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szabi
szabi

Posted on • Originally published at szab.it on

Time travel and privacy

In December of 2020 I read some articles that made me want to go back in time and use tools that I considered to be old. One of these articles was about the productivity score by Microsoft’s O365, another was about how our phones betray our trust (no surprise there).

The content behind the following three links that made me think:

Mail and Calendar

After reading the article about O365 and that GSuite also has something similar to that, I decided to go back to some kind of e-mail and calendar application like Thunderbird or Evolution.

Yes I did use O365 via the browser before, it worked actually quite well didn’t miss notifications and it overall provided a good interface. But using the browser it also means that they can track:

  • where is my mouse on the screen,
  • if the tab is actually active on my screen
  • what is on my screen
  • typing and deleting and typing…

So really waaaay too much information that I would feel comfortable to share.

Must say it here: I’m not working for a company that collects such information or would do actions based on such information. If the company would change and go in this direction then I would have the choice to change my employer. Still I would rather avoid providing even the possibility for it.

Looked through possible e-mail clients for GNU/Linux, there were two things that are a must have for me:

  1. no electron apps - don’t want to run a full browser with nodejs.. just don’t
  2. to be able to integrate with a calendar app.

Checked BlueMail briefly, but fall short on a) being an electron app and b) not really maintained.

Looked at Thunderbird, it is still an okay with Lightning it can also satisfy the calendar and it is still the default e-mail client in Ubuntu. While I don’t use Ubuntu this will still keep maintainers motivated. However Thunderbird just didn’t feel right to me.

Lastly I tried Evolution. After installing and setting it up, realized that I used to use this client back when I started programming in 2010. Suddenly I’m back in 2010, just have more grey hair than I used to.

With evolution it was a huge surprise to me that it works with O365 out of the box, syncs calendar, contacts and even the todo items (if I would use them.. org-mode FTW!).

NOTE: MS did admit this wasn’t a good way and they are going to remove some low level reporting. See their blog post about it.

Chat applications

Okay this is bit of different topic than MS and phones tracking all of our moves, but still related to the back in time theme.

By moving my e-mail and calendar to an app I managed to close two pinned tabs from my browser and also managed to avoid using container tabs to be able to login to my son’s and daughter’s O365 account (they are in lower grades of primary school, so yes I do get to manage their accounts for when we’re in remote tuition mode). With this closing of tabs I noticed that there are other tabs that I also use they are just constantly pinned: whatsapp, facebook chat, discord and sometimes gitter. So this provided a new challenge: can I find an app to unite them all? Yes I can.

Again didn’t wanted to use something that is just another browser, so went with an old-old friend Pidgin. All the listed chat platforms have a plugin for it, open source with a clean code base (didn’t review all of the code, but all the files I visited was clean and relatively easy to understand), so very much tempting to contribute. Best of all: Pidgin will only eat up ~70 Mb of memory - opposed to gigabytes - and won’t send statistics about me to the facebook and other data hoarder and dealers.

Mobile front

All this has triggered the privacy demon in me so started to look for alternatives as well on mobile. First big hoarder to tackle: Google. The app that is actual for me to look at is Google Photos. I loved this app as made it very easy for me to share pictures with my wife or with anyone. Also could access all the photos on my computer quickly and all is backed up and safe.

All good things must come to an end at some point for me with Google Photos the end meant that - understandably - they don’t provide free storage anymore. In the past if you accepted that they re-compress the images with their algorithms, then they wouldn’t count towards used data - so free and unlimited storage.

Photos are actually a long story for me, tried a lot of different solutions when dealing with photos from my camera. Nothing work truly easily. A new motivation

  • apart of google - was that my wife started to make photos and videos with

the family DSLR. My wife isn’t tech savvy, so whatever solution I try next it has to be seamless to her, other way she won’t use it.

Now to the solution: TrueNAS. Yes, decided to run my own storage at home. As you may already guess I didn’t go with the most straightforward solution… nah life would be boring if we wouldn’t make is pointlessly over complicated!

So for NAS my criteria was that I want to be able to extend it later when and if I need more storage. For this you need more than just a two bay NAS, but rather a 4 or 5 bay NAS. Now those bigger NAS setups a for me just ridiculously expensive. Instead of spending big, decided to reuse my desktop PC from 2008 to build a NAS using TrueNAS system. It is really an awesome setup for me, but think I’ll write about that in a dedicated post.

On this TrueNAS setup I also installed Nextcloud, this is able to replace both Google Photos and Dropbox for me. Got a mobile app for it, easy enough to use and there is also a Gnome integration for it. Apart of images and files it can also serve as a calendar and contacts server (another stab at Google).

For larger files also configured NFS endpoints so that we can handle images from the DSLR. NFS works surprisingly well with Darktable, it is able to read the files quickly enough. If I would deal with images as a profession would probably invest into a better network setup, but it works well enough via WiFi already. Only secret is to keep Darktable’s SQLight database files on the local system, having that over NFS renders the app uselessly slow.

Having the above setup working reliable and well, I’m really considering going back to a privacy oriented Android setup on my phone as well, without all the bloatware and mandatory google applications installed.

News sources

RSS is still out there and still lives, I was surprised to find that most news sites will have RSS feeds as well. With RSS again one can use a simple application, even Evolution has RSS reader plugin and have all the news tracking free.

Outro

The journey with all those apps and different setups made me realize again that we do share a lot of information about ourselves on the internet. In the background we have no idea how they use all that data. The collected data shouldn’t be connectable the person behind it, but in truth it can be. If you don’t read all the three articles linked in the beginning, just read Martin Gundersen’s one.

What gets measured gets managed.

Through the data that we submit knowingly or not, voluntarily or not, will enable companies to manage our actions. So now I’m back in 2010, running my own server and using native application instead of browser based solutions.

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