Digital Privacy 2019-10-26 on Kenneth Dodrill's blog

A few months ago, I switched over to Linux. I installed Arch Linux from scratch (typical installation, but there are helper scripts out there and similar things), and learned a lot. I started looking into more linux-y things and even found a few resources, blogs and channels along the way.

I then switched back to Windows (a mistake). I still watched videos about Linux and longed to be back, so a couple of months later I switched back. This post is about those couple of months, and how I prepared for that switch.

The beginning.

I was a little cautious with my privacy at first (Firefox and DuckDuckGo user here), but it was very eye opening when I first started watching videos on YouTube from Bryan Lunduke and The Linux Gamer. While sometimes a bit over the top with their opinions and ideas, they are both very knowledgeable about Linux and it's history. They also do a few collaboration videos that are very interesting as well. I highly recommend checking out some of Lunduke's "Linux Sucks." talks. As for privacy itself, I listened to the IRL Podcast, a podcast from Mozilla that is all about online privacy. These resources helped me understand what was wrong with my previous way of thinking about my digital life / privacy and how to obtain my best version of that.

Allowing myself to accept the bad news about privacy online.

We live in a time where people trade their data for services. People expect "free" applications on their smartphones, tablets and other devices. What they don't see is all of their data being collected and sometimes sold. Privacy policies are very important - even if you ignore all of it, when you click that Accept button at the bottom you're agreeing to everything on it. I think most people don't care, but that is probably because they don't read the policies for services and applications that they use.

If you read these policies, terms and conditions, and other documents, you'll probably end up feeling unsure about things. That's because most of these documents are made to be confusing for consumers on purpose. They will contain phrases and sentences such as "Your data may be sold to important 3rd party groups and / or affiliates.", and "We do not collect your data, but others may.". Vague wording is important - they are, of course, trying to get you to use their service.

Understanding that there are other options out there.

Just before you give up hope that you can't use a certain application, remember that there are so many others out there, some of which are likely the same whilst others may be privacy-focused and open-source. One thing I do is search "Alternative for X, open source". Open-source applications are usually privacy-focused, but be sure to check their privacy policy and other documents.

The middle.

I began my research and started switching to more privacy-focused and open-source applications and services. I started with a password manager. I had used a free trial before from a closed-source app, but had never really used it much and eventually deleted my account. After a couple days of looking for something, I settled on BitWarden - a free and open-source password manager. I switched over many of my passwords to it using the generator, and later on decided to buy a pro license ($10 a year).

I then focused on applications on my phone. I downloaded F-Droid to install free, open-source apps. This was a great way to relieve myself of default apps on my phone by using open-source versions of them. I rid myself of many Google apps including Keep, Drive, Photos, Contacts, YouTube and more. I also deleted Snapchat (one of my last social media accounts left), removed or disabled other apps that I did not use and felt like they shouldn't be running, and unsubscribed from services such as Spotify and Hulu.

Before completely removing Google Drive and Photos, I installed a Nextcloud instance on my web server. I then archived old photos and files and stored them there. I can't recommend Nextcloud highly enough. It's open-source, free, and it gives you a TON of options to control your data the way you want. See TLG's video on Nextcloud to understand why it's so great!

I also switched to Varo Bank, as their privacy policy says that they do not collect certain private data and do not sell or share your data to anyone.

Last, but not least, I switched to Proton Mail, an open-source, privacy-focused email provider. I've loved being on their platform and I will eventually sign up for one of their premium plans.

The end.

All of this was leading to one moment - switching back to Linux. I decided from the start that this was where it was headed, and once I was there I would stay there no matter what. Eventually settling on Solus, I installed and I've never looked back. Everything I need is here, and if there is something I don't have there are multiple ways to install and use it (whether through Wine, PlayOnLinux, Lutris, Steam Play...).

In the last few months I've moved my domains over to Njalla and moved my servers over to Alpine Linux. I've also brought an old Raspberry Pi 2 back to life by installing the latest version of Raspbian and running Pi-Hole on it 24/7. I have also installed more Firefox add-ons such as Decentraleyes, Privacy Badger and HTTPS Everywhere. An awesome resource has been the Privacy Tools Website.

I am overall happier with my online privacy and I hope that this post helps other people get to the same peace of mind.