood and ‘flagged’ on their records, I do not know about the veracity of that.

well, I will see what I can do to help them, thank you. I need to do it before they close themselves off me and I can not find them again

thanks for responding

the thing is that at least from what they told, they did not have much to lose, so it was easy, things like friends and conveninence were already missing. it is a case of chicken and egg.

I am analyzing my model yes, thanks

they say they refuse to use sim card bc where they are from do not permit buying sim card without verifying ID, they say do not feel comfortable with number in their name. which I do not know if is extreme or reasonable even though they talk about missing data plan. do you think it is reasonable to not use it if it can not be without ID?

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thanks for responding

yes I think they do as well, they did actually, pretty much since when I ‘met’ them. it sure got worst.

sorry language barrier, I think I did not understood too much, can you explain what do you mean with ‘can easily spiral out of control and lead to other things. If it hasn’t already and just they haven’t told you.’? like what? I will make sure to do what I can, thanks

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Paranoia and depression are used a little too often.

I know plenty of people that think they want a much smaller family friend group and less, tech in their lives. Who knows if they would really be happy. So is your friend happy?

My Facebook account was deactivated. No warning no Facebook jail. This started a spiral of myself opting out of big social media. I am happier now, really.

You can tell by my conversations here, I am very social. Still happy how things have changed for the better.

Living in a country with laws more intrusive I might feel worse about my situation because as of now, healthy happy and successful controlling what I can control.

There are a lot of people that are pumping there mind full of negativity that is a lot worse than just getting away from everything online.

If you asked some members of my family I am just crazy for not being on something like Facebook. If your close enough to this friend and concerned, how does their family feel about their decisions, is it healthy, are they happy, reasonable?

Or the typical ‘what do you have to hide???’ by my family or ‘stop using that duck, google is better.’

That’s a pretty interesting case, and I also live in a country where you need ID to buy a SIM card. Now, even then, it depends what you plan to do with the SIM card. Remember, if the government wants to find out who is behind a number, they can probably do it regardless of whether you have ID. Personally, I don’t feel too comfortable giving my name to the telco because then they can use my ID to find my phone numbers as well, but I do it anyways because phone numbers are necessary for WA and signal.

However, it REALLY depends what you’re doing. If you’re in high school in a conservative country, people like your parents might have a problem and “report” group chats to the authorities. In this case, I think it’s reasonable not to have your chats associated with your personal name (but you can’t avoid that), so you should ideally be using Signal, or at least WhatsApp. Whatsapp is NOT a private messenger, but is infinitely better than SMS, where the police can extract your entire group chat*. Still, maybe a better metric is disappearing messages? Messages on my more (uh, edgy) signal group chats are set to expire after a week.

If his messages are not a concern and it’s something else, 90% of issues can be solved by simply not providing a phone number, or lying about it. Personally, I have several SIM cards (which I obtained with genuine ID) and I still enjoy my internet activity remaining private (due to TOR and HTTPS). For most people, having a data plan isn’t the end of the world in terms of privacy 90% of the time.

*: There are private messengers and platforms (eg matrix, xmpp, briar) but those are used by almost no one and are hard to get people onto

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have you tried to tell them how they are overboard with protecting their privacy and you can teach them how to be better with sacrifices for a better life

Sorry for the delayed reply. What I was referring to was suicidal ideation and self-harming tendencies. Which could be a result of severe anxiety and depression that is left untreated.

I reached depression before taking really care about privacy and security on the internet.

Depression got harder when I enter in the privacy world (forum, conversations, groups about foss, surveillance, encryption, whatever topic related to it)

I felt into rabbit hole like wanting more and more security, more and more privacy.

So, I lost friends because I wanted to use only Signal for mainstream stuff, also Briar, etc…
I stopped/blocked emails with people using gmail/outlook/yahoo/etc/…
I stopped SMS/GSM protocols, so no sms, no calls…

And from that, i started to take anonymity seriously, but also security/privacy/anonymity in real life.
You really can’t enjoy that life. I always been introvert, few friends, not so talkative with family…

But talking to no one, doing nothing if your name is involved, etc, is impossible for a human being.

After depression fight was over, I reinstalled some apps for family and friends (Whatsapp, Discord…)
Yes, I’m disgusted about those 2 apps, but we don’t really have choices sometimes…

And for friends, I really think about creating an IG account, as many people use it (using it obviously in a privacy way, no content…)
I remember sometimes when I met a girl, she asked my FB… As I didn’t have one because I deleted it years ago, I recreated one, but, obviously, it was dammn empty, she thought I was a psycho or idk.

Much more people IRL asked about IG, but I have nothing to give, so I hesitate to create an acc, so I would have 3 apps that I hate (Whatsapp, Discord, Insta), but for a minimum of healthy social life.

And for changing their mind, no one can really help someone in depression, I mean, they need to have the want of change (is it correct what I just said :confused: ?), and see a medic.

Btw, I’m just a random tech guy, not a journalist, not a politic, not wanted by letters agencies, so yeah, being curious is important, as much as having a threat model/level of privacy/security(/+anonymity?) depending your life, reasonably.

Thank you for sharing your story it has been insightful. Security and privacy are important but not to the point that you’re sacrificing your mental well being over them. This is exactly why I always try to advise people to take it easy and slow. You need to find what level of privacy is right for you and this can only happen with a well defined threat model.

Also, I’d like to point out that correlation doesn’t always equal causation. Many of us who are interested in security and privacy do because we happen to have a tech background and which allow us to understand certain threats better than the average individual. Depression and anxiety are a huge issue with people working in tech and we know that from statistics.

What I’m trying to say is that trying to be as secure and private as possible on its own isn’t going to lead to depression and anxiety. If you are already suffering though it can make things worse in terms of giving you a lot more things to worry about. As you start plugging holes you always start noticing new ones.

That is not to say the pursue of privacy is futile. Quite the contrary in fact. But it is important to remember from time to time to take a step back and reevaluate.

going thru the same shit but for broken heart. hiding in the name of privacy.

… So I just came across this and wow, your friend describes me weirdly well. I thought I was one of the only ones. I do not have actual advice but I guess I can chime in with some of my experience, FWIW.

I have always been an ostracized individual. I think this plays a big role on developing that kind of obsession. When you’re always rejected and people don’t seem to like you because of your differences, it gets really easy to hide and push it to an extreme. And this can extend to all areas of one’s life, such as internet privacy. Maybe this is their way of coping. Maybe not. Maybe they are developing some sort of mental health condition and you are right in being concerned, or maybe they like this new lifestyle and are actually dissatisfied with something else. I don’t know.

You say they are completely disfunctional. Maybe this should be taken a look into. Don’t lose yourself in trying to help, but do let them know you’re there for them. You got great advice already, maybe anyone else can join in too and we can try to explore this deeper? I think these points are good and important for such a community.

What are your thoughts on what could be going on with them? :slight_smile: