The purpose of this page is to offer some alternatives to the traditional centralised Big Tech services such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. I’m noticing more and more from hearings and also documentaries such as The Social Dilemma that we are not the customers of these free services, but the advertisers are the customers, and we are the product. I fully realise that a service is never fully free as someone has to pay for the hosting, administration and moderation, and that is either funded by a sponsor, advertisements, or us paying to subscribe.
The problem is that very large centralised services cost a lot of money to operate. There are open source products, but the cost is often the hosting required for it to be shared and used by many people. So we are often free to download open source software but to have it work for cloud sync or be available to the public does cost money to host and have network access. So yes one alternative is that services get decentralised and operate on smaller nodes/hubs where they can take on and reflect local cultures or interests and be cheaper to maintain. We already see this with many decentralised social networks and even cloud hosting services, and many have even moved to proper peer-to-peer services where the data moves between the computers themselves.
If plain advertising was sufficient then yes it could fund services online but as we the users got better and better at blocking adverts, the game started to change. Service providers also realised the power of being able to target adverts to specific niches of users based on their interests. This in turn gets them higher revenue from advertisers as this type of advertising is more valuable. So this results in service providers (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc) needing to analyse your content and behaviour (what do you stop to read or look at) to target the right people. This in turn leads to the need to report back the success rates to advertisers (proving how many people are looking at the adverts).
The above on its own is not yet fully crossing the line but where it has started to go even further is the realisation from advertisers that they can target specific messages to identified categories of users by needs, fears, geographic location, political persuasion, etc and actually influence behaviour and discussions. Not all advertisers are selling toilet paper as we are hearing more and more that many have political or even macroeconomic interests, and these ‘messages’ can potential sway elections and destabilise countries from within.
So with this in mind my thoughts go along the lines that a centrally managed service is a lot easier to manipulate or monitor or influence as it has a central point of entry to the whole network. A decentralised and peer-to-peer type network, or one with proper end-to-end encryption, is going to be a lot more difficult as there are multiple points of entry, often scattered throughout the world. For example if Hubzilla has hubs in China, USA, Germany and Switzerland, you could choose which one you want to join the network from, and that hub could allow/disallow certain rules and even connections to other Hubzilla hubs. These options already exist but most people are just not aware of them. Because they are far smaller, their costs are a lot lower to maintain. Someone still has to pay to run them, but that is often done through donations or in many cases just a personal sponsorship by the admin. It’s not perfect but it’s an option.
So I’m starting the list below which will not be some final exhaustive list of alternatives. It will be what is working for me and I’ll add a comment by each trying to highlight why. I am in favour of very easy to set-up alternatives eg. through one-click installation scripts with Softaculous (often included with cPanel hosting) on cheap cPanel hosting which could cost around $10 pm for a family, organisation, or medium size groups to share and use.
I’m also not making it an open source only list as some may be reasonably priced commercial services ie. often open source products but the hosting service is paid for (if you can’t host yourself). For some services below I have done video overviews showing what they look like, and in these cases I have put a link to the video to quickly give you a feel of what the product looks like.
If you are in any doubt about sites making use of deep tracking and 3rd party cookies etc to profile your behaviour, just try going to Blacklight and putting the URL in to check.
|First two options both have free services up to certain limits. Both offer full encryption of contents, with non-users receiving a link to open the secure mail and to reply. Being secure, if you lose your password you lose access to the content of all your mails. Right now only Tutanota has a safe search option for content. Only Proton Mail uses interoperable OpenPGP for encryption to/from numerous other mail services which support it. |
If you have a GMail address and want to keep it:
* You can activate IMAP syncing and then setup Thunderbid with Enigmail extension (or latest version has OpenPGP built in). Anyhting encrypted with Thunderbird will not be readable (contents) by Google.
* Or use FlowCrypt with Gmail in the browser as well as a mobile app, which allow OpenPGP encrypted mail to/from your GMail address.
cPanel hosting allows you to set up your private e-mail server with an optional domain name if you buy one. CPanel hosting costs around $10pm or even less, and will provide other services too. You can move this type of hosting and retain the e-mail address if you bought your own domain name.
listmonk – a standalone, self-hosted, newsletter and mailing list manager. It is fast, feature-rich, and packed into a single binary. It uses a PostgreSQL database as its data store. See an installation guide here.
Mailcow – an excellent alternative to GMail if you want to setup and manage your own self-hosted mail server. It has a modern web interface.
|File Sharing and storage||GDrive
|NextCloud has a wealth of add-ons for extra functionality too (see below). Can have two-factor authentication and even full encryption. See my video here on NextCloud.
OMV allows one to set up the file sharing from home with the added advantage of running a few additional services from within docker containers inside OMV. This can run from a Raspberry Pi.
|Calendar||Google Calendar||NextCloud||All these alternatives have WebDav connectivity allowing your mobile device to sync with the calendar (I must verify Tutanota).|
|Event Managers||Facebook Events
|Mobilizon||Mobilizon is a free and open source online tool, that can federate, to help manage your events and communities as an alternative to Facebook Events or Meetup. Mobilizon is a federated software: hosts can install it on a server to create instances that act as Mobilizon websites. Mobilizon instances can be federated together, so a profile registered on instance A may contribute to a group created on instance B.|
|Contacts||Google Contacts||NextCloud||As above NextCloud has WebDav connectivity for syncing contacts with mobile devices. My video on NextCloud.|
|ToDos||Google Notes / Tasks||NextCloud |
|NextCloud has various add-ons for notes which will sync. I use QOwnNotes within NextCloud.
Duck Duck GoSwisscows
|Whoogle can be self-hosted within an Open Media Vault service, or just installed on a server.
Duck Duck Go is already supported within many browsers. Both these options use Google Search, but they strip out all identifying information which is not passed to Google.
Swisscows is also privacy respecting and is more than just binary search.
Searx is a free internet metasearch engine which aggregates results from more than 70 search services. Users are neither tracked nor profiled. Additionally, searx can be used over Tor for online anonymity, and can be self-hosted as an option.
YaCy is a free peer-to-peer seartch engine that you host on your own computer, but a little more complex to set up.
|See my dedicated page on Alternatives to Big Tech Social Media.|
Open Streaming Platform
|Lbry.tv is said to offer better revenue than YouTube, and it has an auto import from your YouTube channel. Both are Peer-to-peer services you sign up on for free. My channel is at https://lbry.tv/@GadgeteerZA.
NewPipe is an open source tracker-free Android app for YoiuTube not requiring a Google account login.
Owncast – a self-hosted, decentralised, alternative to Amazon Twitch or YouTube Live for live video streaming and web chat server for use with existing popular broadcasting software. Can also be used for live streaming of a conference.
Open Streaming Platform (OSP) – an open-source, RTMP streamer software front-end for Arut’s Nginx-RTMP Module. OSP was designed as a self-hosted alternative to services such as Twitch.tv, Ustream.tv, Mixer, and Youtube Live. OSP uses Python 3, the Flask Micro-Framework, Nginx-RTMP, VideoJS, Bootstrap, and other modules to build a home for your live streams, videos, and community.
|Note: Whatsapp has recently (Jan 2021) started to force users to accept terms that allow them to share data with Facebook.
Session is forked from Signal and requires no phone number or e-mail address to register. It is decentralised.
Element is decentralised and offers fully encrypted rooms that hosting services cannot access, and offers options for strict admission to those rooms.
Briar (Android only) and Jami (Android and iOS) are both peer-to-peer privacy based. No personal info needed to register. This means these can work directly from phone to phone using Bluetooth or WiFi (no Internet required).
Threema from Switzerland has just gone open source in 2020 and is likely more privacy respecting than Signakl itself, as it requires no e-mail adddress, phone number or SIM to regsiter and use it.
Delta Chat is an open source native secure messaging app that uses your existing e-mail account as a communications medium via encrypted e-mails. Everyone is potentially a user with no central account required.
Note: Telegram was popular for circumvention of censorship blocks but there are issues around its use of SMS interception for registration and 2FA. If it gets used, it is recommended that the PIN be activated and end-end-encryption is activated with secret chat (it’s off by default). But Signal or others are preferred.
|PinePhone is a Linux phone focussed on privacy.
GrapheneOS is an OS that can be flashed to many Android phones to replace Google’s version altogether without any of the Google Play Store or similar functionality. You can still side load Android apps.
|Read It Later||Wallabag||Wallabag is another service that can be easily installed under cPanel. I use an Android app with it.|
|I self-host my Piwigo on my VPS (along with other services I’m running). It offers posting to albums, commenting, geolocation, ratings, and much more based on additional 3rd party add-ons. My site can be seen at https://photos.gadgeteer.co.za/.
LibrePhotos is a slightly simpler alternative to Google photos.
|Cryptpad||Cryptpad does not only secure encrypted document editing/sharing/collaboration for text documents, spreadsheets and presentations, but also polls, kanban and whiteboards. There is even a chat facility for people collaborating in realtime together. I use the instance at https://cryptpad.fr/ but there are others (eg. https://cryptpad.disroot.org/) or you can self-host your own using their provided docker image. It is also great for sharing a public link for others to view.|
|Privacy Badger extension from EFF automatically learns to block invisible trackers.
UBlock Origin – An efficient blocker (not just adverts) add-on for various browsers. Fast, potent, and lean.
Firefox extension Facebook Container – Facebook. Well contained. Keep the rest of your life to yourself.
Blacklight – A Real-Time Website Privacy Inspector.
|Web Browsing||Google Chrome
|Brave is a cross-platform privacy embedded browser with many extentions folks would use separately, already inside the browser such as enforcing https, script blocking, cookie control, ad blocking, fingerprint prevention. It also has options for blocking of various social media tracking. There is an option to earn a few Dollars per month for watching some adverts too.
Tor Browser (Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and F-Droid) is best known for its ways of circumventing censorship firewalls. Tor Browser already comes with HTTPS Everywhere, NoScript, and other patches to protect your privacy and security.
|AWStats is a free install on most cPanel hosting services. It does not use 3rd party cookies or trackers. It reads the various log files from the server and displays them in a summary report. It has a few extra plug-ins you can enable for more advanced functionality. Ironically you see more visits because many users already block trackers and 3rd party cookies, and so evade reporting via Google Analytics. It works off your server log files.
Matomo (ex-Piwik) is also a free install on most cPanel hosting and is a full-featured direct competitor to Google Analytics (personally I think better) with well-designed integrated GDPR compliance. You can opt to pay for their cloud hosted version but it is free for self-hosting. It can be configured to show what search engines brought traffic to your site, what keywords are used, search terms on your site, what social network sent traffic to your site, and much more.
|Android Play Store||Android Play Store||F-Droid
|For users who do not want to use Google single-Signon (or cannot such as newer Huawei users) there are alternative stores which will install most apps just fine and offer separate per-app logins.
F-Droid is best known as a store for open source apps and contains a few apps you will not even find in the Google store.
Aurora Store allows the option of which Google services you want to make use of, if any.
Aptoide is an open source app store with over 150 million users worldwide since its launch over 10 years ago.
XDA Developers offers some advanced tools and utilities.
Aptoide is possibly one of the closest and best google play store alternatives.
APk Mirror has a large number of APKs to install but note these are usually just mirrors of existing APKs from the Google Store so will have the Google sign-in and services still active.
|OpenBoard is very stable but does not yet have swipe.
AnySofKeyboard has swipe included too.
FlorisBoard is still in alpha but has some good features.
|Voice Assistants||Google Home
|Mycroft||Mycroft is the world’s leading open source voice assistant. It is private by default and completely customizable.
Their software runs on many platforms — on desktop, our reference hardware, a Raspberry Pi, or your own custom hardware.
|Customer Relationship||Zendesk||Chatwoot||Chatwoot is an open-source omnichannel customer support software.|
Revision date: 2021-10-17
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