Declutter Your Phone with an App Cleanse

Workshop Outline

Description

This workshop uses storytelling, hands-on research, discussion, and group work to explore critical questions to ask of digital tools and apps and why those questions matter. Participants are then introduced to Alternative Apps (privacy-conscious apps) and are encouraged to try them out.

  • Duration: 90 minutes
  • Ideal for 10-25 participants

Learning Goals

  • Discuss the qualities of privacy-conscious apps
  • Research alternative apps

Workshop Outline

Opening

Time needed: 5 minutes+
Purpose: to welcome participants as well as setting expectations and goals.

  1. Introductions:
    • Introduce workshop title
    • Facilitator introduces themselves
  2. Explain the learning goals
  3. Review the ground rules

Variations:

  • Develop collaborative ground rules along with participants if there is time.
  • Ask participants to go around and introduce themselves if there is time.

Warm Up: What do you think?

Time needed: 10 minutes
Purpose: to engage participants and encourage them to begin speaking up and sharing their thoughts and concerns.

  1. For 2 minutes, participants will quietly reflect on the qualities of a good app or digital tool: what do they consider essential, must-have, nice-to-have qualities and features? (the look/the design, the feel, how it works, etc.—the aim here is for a values-based discussion) We are beginning with their opinions so there is not really a wrong answer at the start.
  2. Then, ask participants to share aloud.

Variations: You can ask the group to share by going around in a circle, or can supply sticky notes and ask them to stick them up on the wall.

Tips: Depending on your time/group, you can just ask a few groups to speak up; or you can ask people to post their notes in the chat and you can call on specific people who have written something interesting; or you can ask each person to share ONE point, until everyone has spoken.

Question 1: Is it free? If so, how do they make money?

Time needed: 5 minutes+
Purpose: to begin reviewing critical questions to ask of apps and digital tools, we begin by looking into the business models which fund them.

  1. Here, we will review our 6 Guiding Questions which you can ask of the apps you use. According to the potential risks, threats, (which depend on you as an individual, your contexts, and priorities) and how we want to protect ourselves here are 6 guiding questions which you can ask of the apps you use.
  2. You may have heard the quote: “If something online is free, you’re not the customer, you’re the product”—just remember that this is not strictly true. For the Data Detox Kit and some of the Alternative Apps we use, they are free (like Signal App) and that is because they are non-profit organizations who do not make revenue, but instead run off of grants or donations, or are run by volunteers. Other Alternative Apps for example offer some free options and some paid ones—and the paid ones are enough to keep their business afloat.
  3. For other apps we use, such as Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, TikTok (to name a few) our information, habits, and preferences are being collected in ways that we may not fully understand or agree to. This information may be sold to data brokers, which could result in real life consequences such as feeding back to us certain targeted advertisements that not only sell us commercial products, but also ideologies and misinformation that can sway our opinions.

Variations: If you have time, instead of only presenting this point, you could pull up an example looking into a popular app or digital tool such as one of those mentioned. You could also look at The Dating Brokers project as an example of the type of information which could be purchased from data brokers.

Question 2: Is it open source?

Time needed: 5 minutes+
Purpose: to define and discuss the meaning and importance of "open source".

  1. Ask the participants: who can explain what “open source” means?
  2. The answer in case it isn't explained clearly: Apps such as WhatsApp are proprietary: this means that how they are built, the code used to create and control the app is a secret that stays within the company. But there are apps which are “open source” which means the code used to create and control the app is shared publicly on the internet for anyone to look at, correct, and comment on.
  3. Why is open source a good thing? Well, in the example with WhatsApp, if there is a flaw, a mistake, or a security risk, then there is a greater risk for that issue to go unnoticed. And this happened in 2019. From April to May, an Israeli surveillance company called NSO exploited WhatsApp and targeted 1400 people including human rights defenders, journalists, victims of cyber-violence, and humanitarians. The attack was very hard to identify. The targeted people received a WhatsApp call from an unknown number and even if they rejected the call, spyware was downloaded onto their phone to monitor them. If WhatsApp had shared their code for any computer scientist in the world to review, could someone have identified the problem and the NSO hack could have been avoided? (source)

Tip: Let a participant try to answer the opening question if possible. This is good for a couple of reasons: 1. You can engage the more advanced participants; 2. Talking the whole time can feel exhausting for the facilitator, so this way you can take a break and can drink some water.

Question 3: Is it end-to-end encrypted?

Time needed: 5 minutes+
Purpose: to explore a term which has been popularized but may not be commonly understand "end-to-end encryption".

  1. Ask to participants again: who can explain what end-to-end encrypted means?
  2. Answer: You can think about end-to-end encryption (also referred to as E2E) as being the difference between a postcard and a letter which is hidden inside a sealed enveloped. When you send a postcard, anyone can read your message: the mail carrier, your neighbor, your roommate. But a letter, which is hidden inside a sealed envelope means that your conversation is private so that only you and the person who opens the envelope can read it.
  3. You can think of end-to-end encrypted messages in this simplistic way.
  4. End-to-end encrypted means that you have 1 key, and your friend has another key and your message can only be unlocked when both of your keys fit. For anyone else trying to see it, the contents of your message are “encrypted” which means they are just a bunch of numbers and letters all messed up and cannot be de-crypted without the right keys.
  5. But end-to-end encryption alone can be a false promise of privacy. For example, WhatsApp is a tool which promotes its end-to-end encryption, however the tool collects your data, and being that it is owned by Meta (the parent company including Facebook and Instagram among others), there is a question about how much of your data is shared with the other Meta products, and how much of the data is collected. Furthermore, when you or the recipient of your messages initiate the cloud backup option, the efficacy and reliability of the end-to-end encryption is questioned since messages can be recovered and stored.

Question 4: Which country is the company/server(s) in?

Time needed: 5 minutes
Purpose: to start considering where digital tools and apps are based and how that may influence their ability to keep data private.

  1. This is important because depending on where the company is based or where they host their servers, the company must abide by the local laws of that country. Some countries do not have any privacy laws, some countries have very strong privacy laws.
  2. In some countries, certain apps can be more easily intercepted and your private messages and information could fall into hands of people you don't want or intend. This could be a flaw in the digital tool or app or it might be "by design" which makes it intentionally built this way but not commonly understood by people who use it.

Question 5: Is it in active development?

Time needed: 2 minutes
Purpose:to get participants thinking more about the teams who work behind the scenes of the digital tools and apps we rely on.

  1. If an app is in “active development”, it means there is a team of engineers who are keeping an eye on it, checking it regularly, fixing issues, and keeping the software up-to-date. An app that is retired or otherwise no longer maintained may not be the most reliable.

Question 6: Do you find any recent news about them?

Time needed: 2 minutes
Purpose: to get participants thinking about publicity surrounding digital tools and apps that are not only controlled by internal PR and marketing teams.

  1. Check for news stories about the company and make sure to sort it by most recent so that you check if they had a problem whether that was 1 day ago or 10 years ago and can see what steps the company has taken to fix the problem.

Review: 6 Guiding Questions of Apps

Time needed: 2 minutes
Purpose: to succinctly review the 6 Guiding Questions which were just discussed.

Now, let's review...

  1. Is it free? If so, how do they make money?
  2. Is it open-source?
  3. Is it end-to-end encrypted?
  4. Which country is the company/server(s) in?
  5. Is it in active development?
  6. Do you find any recent news about them?

Variations: If you have time, ask the participants to recap the 6 Guiding Questions. You can use this as an opportunity for an energizer activity, asking the group to stand up, review the points in their own words, and hand out candy or stickers.

Activity: Research Alternative Apps

Time needed: 20 minutes+
Purpose: to put the 6 Guiding Questions they've just learned about into use, participants will research apps.

  1. Pre-select a list of 3-5 apps from the Alternative App Centre. (You will assign one app to each group for a total of 3-5 groups.) For example:
    • Firefox browser,
    • DuckDuckGo search engine,
    • Signal messaging app,
    • Jitsi Meet videoconferencing,
    • and OSMAND maps.
  2. Groups will meet for 15 minutes together in the breakout session to research their one app together, answering the 6 Guiding Questions. Groups should assign one note-taker and one presenter.
  3. Where do groups conduct their research? You can look on the official app websites, in the privacy policies, terms of use, or conduct web searches to find your answers.
  4. After the time ends, allow each group one minute to present. I recommend you set a timer and stick to 60 seconds presentations per group! You do not want a list of answers from the inventory (no!) what you want is for them to share their major reactions, synthesis, and reflections. Did anything surprise them?

Variations:

  • You can create a print-out which includes the 6 Guiding Questions and space for participants to write the answers.
  • You could also project the 6 Guiding Questions on the screen or write on the board, so that participants do not need to memorize them.
  • You can also ask some groups to research popular apps, which the group has communicated that they use such as WhatsApp, Google Chrome browser, Telegram, etc. If you do this, you may want to refer to credible independent audits of the tools, as companies tend to invest in good PR and marketing which may not always tell the whole story.

Notes: Groups may recognize how much time is needed to properly research this information, and that in and of itself is a valuable learning. Actually, there is a lot of incomplete information, misinformation, or confusing sources out there, which makes it difficult to directly get answers sometimes.

Presentation: Wrap Up

Time needed: 5 minutes
Purpose: to summarize a few key points which the facilitator would like the participants to takeaway along with tips for moving forward.

Now is a good time to start reflecting on the tools you use daily, and consider areas you'd like to change. If you don’t know where to start, just begin with something simple, like a tool you don’t rely on others for: try DuckDuckGo for a week and see if you miss Google Search. In your browser settings, you can even set a new default search engine so you don’t have to actively think about it each time. And you can try Firefox with these add ons:

  • uBlock Origin to block advertisements
  • Privacy Badger to stop trackers
  • HTTPS Everywhere to redirect you to the most secure version of the website automatically if it exists (or simply adjusting the settings in your browser to do it automatically).

The Alternative App Centre, which you can find linked in the Data Detox Kit website. Check it out to find inspiration on where to begin.

The system needs to change, the business model needs to improve. While we take actions everyday to take control of what we can, at the end of the day, companies, Silicon Valley, and Big Tech needs to act and adapt. They need to see us as people and not as financial gain. They need to see our privacy as not just a preference, but a responsibility. And we can show them and the people in our lives that privacy is important to us by making changes and talking about our choices openly.

Tip: The Alternative App Centre is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather a curated list for people in a hurry. For a much longer list of digital tools that may be worth exploring, you can recommend Ethical.net but please note that Ethical.net is not affiliated with Tactical Tech, not all of these tools are optimized for privacy, and some recommendations there may be out of date.

Reflection: Takeaways

Time needed: 15 minutes
Purpose: to get a sense of what your particpants have learned.

  1. Ask participants to create a takeaway poster by sharing their answers to the following question in the shared whiteboard / drawing board: What are your main takeaways from today's workshop?
  2. Give participants a few minutes to write and/or draw their thoughts.
  3. Ask participants to share their posters, either by presenting or hanging them on the wall.
  4. Highlight some of the points brought up to the group.

Closing

Time needed: 5 minutes
Purpose: to give a chance for participants to review what has been covered.

  1. Wrap up the workshop and sum up its contents.
  2. Run a quick feedback session to gather participants' reactions. Each participant can share:
    • one thing they found very good about the session and
    • one thing they would improve for the next time
  3. Encourage participants to ask questions or give some final tips.
  4. Share resources and any follow-up details.

Tips:

  • Take notes of the feedback points.
  • In case you have trouble accepting critical feedback, try to respond with a simple "thank you" and think about it later when you have the headspace for it.

Further Reading and Resources

Last updated on: 1/23/2023