Fears confirmed: PIM after PRISM

Jun 17, 2013. | By: Paul

The third post in my blog here back in 2010 was about my search for alternatives to the popular Google groupware (GMail, GCal, Google Contacts etc) that I used to manage my personal information at that time. These plans were motived by a vague feeling that Google might at some point start to misuse my personal data. The recent revelations about PRISM proved that this feeling was more than justified.

Luckily I have slowly migrated away from Google’s products to self hosted open source replacements. Today, I run my own little server at home, a Seagate Dockstar running Debian GNU/Linux. This works astonishingly well, even so the Dockstar only has a single 1.2 GHz ARM CPU and 128MB memory (i.e. only little more than nothing). It runs my own mail server replacing Gmail and a webserver with ownCloud that I use for syncing my contacts and calendars. I don’t use ownCloud for syncing my files, many due to some bad experience I had with it. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the project, but some parts of it – including the file sync – are not mature enough for regular use at the moment. Instead, I sync my files via ssh using the awesome tool Unison.

Running your own server at home has some advantages. Paradoxically, in Germany your data is is more difficult to access for federal agencies if it is physically placed in your own apartment, rather than on a rented server in a proper server farm. And I don’t have to trust a hosting company. On the other hand it has the disadvantage that it is behind a dynamic ip and dyndns can be quite painful. IPv6 via sixxs.com partly solves this problem. Also, the slow upstream connection that you usually get in Germany (which is downstream from the servers point of view) slows down file transfers dramatically. I guess it is more expensive than a vServer, in particular if you want hardware that is not as slow as the Dockstar. And finally you still need an offside backup for your data.

I’m still looking for a replacement for Google Reader, which I found hardest to leave. Luckily, Google is now shutting down this awesome service, forcing me to finally abandon it. I’m still trying to get used to DuckDuckGo, which I find much harder to use than the Google Search. Guess this demonstrates that Google still knows me well. So the last pieces that keeps Google (and the NSA) well informed about myself are Google+ and my Android phone. The latter runs Cyanogen Mod anyway, so it would be possible to operate it completely without Google. But this would require abandoning the Play Store as well, which is not an option for me in the moment. I will try to migrate slowly to Open Source Apps provided by F-Droid, so that I might be able to free my android in the future.

Even though I and many others always suspected what was now revealed about PRISM, it made me think about privacy again. Should I delete my Facebook and Google Plus accounts? Are the any alternatives? App.net is also located in the US, and is not adopted as widely by far. How to you handle your personal information? Do you just go on using Google, the iCloud or stuff on Mircosoft’s servers? I’m grateful for any input here.

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I'm a ML Engineer in Munich, Germany.

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