Liberating myself from Google and others

I'm a developer, general do-it-myself IT guy and linux hacker-er. I hate the direction the Internet is taking. Free Email, as long as it can be used to profile your habits. Facebook, An intelligence agencys' photo database and tracking system. Free photo sharing services but you don't own the copyright. File sharing cloud services but you're effectively locked in as you lazily upload 80GB over 10 years and can never get it out again. These things bother me as an average developer because they hinge on unnecessary sacrifices. I could host these services myself. I don't mind paying someone else, I just wish my money were enough and they could actually be trusted. Anyway this blog post isn't a rant about the evils of cloud computing, just a recent meandering experience I've had in making myself less dependent on certain services. I can do some of it myself, so I did.

5 years ago I bought my domain because I wanted an email address that:

It worked really well. I'd been burnt by the British Computing Society (BCS). The membership to that professional body, which naively appealed to my freshly-graduating self, seemed like the choice of professionals and I got this @bcs.org.uk address I thought was awesome. They said it was a lifetime address. Little did I realise I was paying a £100 yearly subscription for it considering I didn't read their magazine or want the Microsoft discount. So anyway, I bought my domain for like £15 for 5 years and it's worked out brilliantly for me.

Like any developer I dream of running a successful web app online and collecting a second income. I rent a server from a provider, and off I go. Only the steam on my one-man project runs out and I start to feel guilty I've got this server in the cloud doing nothing. So I read this guide on how to NSA proof your email in 2 hours. There's something wierd about email servers. Admins of all types just swear you shouldn't be running your own mail server. For reasons of spam or being labelled a spammy domain or what not. But I did it, and I haven't regretted it. Well not yet anyway. I strongly encourage others to follow my suit and do the same! A word to the wise. It took longer than 2 hours to set up. It took like 4-5 hours just for basic working mail (postfix + imap). I also deviated from the outset, reimplementing all the MySQL bits in Postgres. I spent an hour or two here-and-there for the next month rereading the guide and doing the dspam step, the opendkim step, writing my server side rules etc. Now I have something I'm quite proud of. I even took the guide further and got a web based mail client going. I don't miss gmail at all.

After a while it becomes something of an addiction. Once email, which I considered the hardest service to host has become safe and stable and I was content, it wasn't long before I liberated myself again and went and put an OwnCloud instance on my box too. For anyone know hasn't seen it, it isn't just some low quality rsync service which is what I'll admit I assumed. Sorry. It's really nice. It has plugin apps like a calendar and a video hosting etc, allowing me to move off Google calendar and to host my own YouTube videos as well. I will admit I'm not using those yet but I'm fairly sure it's imminent.

I love holidays. I love taking pictures on holidays. As the last few days of the holiday approach I feel a growing anxiety. This anxiety isn't just the fear of returning to the stresses of my daily life. It's the growing concern about how upset I would be if I lost my phone and its pictures. Now I have Owncloud on my Android phone automatically uploading my pictures to a place I trust, my own server. I feel it has been a tremendous success.

And with great success, the addiction grows. Last week I backed up my Android phone (Nexus 5) and flashed Ubuntu touch over it. Unfortunately it was quite a way from stable and a lot of key features were either broken or buggy. The low quality of, and lack of apps was also a factor. Of all the bugs the one where you had to type text messages upside down was my favourite. All of that aside, it's beautiful in places, sleek and I would definitely try it again in a year. (Also, to rightly defend Ubuntu, this was an unofficial port of a product they themselves hadn't deemed ready). Right now though I had to return to Android.

Not being overly keen to return I thought I'd take the scenic route and go via CyanogenMod. I then restored my backup image over the top of it, leaving me with my original phone but with root access. I am absolutely delighted. Whilst it looks like exactly the same phone with all the original apps and features working I can install "rooted" apps. Who needs root apps you say? Check these screenshots:

In the first picture is a tool that can block Android apps getting the permissions they originally demanded. I didn't realise some crappy EE app was making around 300 requests per day for my location. Anyway it's not getting any now! In the second is Greenify. No longer will selfish companies ruin my battery just to fractionally improve their application's opening response time. It's the Android experience but on my terms now and not theirs. I get to choose how my battery is spent.

I'm enjoying feeling somewhat more liberated and less locked in and strongly encourage everyone out there with the technical ability to do the same. I won't lie and say I've finally deleted my Google account. I haven't.. but at least at exit strategy is on the horizon.

I'm not sure what my next project will be. My Git repos may as well stay on Github where the fork button is. A Git clone saves me from a lock-in anyway. When I find it, I'll write it up.

Phillip Taylor, 9th Sept 2014