Charting my journey away from Big Tech: Embracing Privacy and Self Hosting Solutions

In my quest to get rid of GAFAM and decrease as much the tracking I'm subject to, I'm only at the start.

Social Media Alternatives

By the end of 2021, fed up with infinite news feeds, I've removed my Facebook, Twitter and SensCritique accounts with almost no alternatives. I needed to declutter and focus on my family, so I also reduced the influx of information by stopping RSS feeds, Newsletter subscriptions, by pausing notifications of most apps like WhatsApp, and of course I've stopped watching TV Shows & Movies, news... Those initiatives were also motivated by family augmentation as I became father in 2021 šŸ™‚

Anyway I had to pursue efforts !

Recently I've also removed Pinterest and I've set up Pixelfed (self hosted) to replace IG (Instagram). I've also joined a Mastodon instance as a replacement for Twitter. The good thing with Mastodon and federated networks is you can be on any instance and follow users from other instances. From my Pixelfed (IG-like) I'm subscribed to my Mastodon page (Twitter Like) and I'm also followed by my WordPress page thanks to the ActivityPub plugin I've setup on this blog. I've migrated my secrets from Bitwarden to Vaultwarden (self-hosted), my code from Github to Gitea (self-hosted), my WordPress and Shaarli from OVH to Cloudron running on Contabo VPS. I've also started using Nextcloud and Collabora as replacements for my "Office" suite (Google Docs, Google Sheets, ...) but I'm not yet sold to the UI.

Self-Hosting Tools

The goal is to try to use as much self-hosted tools as I can. It's not easy to find good alternatives especially if you care about usability, data portability, privacy, and connect with other users ...

I'm struggling to get rid of YT (Youtube) and YT Kids. There are plenty of alternatives to YT, but not so much with both a kid-friendly UX and possibilities to filter content.

Challenges in Replacing YouTube

The problem is not to find a privacy respecting alternative tool to YT : It's easy to find and host content on Peertube but not so much to find a good instance with interesting content.

The problem is most of the popular and interesting content is on YT. There are alternatives frontends like Invidious, SkyTube (Android), Clipious (an Android client for Invidious instances). But Invidious does not yet support filtering of videos, which make it an unsafe place for kids. At least SkyTube allows for filtering channels and that's what I'm gonna try with my kid, but the UX is lacking behind YT and that makes it quite difficult for my little one to navigate alone in the app and pick a video.

Future Goals and Challenges

Important next steps for me are to get rid fully of any Google software, that includes Gmail (this will be a though one), Youtube, Contacts, Calendar, Google Drive, Google Keep, Google Maps, etc. and to stop using software that depends on tech giants or trackers. Not easy. Just try surfing the web using Big Tech Detective extension. Even search engines or browsers that claim to respect your privacy are tracking you or rely on GAFAM infrastructure or trackers.

For instance, when trying to use DuckDuck Go search engine with the Big Tech Detective extension on :

Exodus on Android shows that most of the "privacy" friendly browsers on Android are full of trackers : DuckDuck Go, Ghostery, Firefox, Opera, Tor Browser... Only Brave on mobile didn't contain tracker, according to Exodus. The spyware watchdog catalog will provide additional data about some of the mentioned browsers while also claiming Brave is to be considered as spyware.

Fortunately there exist search engines alternatives, such as Mojeek (which uses its own index) and SearX.

While looking at my expenses and optimizing my budget, I've removed my Medium subscription, Pluralsight, and OpenAI subscription, and started to cancel hosting plans as I'll host most of what I need on my VPS. Next challenges would be to get rid of Netflix, WhatsApp, Amazon (Prime, Kindle...), Apple, Spotify, Dropbox (to Nextcloud?), ChatGPT (I've yet to find a comparable alternative) by looking for alternatives or privacy friendly frontends for what cannot be easily replaced. But they do not make it easy. By trying to get rid of Netflix, I've noticed that as the "main" profile of our family shared account, it's impossible to delete my data. I can only create a new Netflix account and transfer the family profiles to that one. At the end, I'd like also to replace my OnePlus One with a dumb phone or a fair phone. I had a look at privacy friendly OSes we can setup on Android but the compatibility with OnePlus 10 Pro is still work in progress. Anyway if you are interested, take some inspiration here. I also want to fix this blog by taking inspiration from Small Web and Slow Web philosophies. , works for future browsers or at least relies on libre JavaScript (see also LibreJS) or no JavaScript at all.

And also to convince my loved one to try free and open source software on her devices (Apple šŸ™‚ ). Lot of friends and family are using Whatsapp while I'm sold to Signal or alternatives. This one will be difficult to bypass. I aim at least to automatically backup all WhatsApp files to my Nextcloud.

Every small improvement towards more privacy, data portability, open-source, data ownership, freedom, will be worth it and I'll share my findings with you šŸ™‚

Web (browser) extensions I recommend

  • LibRedirect a web extension that redirects YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and other websites to their alternative privacy friendly frontends. You can find my settings here.
  • Privacy Redirect a simple web extension that redirects Twitter, YouTube, Instagram & Google Maps requests to privacy friendly alternatives.
  • DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials includes tracker blocking, cookie protection, DuckDuckGo private search, email protection, HTTPS upgrading, and much more. I use it to generate temporary email addresses when my email is requested.
  • Ultrablock blocks ads, trackers and third party cookies.
  • Privacy Badger blocks invisible trackers.
  • Terms of Service; Didn't read get instant information about the terms and privacy policies of websites you browse!
  • Undistracted - Remove distractions and simplify the web interfaces of popular platforms and social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix, Instagram, Reddit, LinkedIn.

Web (browser) extensions I'm Trying

  • JShelter An anti-malware Web browser extension to mitigate potential threats from JavaScript, including fingerprinting, tracking, and data collection! But it causes some crappy websites to malfunction šŸ˜‰
  • Big Tech Detective helps you track tech giants. If fully activated, you won't be able to browse certain websites and even some supposed privacy friendly tools, such as Duck Duck Go Search engine which behind the scene rely on Microsoft infrastructure and hard partnerships with Microsoft.

Android apps I recommend

  • Exodus an app that audits Android apps for trackers.
  • F-Droid a installable catalog of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) applications for the Android platform.
  • Aegis Authenticator : a free, secure and open source app to manage your 2-step verification tokens for your online services.
  • Dsub (download and install manually) as Navidrome client so I can get rid of Spotify.

WordPress plugins I recommend

  • ActivityPub With this installed your WordPress blog itself functions as a federated profile, allowing to reach a wider audience.

Tools I recommend

  • Kill the Newsletter Convert email newsletters to RSS feeds.
  • Bitwarden which is a password manager. I'm hosting Vaultwarden which implements the same API. Bitwarden client is available on any popular platform.
  • Invidious to be used as frontend alternative to YouTube. Same content as YouTube. No ads, no trackers.

Some reading I recommend

Self hosting providers

  • I recommend Contabo (no sponsor here), that I've hand picked among many alternatives, while choosing a good VPS offering at good prices. Only downside is their administration panel UX, but other than that, it was cheap. And they buy green energy to run their servers. The alternatives I had compared Contabo with were OVH (way too expensive) and Hetzner (cheap but unfortunately their VPS hardware lacks AVX support thus is not compatible with Cloudron requirements). Contabo in the end beats VPS offerings of Hetzner and OVH at that price, with more storage and CPU for me !

Self hosted apps

  • If you own a dedicated server / VPS, try Cloudron, it's such an easy way to self host your apps and take control of your data ! I'm currently using it with Nextcloud, WordPress, and all apps mentioned below below :
  • Wallabag as read-it later app but their search engine is archaic and cannot find anything. I better find a way to query their DB directly or drop the tool for something else.
  • Calibre as web e-book reader and e-book collection organizer so I can progressively get rid of my Kindle.
  • Navidrome as a replacement for Spotify as a streaming/music player and scrobbler.
  • Miniflux minimalist and opinionated feed reader. It's a pleasure to use.
  • Vaultwarden unofficial Bitwarden compatible server.
  • free open source website change detection, website watcher.
  • PrivateBin minimalist, open source online pastebin where the server has zero knowledge of pasted data.
  • Invoice Ninja Invoices, Expenses and Tasks built with Laravel, Flutter and React.
  • Gitea a self-hosted Git hosting service that offers code hosting, code review, team collaboration, package management and CI/CD features. It is compatible with GitHub Actions, Docker, various databases and tools, and supports multiple languages and architectures.
  • Pixelfed a replacement for Instagram as it used to be (without all the ads, and crap).
  • Shaarli personal, minimalist, super-fast, database free, bookmarking service. Useful for sharing links or keep them safe and private.

Concluding Thoughts

I hope these insights and recommendations help you in your journey towards a more private and self-reliant digital life. As always, Iā€™m eager to hear your experiences and suggestions. Let's make our digital space a bit more ours!