11/29/13 UPDATE: please check out my follow-up post about this project.
Motivated by Edward Snowden’s heroic whistleblowing on the NSA PRISM surveillance program and a co-worker showing me prism-break.org, I recently made the long-overdue decision to cut ties with Google and other proprietary web services.
As a Drupal web developer, Ubuntu early adopter, advocate of open source software, and civil liberties loving libertarian, I felt ridiculous when I looked at the list of proprietary spying services/software I used on a daily basis. I knew it was time to practice what I preach.
It Wasn’t Easy
Yes, Google apps, Dropbox, PayPal, etc. are super convenient to use and are integrated everywhere. But I took one look at my Google Dashboard and it hit me just what a pervasive, controlling, and spying machine Google had become. I was reminded of this quote by Thomas Jefferson:
“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.”
A Google big enough to give you everything you want is a Google big enough to tell the NSA everything you do. And there’s no reason for it to be that way, not when there are numerous open source, privacy-respecting alternatives. It was time for Operation PRISM Break.
It was daunting at first. I looked at prism-break.org and made a list of every proprietary service I was currently using. From there I prioritized by most egregious violations of trust & privacy and how often I used the service. For example: I expect my emails to be private and I use Gmail every day, so it was the first to go.
Once I had my list made, I tried to address one item each day, find an open source and/or privacy respecting replacement, and cross it off my list.
Here’s what I’ve converted so far:
- Gmail -> Riseup + Thunderbird (+ Enigmail & GnuPG for encryption when recipients allow)
It’s worth noting Riseup’s web interface doesn’t even come close to Gmail’s, but with Thunderbird and the Thunderbird Conversations add-on, it’s entirely usable.
- Chrome -> Tor or Firefox with prism-break.org’s suggested security improvements
- Dropbox -> ownCloud hosted on my web server
- Gmail Android app -> Riseup + K-9 Mail (+ APG for encryption when recipients allow)
- Google Contacts -> exported to Thunderbird
- Google Calendar -> exported to Thunderbird with Lightning add-on
- Google Drive -> ownCloud
- Google Maps -> OpenStreetMap
- Google Maps Android app -> Skobbler
- Google Search -> Startpage
- Google Voice -> ported the number to my wireless carrier
- Google Wallet -> deleted all payment info
- PayPal -> closed account
- Android Messages app -> TextSecure
At the end of the month I will be deleting my Google account entirely. A year ago this would have been terrifying, now I can’t wait.
Not everything on my list is crossed off yet. I have a seemingly obscure Android phone (Kyocera Torque) and haven’t had any luck rooting it. Given that it’s littered with Google apps, it’s definitely staying at the top of my list. I also have to figure out what I want to do with Facebook, Flickr, and Skype. Having just moved across the country, I use them all more often now to keep in touch with family and friends.
So my PRISM Break journey isn’t done yet, but I’m acknowledging the progress I’ve made so far and sharing what I’ve done in the hopes it will motivate others to reclaim their privacy, open source their world and break free from PRISM.
“To have the choice between proprietary software packages is being able to choose your master. Freedom means not having a master. And in the area of computing, freedom means not using proprietary software.”
- Richard Stallman
Open source advocate, vegan, libertarian, Buddhist, INTP. I translate design & coffee into code for organizations doing great things in the world.