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I used to live an ecosystem-centric life, meaning everything had to be either Google Inc or Apple Inc’s products. It didn’t come as a thought until recently that I should probably restructure my online life due to growing privacy concerns regarding these big corporations.
Over the past couple of months I’ve done a lot of research into more privacy-friendly alternatives, to find the best possible services for my workflow. During that process, I was quite surprised to find how well I could replicate this kind of ecosystem using free & open-source products.
What is free & open-source software? #
Free software means that the users have the freedom to run, edit, contribute to, and share the software.
I don’t want to pressure into using alternatives that might not interest or fit you; I don’t discriminate the services you use or your current workflow. However, what I can give you is a look into a more open software world. Alternatives that might not be the best, but respects you and your rights.
These are some services & software I use which I recommend to others as well. I also host some services and instances myself.
These services are locally self-hosted (and some in the cloud). Self-hosting is having and administrating your own server, to host services or personal data yourself. Guaranteeing that all my data stays on my own server. Yunohost has done a great article outlying the positives and negatives to self-hosting.
I can say self-hosting is a hobby not meant for everyone, it requires a lot of time and patience + a lot of research and learning. However, the end result will always be rewarding and for someone who is quite tech-savy may give a try. There are loads of guides for beginners like Luke Smith’s guide (more getting-your-hands-dirty approach) or trying self-hosting managers like Yunohost. Something like OpenMediaVault is great for NAS, like turning an old computer to a NAS server.
My setup consists of two Oracle Cloud free-tier servers (for mail and web) in the cloud and a self-hosted NAS I have. I might make a guide on those free-tier Oracle Cloud servers soon, subscribe to my RSS feed.
I currently use Wildduck as my e-mail server, however I would recommend the old-school Postfix + Dovecot pair.
For beginners, Mail-in-a-Box is great for making a server into a mailserver (without getting your hands dirty in the command line interface). It comes with some more features like Nextcloud for file hosting, contacts and calendar syncing (which I’ll talk about later in this article) and accessing it via a web interface (Roundcube). Uses some of the best security practises for mail and features a control panel, where you could also host your website.
This is not however best for advanced sysadmins.
File Hosting #
Nextcloud is a fantastic alternative to Google Inc’s Drive (GDrive). It is an entire ecosystem for file hosting, calendar and contact syncing, collaboration software and even more; extendable via it’s own app store.
It also has syncing clients for Windows, Linux, MacOS, iOS and Android. For some it might be too bloated and slow, if you only want file hosting and nothing else, get Seafile (I’ve never used this).
Search Engine #
Searx is a meta-search engine that queries other search engines on the server and privately gives the results to you.
It features a web proxy Morty which sanitizes and requests the website on the server for you. Essentially a search engine proxy. I also wrote a guide on hosting this yourself.
Brave Search might be a great true privacy-friendly search engine, however it is in beta currently.
I have set up a AdGuardHome paired with Unbound instance with DoH encrypted DNS. Privacytools.io has a great article on other encrypted DNS resolvers which are much faster.
Chat & Instant Messaging #
XMPP is an old protocol for instant messaging still around today. There are still many communities using it and many still provide instances where you can sign-up.
However, for better collaboration and more modern federated protocol there is Martix (one of the most popular clients for it is Element). They recently came out with the communities feature which is comparable to Discord Inc’s server feature.
Social Media #
Don’t use it.
Video Platform #
Peertube is a federated, self-hostable platform for hosting video.
FreeTube is a more private client for YouTube.
Languagetool is a much better alternative to Grammarly and even open-source.
Software and Products #
Some might argue with me on this, but I use a standard iPhone 7 as my regular phone. It might not be the most private out there but for an out-of-the-box phone it is pretty damn secure and private. With some of the privacy features Apple has been making over the past years, it is still fantastic for privacy.
I unfortunately have to use Windows on my main computer. Windows might be the most privacy-intrusive OS, but it is a much securer OS considering the amount of development they have done to Windows Defender or hardware based security. Some of the spyware can also be mitigated. Linux’s security is quite a controversial topic, but it’s still a privacy-friendly, libre and open-source OS (depending on the distro).
On my laptop, however, I use Artix.
I recently changed from Firefox to Brave. It does seem odd at first, however Chromium has better sandboxing built-in and Brave has some great out-of-the-box fingerprinting blocking. I unfortunately don’t see any point any more in wasting time configuring uMatrix rules or looking in the
I agree, Firefox needs more representation in the market and is really a great browser which I will still use according to my threat model. Yet, I feel the way Mozilla is currently going with their browser looks to be quite rocky and unstable.
Tor is great for being more anonymous on the web (you should still practice your opsec).
Use it only for changing your country, it is quite pointless for anonymity. Use Tor for more anonymity.[*]
Learn more from privacytools.io.
Password Manager #
Bitwarden or more specifically self-hosted Vaultwarden is currently my password manager. I did use Keepass XC for a while and it was great, yet it did lack good iOS clients.
I might keep adding more resources and info here later on. Some more self-hosting guides are also to be expected, definitely subscribe to my RSS feed for updates.