The slow and painful act of ungoogling yourself, part 7: Deleting your account

So you’ve found replacements for all the things you used to get from Google, and you’re ready to delete your account. Nice! Good job. I just did the same thing yesterday:

delete_google_account

Make sure to tick every single box, otherwise they won’t let you go. Also, be sure to download any YouTube clips you may have uploaded. I had a YouTube clip with over half a million views and 3000 thumbs up, so that hurt a little bit. But it’s all good, I will be hosting that clip here in the future.

So, did you click that delete button? If you did, welcome to a tiny bit more freedom. If you didn’t: What’s keeping you with Google? I’d like to know. Feel free to comment.

The slow and painful act of ungoogling yourself, part 6: Browsers and syncing

There is something that is so basic and common to using the Internet that I perhaps overlooked it in my earlier articles: the web browser.

Google Chrome has been gaining market share at an alarming rate over the last few years. Whatever Google’s marketing is doing, it’s working, as even people who don’t know how to install a program have installed Google Chrome and are using it as their default browser. Yes, this is anecdotal evidence, but I know several people who aren’t really good around technology, who were using Internet Explorer before (!) and are now Chrome users. With no help from anyone.

Chrome is pretty fast, that’s true, but you can easily replace it with another very fast and extensible browser: Mozilla Firefox. The Mozilla Foundation especially likes to make a point of how Mozilla’s products put you, the user, in the center of everything they do, and how they value your privacy. So far, this has been true and this can’t be said about Google.

This privacy- and user-friendliness goes so far that they encrypt the things you sync to them. And if you don’t trust that, you can run your own sync server, it’s explained in great detail here:

http://docs.services.mozilla.com/howtos/run-sync.html

With the whole source code to the sync server and the server machine itself under your control, any privacy issues you might have are created by you, not by Mozilla. The sync server runs perfectly behind mod_wsgi on Apache, but for people who don’t know what mod_wsgi is (or Apache, for that matter), this is impossible to set up.

If you are one of those people, maybe you have a nerd friend whose server you trust, who you could poke to set up a Mozilla Sync server for you to sync to?

I’m still running into a few configuration issues with the server and while the docs are quite okay, I think that Mozilla Firefox itself might be to blame in this case as it doesn’t seem to be able to register new users on my sync server. But other than that, it’s nice to take your synced data into your own hands.

Update: The issue was just that I was running the sync server via WSGI behind Apache, and changing the setting to allow new user registrations didn’t get through to the already spawned WSGI applications. If you run into this issue, just reload or restart Apache, it’ll magically work after that 🙂

 

The slow and painful act of ungoogling yourself, part 5: Translation, dictionaries and online video

After all my other posts and about a year of activity on the subject of ungoogling yourself, I have come to the point where I only depend on Google for two things:

  1. YouTube videos. Funny cat videos. Zefrank. Video game reviews and such.
  2. Translations, especially of phrases and sentences.

The former hole can’t really be plugged. For video game reviews and other fun clips, I’ve subscribed to The Escapist‘s publisher thingy. That way I get HTML5 video instead of Flash video, and they give me a higher quality as well. Eurogamer and Gamespot also have some video reviews. I only miss having the community reviews you find on YouTube.

Outside of the video game area, I try to find stuff on Vimeo, and quite often I’m successful there. Vimeo is also a European company, which makes me twice as happy when I use them. And they seem to be run by proper æsthetes, look at how pretty, clean and uncluttered everything is!

Of course I won’t be able to preview albums by listening to Vimeo clips, since most people put their music rips on YouTube, not on Vimeo. On the other hand, Vimeo is much more friendly to artists and does not suffer from the horrible community that YouTube has. So you get more signal, less noise.

Talking about previewing albums, that can be done at Grooveshark. If it’s not on Grooveshark, chances are the band itself has some clips available, or there’s always last.fm. Update: And 7digital, which gives you DRM-free MP3s and previews. This can be an alternative to Amazon as well if you generally distrust very large companies.

Update: 7digital proved that they take their shit seriously. I complained about too short filenames — even ripped albums from random torrents have the complete track names in the filename, but the three albums I bought from 7digital didn’t. I complained (via Twitter), they acknowledged it was an issue on their side an released a fixed version of each of the albums less than 24 hours later. Fucking awesome.

Finally, let’s get to translations. I thought nothing could improve upon Google Translate, but now some companies have started aggregating translated pages translated by actual humans and using those to feed their translation indexes. I think this is potentially a better approach than Google’s metalanguage translation system. One of these aggregation companies is bab.la, and they also use third-party dictionaries such as the Folkets Lexkion as sources.

So these were the final building blocks. I have been mostly free of Google’s services for nearly a year now, and completely free since — uh — two hours ago. By far most of my stuff now comes from European companies, especially Switzerland, Germany, France and the UK.

In the same vein, I’ve stopped buying books and music from Amazon and now get them from Bookzilla. My vinyl comes from Supreme Chaos Records, Prophecy Productions and others.

This took me almost a year to do, and I really invested time researching things. I’m not saying that my choices are the only valid ones or that my reasoning is the soundest. But I’m sure if I could do it, you can get rid of Google in your life as well, for whatever reasons you might have.

I hope these articles gave you a shove in the right direction.

The slow and painful act of ungoogling yourself, part 4: Mobile phone operating systems

Google’s Android rules the mobile phone market like some sort of ad-flinging gorilla, and it’s not easy to escape its grasp. On a default Android phone your mouth is firmly pressed against several of Google’s teats:

  1. Google Play, their app store, which requires a Google account.
  2. Gmail
  3. Contacts (integrated with Gmail)
  4. Google Calendars
  5. Google Maps
  6. Google+
  7. Online photo galleries (integrated in Google+)
  8. Hangouts (replaces Google Talk)
  9. Currents (so they know what news you read)
  10. News and Weather

There might even be more, but those are the worst offenders. To get rid of all of those in one shot, I moved away from Android to CyanogenMod. The transition was very smooth, I didn’t even lose the data on my (virtual) SD card. Since my phone has no physical card slots, I was a bit worried. Now that I have root, I can remove those Google apps. On a normal Google-flavored Android phone, those applications are protected and can’t be removed.

My new, slimmer phone OS syncs with my own CalDAV and CardDAV servers instead of Google’s, uses my own IMAP and SMTP systems, but what about my Google Play purchases? That one hurts: If you’ve bought apps from Google’s app store, you will have to buy them again from another store if you move away from Google. And then you’re stuck with that app store.

Some authors also support alternative ways of unlocking their apps, but most of the time you’ll be forced to reinstall at least Google Play. I haven’t tried removing Google Play after installing the app, but I’m pretty sure this will break the app as the update mechanism is usually tied to the app store.

That weird practice alone is worth an entire post, but I’ll leave it at that. I’m now self-hosted and free of Google’s products and services. I might go one step further by switching from Android to SailfishOS, but that’s for the future to decide.

Phew!

Update: If you want some pointers for alternative app stores, tries the Amazon Appstore, SlideMe, F-Droid and Yandex.Store. Funnily, those Russians have way less invasive terms of service than Google…

You cannot buy an ebook in Switzerland without surrendering to two foreign companies

I recently started reading Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos. It’s a fantastic series of books. I had downloaded a cracked MOBI format version from somewhere — something that is legal in Switzerland.

However, I also want the publisher and hopefully Dan Simmons himself to make some money, since I’m liking the books a lot and will probably read all four in the series. What I discovered is that even today, in 2013, it is impossible to legally buy an ebook in Switzerland without giving money to two companies known to be tax evaders and surrendering your personal information to at least one US entity.

If you buy the book from Amazon, you support a company that isn’t paying any EU or local taxes even though it turns a happy profit in countries like Germany. Also, Amazon has the right to delete the book from your device at any time if they like to, without giving any reason. That’s more like renting a book than owning a book.

If you think you could support your local book shop by buying from stores such as bol.ch or books.ch, you’re in for a rude awakening: Not only is bol.ch 300% as expensive as Amazon and 200% as expensive as books.ch, both of these companies use Adobe DRM on their books.

In order to use an Adobe DRM-crippled book, you need to support two known tax evaders, two American companies; you have the choice between Microsoft and Adobe or Apple and Adobe. Adobe’s DRM restriction system works only on Mac OS X or Microsoft Windows. In order to use it, you will have to submit personal information to companies in the USA. Finally, you will have to tie your ebook reading devices to your Adobe ID.

There is no way to keep your money or information in Switzerland, even though you’re buying from a Swiss bookstore.

I still bought the ebook in the end, but I will keep reading the already decrypted version that I’ve downloaded elsewhere, since I can’t use what I’ve legally bought. Think about it, though: If you buy ebooks in Switzerland, you are sending the signal that it’s OK to cripple books in this way, and that it’s OK for you to surrender your personal information and a part of your control to known tax evaders in the USA. Do you really want to send that message?

If not, what options do Swiss people have? I can think of three:

  1. Keep downloading pre-cracked books that work on any device, without collaborating with US companies. This sucks because that way the authors never get your money.
  2. Buy the paperback and download the book. This sucks because the paperback costs three times as much and printing and shipping dead paper around the globe is a waste if you would already be willing to read on your ebook reader.
  3. Stop reading ebooks until the market understands and offers truly decentralized, local methods to buy ebooks. Unfortunately, most people don’t even understand that there is a problem and will happily feed these companies their money.

All of this also applies to EU citizens, only that EU citizens cannot legally download cracked books, so they lose option 1. It’s sad: I wanted to relieve my conscience but instead I’ve stumbled upon something that makes me feel even worse about ebooks than I did in the beginning.

Update: I contacted bol.ch and they said that not all (but most) ebooks in their store are crippled with DRM. They say, predictably, that they have no control over DRM and that it’s the publishers that hold on to this crippling. If they want to carry an ebook, they must also agree to cripple the title for their customers.

Update 2: I just received an answer from Orell Füssli, the company behind books.ch. They say that they receive many complaints due to DRM, more complaints every day, and that something must change. What exactly will be the new strategy, they can’t yet prophesize. It’s good to see that even the bookstores themselves hate DRM. Then my question is: Why do publishers stubbornly stick to that crap?

The slow and painful act of ungoogling yourself, part 3: Maps

This is just a short article to let you know that life without Google’s mapping and navigation systems is possible.

For mapping, I now use OpenStreetMap on the PC and OsmAnd on Android. For navigation, I also use OsmAnd on Android and Yournavigation on PC. So far, everything worked really, really well. I just have to use my eyes a bit more often and actually read what’s written on the map instead of relying on some weird additional overlay to take care of that for me.

Update: After writing this, I also found these for routing on the PC: MapQuest Open and OSRM.

Using joysticks/controllers with keyboard-based games in GNU/Linux

If you’re one of those people who only now discover GNU/Linux for gaming (with Steam and all), you might find this useful:

http://www.ryochan7.com/projects/antimicro/

I’ve tried several tools that map controller input to keyboard keys, but AntiMicro is the most reliable and easiest to use in my opinion. Many GNU/Linux developers forget to implement native Linux joystick device support into their games, but often this is crucial for games like Stealth Bastard Deluxe or Super Meat Boy. If you encounter such a game, AntiMicro will let you play it just fine with any USB controller, ranging from cheap-ass $2 Chinese crap up to expensive Logitech controllers.

The slow and painful act of ungoogling yourself part 2

I’ve written about getting rid of Google before, and that was before the whole NSA/PRISM shitstorm. I’m sure people today find even more reasons to get Google out of their lives.

I wasn’t just doing nothing all this time either. Since the last post, the following has happened:

  • My contacts are synced with my own CardDAV server instead of to Google, so Google won’t get their hands on my friends’, colleagues’ and family’s personal data through me anymore.
  • My calendar goes to my own CalDAV server, so Google no longer knows what I’m doing when, where and with whom.
  • DuckDuckGo has improved so much as a search engine that I don’t feel like I’m missing something by not searching on Google anymore.

One problem still remains: I use an Android device, so you never know what else Google might be collecting through there. I’m watching Jolla and Sailfish as well as Firefox OS to see if and when there is some way to get a truly independent mobile device. That is the only piece of the puzzle still missing, and Google Play is the only way Google still gets at my stuff.

I have installed the Amazon Appstore and SAM next to Google Play, but the former is just swapping out one evil for another while the latter sometimes doesn’t have the app I’m looking for.

But it already feels much better to be the master of my own data again. I don’t know how Google entranced all of us nerds in the first place. Sure, Gmail was a much sexier email system than any of us had ever seen, back then. But nowadays, with decent Free Software alternatives and Google turning more and more into a closed social network and advertisement agency like Facebook, hosting our stuff ourselves seems like a hot idea again.

Also: decentralization. It’s one of the cornerstones of this whole Internet thing. Why should we give that up and entrust very few, very large companies with our data in a centralized fashion instead of creating a robust, decentralized system?

Cracking the DRM on Kindle ebooks

I recently bought a book through Amazon because their price was ridiculously cheaper than the competition’s.

Of course their crazy DRM prevented me from using the book on my open and friendly Boox reader, but then I found Alf the Apprentice’s tools on his blog.

I used Calibre, Wine and the Windows version of Kindle’s reader software, and ten minutes of fiddling later I could actually read the book I bought.

Super-legible Heiti-style Chinese font for Debian GNU/Linux

I’m struggling with those crazy Chinese fonts in Mingti and Kaiti style and couldn’t find a goot Heiti font, but now this page:

http://wiki.debian.org.hk/w/Where_can_I_find_fonts_for_GNU/Linux

Mentions that there is a perfectly fine Heiti-style font available in Debian: ttf-wqy-zenhei. So do this and be happy: apt-get install ttf-wqy-zenhei

Here’s a sort of preview from Wikipedia’s multilingual support page:

The samples above are in Heiti, the ones below in Mingti. Putting it into a screenshot makes it look shitty, so you’ll have to install the font (don’t install any other Chinese fonts!) and look at the page zoomed in to see it really well.