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Walled garden

What we’re about

This is a comprehensive guide to online privacy. Learn how to replace proprietary software with free and open source alternatives.

Not sure why you should bother? Let's start with a short quiz:

  • Do you own an iPhone or Android device?
  • Does your computer run Windows, macOS or ChromeOS?
  • Do you browse the web with Chrome, Safari or Edge?
  • Do you socialise on Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Tiktok or Snapchat?

Most likely you answered yes at least once. Are you aware that all of these services are run by companies which are part of the so-called Surveillance Capitalism, a term coined by Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff and further analysed by EFF's special advisor Cory Doctorow? In a nutshell, it's an economic system centred around monopolies which harvest personal data with the core purpose of profit-making, while threatening core values such as freedom, democracy, and privacy.

Tackling these issues requires comprehensive changes to our legal systems and social covenants. But there’s a lot you can do youselves. This guide provides a more private and secure manner to use your phone and computer. One step at a time, you'll learn how to rely on free and open source software instead of privacy intruding services from tech giants like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon or Microsoft. Eventually, you'll be able to browse the Internet, chat with your friends and family or share pictures and documents without companies or governments collecting, recording, monetising or censoring your data.

Who is this for?

Pretty much anyone. This guide is meant to be fun, educational, customisable and accessible. At each step, we'll point out which audience is likely to be the most interested:

Audience Description
Normal users (aka Beginners)
These chapters are for users with no particular tech skills, limited time or no inclination to tinker.
Intermediate users (aka Tinkerers)
These chapters are for users with some tech skills under the belt and keen to learn more about privacy and technology.
Advanced users (aka Techies)
These chapters are for users which are familiar with the tricks of the trade and have solid tech skills.

What's in this guide?

Free and open source software

Throughout the different chapters, we'll discuss why privacy matters. And how to use free and open source software, also referred to as FOSS. This guide lays out steps to take care of the following needs and concerns:

  • Browser: privately browse the Internet without trackers, cookies or ads
  • Communications: encrypt emails, messages, calls and personal files
  • Storage: protect your data with strong passwords and two-factor authentication
  • Phone: free your phone from Google or iOS and run tracker-free apps
  • Computer: power your computer with GNU/Linux and run FOSS apps
  • Cloud: choose privacy respecting cloud providers. Or set up a private and secure server and self host services such as cloud storage, photo galleries, contacts/calendars/tasks or media streaming

How does it work?

It's a process and we'll take one step at a time. Most importantly, we want you to stay in control and understand what software you are using. At each step of the way, you'll be able to take a look under the hood and adopt, reject or customise any software presented in this guide. Some key principles we follow:

Principle Description
1 Take one step at a time.
2 Start with the basics before diving into more advanced stuff.
3 Illustrate each step with concrete, hands-on examples.
4 Favour free and open source software.
5 Pick quality software which excels at one specific job over all-in-one bloatware.
6 Provide customisable solutions which leave the user in control.
7 Stay close to the source code, and away from one-click deployments or containerised solutions.

Privacy, anonymity or security — what's the difference

In this guide, we clearly distinguish between the following concepts:

Concept Description
Privacy It's about keeping content private. Others can know who you are — but not what you think, say or do.
Anonymity It's about concealing your identity. Others can know what you think, say or do — but not who you are.
Security It's about putting tools in place to protect your privacy and anonymity.

While more security often means more privacy or anonymity, it also means less convenience. The right tradeoff depends on your individual threat model. This guide should be helpful if your objective is a reasonable level of privacy. Not so much if you plan on becoming a spy, hiding from powerful adversaries or infringing laws.

Why is FOSS better for privacy than proprietary solutions?

While FOSS makes the source code freely available, proprietary software usually keeps it a closely guarded secret. Both approaches have their pros and cons. While free and open source software is no silver bullet to guarantee online privacy, it helps knowledgeable developers to look at the source code and fix issues. Is this sufficient to rule out bugs or vulnerabilities? No, FOSS code needs active auditing to ensure safety and privacy. Still, FOSS remains preferable to closed source code. Because it's auditable, encourages collaboration and promotes innovation. FOSS is free as in free speech — and sometimes even as in free beer. It respects the users' essential freedoms to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. As such, FOSS is not only about technology. It is a free ecosystem which allows users to emancipate and be part of a virtuous circle.