Why we moved on from PrivacyTools¶
In September 2021, every active contributor unanimously agreed to move from PrivacyTools to work on this site: Privacy Guides. This decision was made because PrivacyTools’ founder and controller of the domain name had disappeared for an extended period of time and could not be contacted.
Having built a reputable site and set of services on PrivacyTools.io, this caused grave concerns for the future of PrivacyTools, as any future disruption could wipe out the entire organization with no recovery method. This transition was communicated to the PrivacyTools community many months in advance via a variety of channels including its blog, Twitter, Reddit, and Mastodon to ensure the entire process went as smoothly as possible. We did this to ensure nobody was kept in the dark, which has been our modus operandi since our team was created, and to make sure Privacy Guides was recognized as the same reliable organization that PrivacyTools was before the transition.
After the organizational move was completed, the founder of PrivacyTools returned and began to spread misinformation about the Privacy Guides project. They continue to spread misinformation in addition to operating a paid link farm on the PrivacyTools domain. We are creating this page to clear up any misconceptions.
What is PrivacyTools?¶
PrivacyTools was created in 2015 by "BurungHantu," who wanted to make a privacy information resource - helpful tools following the Snowden revelations. The site grew into a flourishing open-source project with many contributors, some eventually given various organizational responsibilities, such as operating online services like Matrix and Mastodon, managing and reviewing changes to the site on GitHub, finding sponsors for the project, writing blog posts and operating social media outreach platforms like Twitter, etc.
Beginning in 2019, BurungHantu grew more and more distant from the active development of the website and communities, and began delaying payments he was responsible for related to the servers we operated. To avoid having our system administrator pay server costs out of their own pocket, we changed the donation methods listed on the site from BurungHantu's personal PayPal and crypto accounts to a new OpenCollective page on October 31, 2019. This had the added benefits of making our finances completely transparent, a value we strongly believe in, and tax-deductible in the United States, because they were being held by the Open Collective Foundation 501(c)3. This change was unanimously agreed upon by the team and went uncontested.
Why We Moved On¶
In 2020, BurungHantu's absence grew much more noticeable. At one point, we required the domain's nameservers to be changed to nameservers controlled by our system administrator to avoid future disruption, and this change was not completed for over a month after the initial request. He would disappear from the public chat and private team chat rooms on Matrix for months at a time, occasionally popping in to give some small feedback or promise to be more active before disappearing once again.
In October 2020, the PrivacyTools system administrator (Jonah) left the project because of these difficulties, handing control to another long-time contributor. Jonah had been operating nearly every PrivacyTools service and acting as the de facto project lead for website development in BurungHantu's absence, thus his departure was a significant change to the organization. At the time, because of these significant organizational changes, BurungHantu promised the remaining team he would return to take control of the project going forward. The PrivacyTools team reached out via several communication methods over the following months, but did not receive any response.
Domain Name Reliance¶
At the beginning of 2021, the PrivacyTools team grew worried about the future of the project, because the domain name was set to expire on 1st March 2021. The domain was ultimately renewed by BurungHantu with no comment.
The team’s concerns were not addressed, and we realized this would be a problem every year: If the domain expired it would have allowed it to be stolen by squatters or spammers, thus ruining the organization's reputation. We also would have had trouble reaching the community to inform them of what took place.
Without being in any contact with BurungHantu, we decided the best course of action would be to move to a new domain name while we still had guaranteed control over the old domain name, sometime before March 2022. This way, we would be able to cleanly redirect all PrivacyTools resources to the new site without any interruption in service. This decision was made many months in advance and communicated to the entire team in the hopes that BurungHantu would reach out and assure his continued support for the project, because with a recognizable brand name and large communities online, moving away from "PrivacyTools" was the least desirable possible outcome.
In mid-2021 the PrivacyTools team reached out to Jonah, who agreed to rejoin the team to help with the transition.
Community Call to Action¶
At the end of July 2021, we informed the PrivacyTools community of our intention to choose a new name and continue the project on a new domain, to be chosen on 2nd August 2022. In the end, "Privacy Guides" was selected, with the
privacyguides.org domain already owned by Jonah for a side-project from 2020 that went undeveloped.
Control of r/privacytoolsIO¶
Simultaneously with the ongoing website issues at privacytools.io, the r/privacytoolsIO moderation team was facing challenges with managing the subreddit. The subreddit had always been operated mostly independently of the website's development, but BurungHantu was the primary moderator of the subreddit as well, and he was the only moderator granted "Full Control" privileges. u/trai_dep was the only active moderator at the time, and posted a request to Reddit's administrators on June 28, 2021, asking to be granted the primary moderator position and full control privileges, in order to make necessary changes to the Subreddit.
Reddit requires that subreddits have active moderators. If the primary moderator is inactive for a lengthy period of time (such as a year) the primary moderation position can be re-appointed to the next moderator in line. For this request to have been granted, BurungHantu had to have been completely absent from all Reddit activity for a long period of time, which was consistent with his behaviors on other platforms.
If you were removed as moderator from a subreddit through Reddit request it is because your lack of response and lack of activity qualified the subreddit for an r/redditrequest transfer.
r/redditrequest is Reddit's way of making sure communities have active moderators and is part of the Moderator Code of Conduct.
Beginning the Transition¶
On September 14th, 2021, we announced the beginning of our migration to this new domain:
[...] we found it necessary to make this switch sooner rather than later to ensure people would find out about this transition as soon as possible. This gives us adequate time to transition the domain name, which is currently redirecting to www.privacyguides.org, and it hopefully gives everyone enough time to notice the change, update bookmarks and websites, etc.
This change entailed:
- Redirecting www.privacytools.io to www.privacyguides.org.
- Archiving the source code on GitHub to preserve our past work and issue tracker, which we continued to use for months of future development of this site.
- Posting announcements to our subreddit and various other communities informing people of the official change.
- Formally closing privacytools.io services, like Matrix and Mastodon, and encouraging existing users to migrate as soon as possible.
Things appeared to be going smoothly, and most of our active community made the switch to our new project exactly as we hoped.
Roughly a week following the transition, BurungHantu returned online for the first time in nearly a year, however nobody on our team was willing to return to PrivacyTools because of his historic unreliability. Rather than apologize for his prolonged absence, he immediately went on the offensive and positioned the transition to Privacy Guides as an attack against him and his project. He subsequently deleted many of these posts when it was pointed out by the community that he had been absent and abandoned the project.
At this point, BurungHantu claimed he wanted to continue working on privacytools.io on his own and requested that we remove the redirect from www.privacytools.io to www.privacyguides.org. We obliged and requested that he keep the subdomains for Matrix, Mastodon, and PeerTube active for us to run as a public service to our community for at least a few months, in order to allow users on those platforms to easily migrate to other accounts. Due to the federated nature of the services we provided, they were tied to specific domain names making it very difficult to migrate (and in some cases impossible).
Unfortunately, because control of the r/privacytoolsIO subreddit was not returned to BurungHantu at his demand (further information below), those subdomains were cut off at the beginning of October, ending any migration possibilities to any users still using those services.
Following this, BurungHantu made false accusations about Jonah stealing donations from the project. BurungHantu had over a year since the alleged incident occurred, and yet he never made anyone aware of it until after the Privacy Guides migration. BurungHantu has been repeatedly asked for proof and to comment on the reason for his silence by the team and the community, and has not done so.
BurungHantu also made a twitter post alleging that an "attorney" had reached out to him on Twitter and was providing advice, in another attempt to bully us into giving him control of our subreddit, and as part of his smear campaign to muddy the waters surrounding the launch of Privacy Guides while pretending to be a victim.
As of September 25th 2022 we are seeing BurungHantu's overall plans come to fruition on privacytools.io, and this is the very reason we decided to create this explainer page today. The website he is operating appears to be a heavily SEO-optimized version of the site which recommends tools in exchange for financial compensation. Very recently, IVPN and Mullvad, two VPN providers near-universally recommended by the privacy community and notable for their stance against affiliate programs were removed from PrivacyTools. In their place? NordVPN, Surfshark, ExpressVPN, and hide.me; Giant VPN corporations with untrustworthy platforms and business practices, notorious for their aggressive marketing and affiliate programs.
PrivacyTools has become exactly the type of site we warned against on the PrivacyTools blog in 2019. We've tried to keep our distance from PrivacyTools since the transition, but their continued harassment towards our project and now their absurd abuse of the credibility their brand gained over 6 years of open source contributions is extremely troubling to us. Those of us actually fighting for privacy are not fighting against each other, and are not getting our advice from the highest bidder.
After the launch of r/PrivacyGuides, it was impractical for u/trai_dep to continue moderating both subreddits, and with the community on-board with the transition, r/privacytoolsIO was made a restricted sub in a post on November 1st, 2021:
[...] The growth of this Sub was the result of great effort, across several years, by the PrivacyGuides.org team. And by every one of you.
A Subreddit is a great deal of work to administer and moderate. Like a garden, it requires patient tending and daily care. It’s not a task for dilettantes or commitment-challenged people. It can’t thrive under a gardener who abandons it for several years, then shows up demanding this year’s harvest as their tribute. It’s unfair to the team formed years ago. It’s unfair to you. [...]
Subreddits do not belong to anybody, and they especially do not belong to brand-holders. They belong to their communities, and the community and its moderators made the decision to support the move to r/PrivacyGuides.
In the months since, BurungHantu has threatened and begged for returning subreddit control to his account in violation of Reddit rules:
Retaliation from any moderator with regards to removal requests is disallowed.
For a community with many thousands of remaining subscribers, we feel that it would be incredibly disrespectful to return control of that massive platform to the person who abandoned it for over a year, and who now operates a website that we feel provides very low-quality information. Preserving the years of past discussions in that community is more important to us, and thus u/trai_dep and the rest of the subreddit moderation team has made the decision to keep r/privacytoolsIO as-is.
Our fundraising platform, OpenCollective, is another source of contention. Our position is that OpenCollective was put in place by our team and managed by our team to fund services we currently operate and which PrivacyTools no longer does. We reached out to all of our donors regarding our move to Privacy Guides, and we were unanimously supported by our sponsors and community.
Thus, the funds in OpenCollective belong to Privacy Guides, they were given to our project, and not the owner of a well known domain name. In the announcement made to donors on September 17th, 2021, we offered refunds to any donor who disagrees with the stance we took, but nobody has taken us up on this offer:
If any sponsors or backers disagree with or feel misled by these recent events and would like to request a refund given these highly unusual circumstances, please get in touch with our project admin by emailing email@example.com.
This topic has been discussed extensively within our communities in various locations, and it seems likely that most people reading this page will already be familiar with the events leading up to the move to Privacy Guides. Some of our previous posts on the matter may have extra detail we omitted here for brevity. They have been linked below for the sake of completion.
- June 28, 2021 request for control of r/privacytoolsIO
- July 27, 2021 announcement of our intentions to move on the PrivacyTools blog, written by the team
- Sept 13, 2021 announcement of the beginning of our transition to Privacy Guides on r/privacytoolsIO
- Sept 17, 2021 announcement on OpenCollective from Jonah
- Sept 30, 2021 Twitter thread detailing most of the events now described on this page
- Oct 1, 2021 post by u/dng99 noting subdomain failure
- Apr 2, 2022 response by u/dng99 to PrivacyTools' accusatory blog post
- May 16, 2022 response by @TommyTran732 on Twitter
- Sep 3, 2022 post on Techlore's forum by @dngray