In September 2021, every active contributor unanimously agreed to move from PrivacyTools.io to work on this site: Privacy Guides. This decision was made because PrivacyTools.io’s founder and controller of the domain name had disappeared for an extended period of time and could not be contacted.
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.
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.
At the end of July 2021, the PrivacyTools.io team informed the 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.
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. 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 October 2020, the PrivacyTools system administrator (Jonah) left the project because of these difficulties, handing control to another long-time contributor.
In 2021, after the PrivacyTools.io team determined the need to fork the project, Jonah assisted with the transition and co-founded the new Privacy Guides organization. The decision to redirect PrivacyTools.io to the new fork was made by the previous PrivacyTools.io team.
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.
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.”
Privacy Guides did not “steal” any resources belonging to PrivacyTools.io: This is clearly evident by the fact that the PrivacyTools.io website and Twitter account still exist.
PrivacyTools has written an article about their problems with the project fork. The allegations in that article are false.
At some point in 2022, PrivacyTools.io relaunched as a sponsored advertising platform for VPNs and other privacy products.
Privacy Guides provides privacy tool recommendations without sponsors, ads, or any affiliation with the recommended providers. We are a community-first non-profit dedicated to privacy education, not sales to the highest bidders.
We have written a full timeline of events on our website if you would like to review the full story. Our intention now is to put the past behind us, and simply focus on providing the best advice and education we can to our community of privacy-minded people. Wasting time on drama only serves to harm the privacy advocacy efforts of our team and fantastic community.