Switching over to trusted open-source software / services

Written by Zero January 10, 2019

Hello!

In this blog-post I want to write how I moved over to only (except for 3 or 4 exceptions) FOSS apps!

First a short introduction.

My name is Tobias, and I started to get interested / worried about all the data I was handing out in the end of 2016 / beginning of 2017. I never had a Facebook account luckily, but I was using everything you can think of from Google, docs, mail, maps, calendar, to-do’s, etc. It wasn't anything Google did that made me think about my online privacy, it was an announcement from Evernote. They were going to add machine-learning to the application. Source: Lifehacker This was a way for them to improve the service for you as a customer, it would make the search function better, it would learn how you were writing and help you write future notes faster with suggestions, etc. This meant that they made changes to their privacy policy and added a section that they could read your notes, this was caught by several different tech outlets, and made some large headlines for Evernote (most of them negative). This also got me thinking, what does it say in the other services I use?

Realizing what Google (and a lot of other companies) are doing

I mean, I'm going to be honest. I was naive. I used all Google services there was, and I didn't pay a cent (or well almost, I had a Google Play Music account and for that I payed 9.99€ / Month), after the news about Evernote (notes were always personal through me, more so than emails), I wanted to know where my data was going. I started to go through and read Google's policies, and the more I read, the more I saw what a lot of people already know. They are pretty much allowed to take and use ALL my data. By agreeing to Google's terms of service they I just accept that they are allowed to scan AND even use my data if they want too for a several reasons. I still haven't heard of a case where Google used someone else’s photos or something like that, but in theory that is what I agreed to when using Google services.

I'm not saying here that Google is the only company doing this, there is loads of them. Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, etc. the list can go on forever. The only reason I'm using Google in this post is that this was the company where I was handing over pretty much ALL of my data. It was easy and convenient, one login and suddenly I have all these "free" services to use, and add on-top of that, that is syncs to all my devices without any problems! I could edit something on my phone and keep going on my PC and then move over to my laptop. It was/is a very convenient way of working. This is one of the main selling points, "Look how easy it is to jump between your devices", especially in this day and age where almost everyone has a laptop, smartphone, tablet and maybe even a smart tv.

Deciding that the price was too high!

After doing a lot of qwanting (googling, but on a service called Qwant), I began to learn what a lot of the language meant in all the privacy polices I've agreed too, and this scared me. I was handing over so much of my personal life without even giving it a second thought. To this day nothing major has happened with my data, I mean, it was sold, but I was always careful with photos and such (except for notes, because apparently I was fine with Evernote knowing EVERYTHING...), since anything placed on internet will forever stay on the internet. I also noticed that I wasn't alone in this thinking, there are several good websites and tools that can help you regain your privacy, and that can give suggestions for alternatives to Google, Microsoft, etc. All of this research took me about a year (ish), before I started to feel confident in what I knew, and that I knew enough to be able to change it.

Here comes 2018, the year I will regain my privacy

While my process to move away from almost every single service I used to alternatives with better privacy already started at the end of 2017, 2018 was the year I made a New Year’s resolution to regain control over my privacy.

Note: I'm definitely no expert, and I don't believe I'm now safe from a government taking my data or anything like that. That was also not my goal. My goal was to know what I used, and know which data I sold, or use a service that didn't sell my data at all (if I wasn't prepared to sell that part).

The steps I took

1: Decide my threat level

This took a lot of time, because it sounds so serious when you say "threat level", however, what it really means is, what is your privacy goal. E.g. do you want to leave companies that sell your data, so you are in control? Or do you need to hide from something, and be totally anonymous? For me my goal was to by the end of the year to feel in control of my data!

2: Make a list of what I use

Let's start with what I was using on a day to day basis. I was using a lot more, but I would say these were my main things!

Services

Cloud Storage: Sync.com (here I wasn't terrible)
Office package: Google Docs, sheets, etc.
Mail: Gmail (of-course...)
Social Media: Twitter
Finance: Money Lover
Notes: Evernote
Maps: Google
Calendar: Google
Contacts: Google
Music streaming service: Google
Video: Youtube (once again Google)
Communication: What's App, Telegram and Skype
ToDo-list: TickTick ToDo
Search engine: Google
Podcast: PocketCast
Password Manager: LastPass (I'm at least a bit proud that I was using a password manager and not the same password everywhere)
RSS Feed: Feedly
Reading Later: InstaPaper

PC: Software

I know some of these applications are services as well, but I decided to place them here as they require installation and can't be used in a browser

Computer OS: Windows 8 / 10
Mail application for Windows: Mailbird
Browser: Google Chrome

Phone: Software / Services

Phone OS: Android (OnePlus 3)
Store: Google Play Store
Mail application: Alto mail
Browser: Google Chrome
2fa: Authy

3: Time to find alternatives!

As you can see from that list, there is a lot of stuff from Google, and other companies that live on only selling data. Here is the list and the alternatives I picked!

Two things that was a must for ALL apps and services were:

  1. Must be open-source: This does NOT make anything instantly trust-able, however, it gives you, or someone else the chance to have a look and see if it is trust-able).
  2. Good Design: For me the design of the services and apps I use are incredibly important. When it is something I want to use on a day to day basis, I want them to look good when I use them

Below this section I've written more about some services I picked and why I picked them.

Services

A lot of these services has clients you can install on your PC and/or phone, and I haven't listed these under software (except for some rare occasions).

Type Old New
Cloud Storage Dropbox NextCloud
Contacts Google Contacts NextCloud Contact
Calendar Google Calendar NextCloud Calendar
ToDo TickTick ToDo NextCloud Tasks
E-Mail Gmail Tutanota
Office package (docs, sheets, etc.) Google "Office" Libre Office
Communication What's app Signal
Communication Telegram Telegram
Communication Skype Wire
Search Google Qwant
Password Manager LastPass BitWarden / KeePassXC
Social Twitter Mastodon
Finance management Money Lover Firefly iii
Notes Evernote Cryptee
RSS Feedly Selfoss
Read it later InstaPaper Wallabag

Youtube: I now try to use YouTube as little as possible, and when I use it, I try to use something that blocks as much as possible. E.g. FreeTube

Software (PC)

Type Old New
PC OS Windows 10* Ubuntu Budgie
E-mail Mailbird Tutanota Desktop Client
Browser Google Chrome Firefox

*: I still use Windows 10 for work, so I still haven't been uninstalled windows 10, but I don't install ANYTHING that isn't needed for work. Nothing personal at all, even though it is my own PC.

Software (Android)

Type Old New
Phone OS Android e.foundation
E-mail Alto Mail Tutanota Android Client
Browser Google Chrome Fennec
Store Google Play Store F-Droid (or for some apps as you can see below from Yalp)
Podcasts PocketCast AntennaPod
2FA Authy andOTP

The apps/services I haven't been able to move away from that are closed source

I'm downloading these through Yalp-store on my phone

Banking: The official app from my bank
Traveling: Deutsche Bahn app
Google Play Music: Deezer (This is one place where I decided that I'm prepared share some data, I listen to music about 8 hours (minimum) during a normal workday, so I really want to have a streaming service)

Why I picked x...

I'm not going to go through every app I use, since this post is already pretty long, however, if you have questions about a special one, feel free to write a comment.

e.foundation

Finding a new OS for my PC wasn't hard. I already tried Ubuntu Budgie at a friend, so that was a clear choice. Mobile was a bit harder. If you want privacy controls I found these options: Ubuntu Phone, LineageOS with MikroG or e.foundation (used to be called eelo). Those were the three major ones I found.

Ubuntu Phone is just lacking too many apps I use on a day to day basis, and also only works on a very limited amount of devices.

LineageOS with MikroG I used for a while. I think that was amazing, and I would probably have stayed on that if it wasn't for my discovery of e.foundation!

e.foundation is the OS I picked to stay with. It has a huge focus on privacy. It comes with a very limited amount of apps + they have confirmed in future version of e.foundation you will be able to even uninstall most default apps and replace with other apps you like! The only thing I'm missing is that they release the 0.2 version for OnePlus 3, so I can get the latest features from that Android version!

NextCloud

This was pretty much the easiest choice I had. NextCloud has amazing reviews, all their apps are released on F-Droid and Linux. It has loads of apps you can install to be able to make your own self-hosted Google Services. E.g. Contacts, Cloud Storage, Calendar, Notes, etc. The list goes on, and everything is fully open-source!

Tutanota

Email was a though one, I tried several providers before I finally got to Tutanota where I've now decided to stay. I also tried, posteo, mailbox.org, proton mail and Runbox. What made me pick Tutanota was that they have their own client for both Android and PC (this was released right before Christmas) and it has a really good design (yes, for me this is something really important). They are still missing some features I need (like being able to import all my old emails from my previous provider), but all the features I'm looking for in an email-client has been confirmed to be in development!

I personally think that they have their own client for both Android and PC is a huge plus since I don't need to also trust another app to handle my email.

Firefly iii

I've had a finance app for years. I want to always be in full-control where I spend my money, and I want to have budgets set-up etc. Firefly iii is an amazing self-hosted app that has all of this! I also looked a lot into Money Dance, but I decided against as it is closed-source software and I must have a Dropbox account to sync my data (encrypted but I really wanted to delete my Dropbox account).

Cryptee

As I wrote about Tutanota design has always been incredibly important for me when I choose software. I'm always looking for software that makes me smile when I open them, and good-looking software does that for me. It is a very personal thing, but for me this was important. Cryptee with encrypted notes, open-source and good design was a clear choice for me. I also tried Standard Notes, and I won't deny that it is amazing! For me it was just lacking that happiness when I opened it since the design was okay, but not something I loved (+ the editors on mobile doesn't feel great).

Apps I still haven't found or still aren't fully happy with

If anyone here has any tips so I can replace these I would love to hear them in the comments!

Visual Studio Code: I'm currently using the VS Codium version (without some of the telemetry), however, I still don't feel great about using an app based on something from Microsoft. They are collecting too much data for my standards. It is a really hard app to leave since most of the stuff I program use plugins or other things that ONLY exists for Visual Studio.

The end

As you can see I have almost fully moved over to only use trusted open-source software or services! I have never been so happy with the apps I use on a day to day basis as I'm currently am. I want to end with a HUGE THANK YOU to all the developers making this possible and making amazing software and services like the ones I use!!!

This article is under the CC-BY-SA license.

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Comments

aniket aniket@plume.mastodon.host

Great post! I recently embarked on a similar mission - to regain control of my data. VS Codium is good enough since it doesn't have the telemetry but if you want an alternative, I suggest trying out Atom and/or Eclipse.

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ANduCens ANduCens@plume.mastodon.host

How much time did it take you to research and select the different services you are using now?

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Zero Zero@plume.mastodon.host

@@ANduCens It took around a year. Some choices was faster and some longer. Like I wrote though, there are even now some things I'm still not happy with and still want to work it. :)

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