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25 Jan 2019

Simplify and Purify

I slowly tired of the free services I was using to manage my expanding digital life.

The services often began life as useful and better than the competition, but over time, they would whittle away at the functionality available to me, strip down the interface, streamline the experience, down to the lowest common denominator. A gradual erosion of usefulness and affording me control over my assets stored there.

And then my carefully curated assets where just part of the overall data storm surrounding me, that fed into algorithms and scanning mechanisms to nourish the advertisers attached to the services. Now these prying eyes weren’t just getting a feel for who I was, or what I was doing, they actually wanted hard data on everything I did. Everything logged. Everything collated. My mail. My voice. My movements. My money. What I watched. What I listened to. What I shared. What I talked about.

My privacy was being compromised, and the machinery and good faith options were being withdrawn. Privacy concerns, why not take control under our Privacy settings panel? A Panel that become more and more cryptic, more and more difficult to understand, more and more hidden away, compromised and coaxed away from me with deceptive wording and faux choices.

Taking control of my privacy started to become like negotiating yet another mobile phone deal, where everything is a web of jumbled options specifically designed to trick me into making the most lucrative choice for them, and to bargain away concerns with a fake sense of a deal. It’s a pressured sales pitch, with blackmail and hijacking thrown into the equation.

Things start to happen, when I don’t want them to.

Things I don’t want to happen.

In places I have no control over.

And this loss of control, is sold as ease of use coupled with free digital services for everyone.

Come and taste the candy. Tell your friends. In fact tell us who are your friends, and we can hook them into the honeytrap.

I’ve been on the Internet and pursuing a digital life since the late 1980’s. I’ve seen it at it’s birth, and the raw power available to tech savvy users. And it felt good then. A new world. A new adventure.

The limited but easy to use front end of this black boxed spying machine sucked you in to an asylum, and you started to feel like you’re wearing a suffocating straight jacket, one which kept on changing over time, with more buckles, more straps, pulling in tighter and tighter. Taking more of you. Giving less and less.

I’d had enough. So I took the decision to burst out, and rid myself of these free services. To go to where I wasn’t the nutrient source, but I was the valued user. Back to basics. Honesty. Usability. An ethical digital life. Not one tainted with lies or traps.


I’d like to thank those who inspired me to take on this challenge and make the change.

  • Chris Were [1] pointed out the joy of Neocities, and the simplicity of being able to easily host an information site without much effort or fuss.
  • Low Tech Magazine [2] showed me what could be done with the simplest of designs, and its ethical solar self-powered hosting.
  • Switching.Social or Swiso [3] is a curated crib sheet that will show ethical, easy-to-use and privacy-conscious alternatives to the data hungry spycorp softs.


Here I will outline what I found to help me escape the bonds of surveillance, and put control firmly back in my hands.

Email Service

  • GMail ==> Posteo.de [4]

Email Client

  • Mutt [5] + Emacs [6]
  • Thunderbird + Lightning + Caldav + Sogo Connector


  • Neocities.org [7] + Emacs [6] + org-static-blog [8]
  • Neocities.org (Hand coded HTML & CSS)
  • Plusplushosting.net (Wordpress)


  • owndrive [9]
  • Pcloud
  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive


  • Syncthing [10]


  • QuiteRSS (using OPML RSS feeds) [11]
  • Newsblur.com
  • Google Reader

Social Media

  • Twitter ==> Mastodon [12]
  • Google+ ==> reddit.com*
  • Google+ ==> mewe.com*
  • Facebook ==> Diaspora / Disroot
  • Youtube ==> Peertube [13] / Invidio.us [14]
  • Imgur/Instagram ==> Pixelfed [15]


  • (PC) Windows 8 ==> Windows 10 ==> Linux Mint 19 Cinnamon ==> MX Linux 18 [16]
  • (Laptop) Windows 7 ==> OpenSUSE ==> Linux Mint 19 XFCE ==> MX Linux 18 [16]
  • (Laptop) Windows 8 ==> Windows 10 ==> Bodhi Linux 5 ==> MX Linux 18 [16]
  • (Tablet) iPad 1 ==> Google N7 ==> LG G8*
  • (Phone) Nokia ==> Samsung S3 ==> LG G3 ==> HTC10*

Mobile Apps

Moving from Google Play served apps to F-Droid [17] FOSS apps

  • GMail ==> Aqua Mail Pro ==> K-9 Mail [18]
  • Pocketcast ==> PodListen ==> AntennaPod [19]
  • Rocket Player ==> VLC ==> SicMu Player [20]
  • EFS FileXplorer Pro ==> AnExplorer Pro [21]
  • Chrome ==> Firefox Focus ==> DuckDuckGo Browser [22]
  • Twitter ==> Plume ==> Talon ==> Tusky ==> Fedilab [23]
  • Google Maps ==> Maps Offline (with OpenStreetMaps) [24]
  • Evernote ==> Joplin ==> Emacs [6] Org-mode [25]
  • Todoist ==> Emacs [6] Org-mode [25]
  • Lastpass ==> KeepassXC [26]
  • Google Authenticator ==> FreeOTP [27]
  • Reddit ==> Relay Pro ==> Joey ==> Slide ==> NONE
  • Amazon Kindle ==> Book Reader [28]
  • Comixology*
  • Audible ==> *
  • Google Calendar ==> Posteo Calendar via HTC Calendar [4] + DavDroid [29]
  • Netflix ==> *
  • Amazon Prime Video ==> *
  • Google Play Movies ==> *
  • Google Play Music ==> Bandcamp [30]
  • Google GBoard ==> TouchPal ==> SwiftKey Pro ==> Simple Keyboard [31]

There are a number of services I haven’t found an ethical alternative to, especially ones that include film/movie delivery. It seems the DRM systems attached to the fragmented services available, are all tied up in monthly subscription schemes. I’ve got varied content splayed across disparate corporate delivery mechanisms, all locked away and only available for streaming with accounts and tracking using proprietary apps on different devices.

At the moment I can’t see any way out of this trap.

Short of buying the film/movie on DVD or BlueRay and ripping the content off the disc in some form.

Similarly, audiobooks would need to “recorded” by capturing the audio stream out of the DRM locked application.

A lot of books purchased through the Amazon Kindle store or the Google Play Books store are locked away using Adobe DRM, and I’ve yet to find a way to unlock these in a format I can use on a DRM-free book reader. Select titles through Google Play Books are actually available as DRM-less, but they are mainly odd linux manuals or other reference materials.

There are a limited selection of eBook titles available for purchase through Rakuten that are DRM-free (usually in epub format). However there is no easy way to search for DRM-free titles - other than to use the handy & “Unofficial Kobo search” site provided by Switching.social/Swiso. [32]

Music however, at the moment, can be downloaded from Amazon and Google Play Music purchases and the mp3 files archived. Bandcamp is my preferred music provider - mainly down to the choice and fringe nature of the material available.

There are a number of aspects to my digital life that are still locked away, and require further investigation. Hardware wise, my phone choices are very limited, but there are some new options appearing on the horizon that may be worth looking at, once we have a decent privacy aware ethical Linux phone.

[1] https://chriswere.uk [2] https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/ [3] https://swiso.org/ [4] https://posteo.de [5] https://neomutt.org/ [6] https://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/ [7] https://neocities.org [8] https://github.com/bastibe/org-static-blog [9] https://owndrive.com/ [10] https://syncthing.net/ [11] https://quiterss.org/ [12] https://joinmastodon.org/ [13] https://joinpeertube.org/en/ [14] https://invidio.us [15] https://pixelfed.org/ [16] https://mxlinux.org [17] https://f-droid.org/ [18] https://k9mail.github.io/ [19] https://antennapod.org/ [20] https://f-droid.org/en/packages/souch.smp/ [21] https://anexplorer.co/ [22] https://duckduckgo.com/ [23] https://fedilab.app/ [24] https://f-droid.org/en/packages/com.github.axet.maps/ [25] https://orgmode.org [26] https://keepassxc.org/ [27] https://freeotp.github.io/ [28] https://www.f-droid.org/en/packages/com.github.axet.bookreader/ [29] https://www.davx5.com/ [30] https://bandcamp.com [31] https://f-droid.org/en/packages/rkr.simplekeyboard.inputmethod/ [32] https://swiso.org/unofficial-kobo-search/

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