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.
Michael Horowitz’s Defensive Computing Checklist is also an excellent resource to read through for tips around using any of Big Tech’s products or services.
Both ProtonMail and Tutanota 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 of e-mails. 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 Thunderbird with Enigmail extension (or latest version of Thunderbird has OpenPGP built in). Anything encrypted with Thunderbird will NOT be readable (contents) by Google.
* Or use FlowCrypt extension with Gmail in the browser as well as a mobile app, which allow OpenPGP encrypted mail to/from your GMail address.
File Sharing and storage
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.
Google Notes / Tasks
Whoogle can be self-hosted within an Open Media Vault service, or just installed on a server.
See my dedicated page on Alternatives to Big Tech Social Media.
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.
Note: Whatsapp has recently (Jan 2021) started to force users to accept terms that allow them to share users metadata with Facebook.
Session is forked from Signal and requires no phone number or e-mail address to register. It is decentralised, but there has been comment about it departing from the Signal protocol.
Threema from Switzerland has just gone open source in 2020 and is likely more privacy respecting than Signal itself, as it requires no e-mail address, phone number or SIM to register and use it.
Read It Later
Wallabag is another service that can be easily installed under cPanel (for self-hosting). 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/.
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 real-time 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. See my video about CryptPad.
Brave is a cross-platform privacy embedded browser with many extensions 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.
AWStats is a free installation 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.
Android Play Store
Android Play Store
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.
Mycroft is the world’s leading open source voice assistant. It is private by default and completely customizable.
Chatwoot is an open-source omnichannel customer support software.
vutuv - Think of it as a free, fast and secure open-source alternative for LinkedIn or XING (remembering that LinkedIn has featured plenty of times as the number one collector of user metadata, even above Facebook). This is one of the very few fully open source alternatives to LinkedIn. It is designed around speed and lack of clutter, so it is suited to slow network speeds.
2FAS - open-source (including server with Docker image) 2FA app for Android and iOS. No account registration required. It has a desktop browser extension that gets an OK from the linked mobile app.
Revision date: 2023-06-14
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