Leaving Google, Part 1: Search Engine, Email

Okay, so I’ve decided to leave Google, now how can I replace the same tools that Google gave me – for free?

As I’ve mentioned in the previous post, the reason why Google provides their products for free is because they earn profit off the data those products gather. You will be hard-pressed to find a free tool that provides a decent level of privacy and security. The key things to look for are open source software and donation-funded software. In some cases, you will have to pay something in order to get quality software. Just keep that in mind; I will attempt to list the prices of the software I use, for your convenience.

Since the last time I posted, I have begun migration of my default search engine and personal email provider.

 

Search Engine

Google, by default, records your search history and which webpages you often visit from the results. This is used to improve their algorithms and make searches more relevant to you, but it also creates a profile of your interests which they can use to target ads at you. Enter DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo is a relatively young but maturing search engine that started in 2008. Since then, it has grown to over 15 million searches done daily. Its privacy policy states that the only data stored in the cloud is the terms of your search, to help correct misspellings or provide more overall relevant suggestions. It does not collect any information that could potentially personally identify what machine or person performed the search (like IP address, User Agent data, location, WiFi network, etc.).

I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for the past 2 weeks, and I have had no serious issues with it. The search suggestions and results are significantly less useful than what I saw on Google; the results I used to see on the top of the page have gone down toward the middle. However, it is not a huge inconvenience; it is expected of a search engine that is not personalized. Overall, I would highly recommend DuckDuckGo as an alternative search engine. As a bonus, it is free and open source!

 

Email

Transitioning email providers seems like a lot of work. Imagine if you had to access the account of every website you’ve ever registered your email address to. That’s what I’ve had to do over the past 2 weeks; there are some accounts I had even forgotten that I had! Before we get to that, we need an email provider. I had the choices narrowed down to two: ProtonMail and FastMail. Self-hosting a web server is also a possibility, but you will still have to have a third-party email address to register a domain for it.

ProtonMail is the provider of choice if you want absolute security and privacy. It is an email provider hosted from Switzerland, where there are strict laws that enforce the privacy of users’ data. They do not track any personal data, meaning they cannot provide any direct proof that a certain person is linked to a certain mailbox unless the mailbox becomes decrypted and personally-identifiable information is found. It also enforces that emails be encrypted end-to-end, meaning only the user holds the key that can decrypt messages stored on the server. The only disadvantage is that end-to-end encryption is not supported by common email clients like Thunderbird; you must download and install their own app. Bonus: it is open source and provides free accounts with limited capacity. The standard plan is 48 EUR (USD 54.12) per year.

FastMail is another privacy-oriented e-mail provider that is hosted from Australia, which is another nation that has very strict privacy and anti-surveillance laws. Its advantage over ProtonMail is that it provides compatibility with IMAP/POP clients like Mozilla Thunderbird; however, that means that they can read messages on the server. This is not so bad; they still state that they do not use your personal information and do not cooperate with blanket surveillance agencies. They have 2 plans aimed at personal use, priced at USD 30 and 50 per year, with the main difference being the amount of storage available for your inbox. They also have a professional plan for USD 90 per year with even more storage and features targeted at business owners.

In the end, I chose FastMail for my personal needs. In the long run, I will be spending less for a few tradeoffs in privacy. I am currently on the $30 plan and will switch to $50 later if I run out of storage.

 

Stay tuned for next time; we will be talking about media and productivity apps!

Why I’m migrating away from my Google account.

Google has served me well as a productivity tool over the years. It started as my default search engine and quickly became one of my most visited sites on the Internet. I adopted their new technologies like GMail, Docs, Drive, Maps, and even Chrome, the very browser that was my go-to for years. I’ve gotten knee-deep in all of the convenience that Google has offered me, but at what cost?

A few years ago, I realized that I was paying the price of privacy for this seemingly free service. Google’s sole goal is not to make its users better off. Its primary goal is to make money. When you use their services, you are agreeing to let the machine use your personal data to make money for the employees and executives. It is important to remember that Google is a marketing company; their largest function is to mine data and sell it to advertisers via their ad services. It uses your data to provide ads that are targeted toward you, that may interest you, so their ad platform can generate more revenue for more clicks.

I’m not saying that Google is an inherently bad organization. Their tactics are completely legitimate; they don’t refrain from telling you what data they’re gathering on you. The issue is that most people don’t read the terms and conditions or the privacy policy of online services, where companies are legally bound to tell you what they’re doing (well, unless the government says they can’t tell you, but that’s another story). My goal with this transition and public announcement is simply to spread awareness.

I strongly encourage you to read the terms of the major technology corporations, particularly Google, Apple, and Microsoft, and determine for yourself whether the data you’re giving them is worth the convenience. It will make you one of two types of people. You will either become an apathetic with nothing to hide, or you will take action to protect your privacy. The choice is ultimately up to you. It may be a difficult choice to make, but making it is better than living in ignorance.

Plans for a new website that I want to host.

I’ve become more interested recently in participating in wargames on the Internet. If you don’t know what those are, they are not games with any sort of violence or aggression. They are machines and networks that contain sets of challenges that the user must complete using hacking skills. Because the owners provide consent to hack within the bounds of the game, it is a perfectly legal scenario that promotes ethical hacking. Wargames are seen as a form of awareness for “sloppy” coding practices that may create system vulnerabilities. The hosts of wargames hope that such games will help coders recognize security flaws in the code that they are writing, which will lead to a much safer and more secure Internet.

Some of the wargaming networks that I visit frequently are smashthestack.org, io.netgarage.org, and overthewire.org. That last website has a game called the “warzone” which they are beta-testing at the moment. It is a simulated Internet that users can connect to. It is expanding the hacking environment out from a single machine into a network of machines. In short, this game has inspired me and I’d like to start my own “warzone” too.

My idea is a network where devices are distinguished into two groups: the hackables and non-hackables. For example, a server hosting a wargame would be categorized as “hackable” whereas a script-kiddie who just wants to connect to the wargame server would be a “non-hackable.” The difference is that machines specified as “non-hackable” would have a inbound firewall that is provided by the network simulation software. This is an easy way to manage “consent” so that a user can easily protect his computer if he doesn’t want it to be hacked.

Hackable machines, on the other hand, are able to connect to the network with no restrictions on either inbound or outbound connections. Of course, connecting to the network as a “hackable” means that you give your consent to others that they can hack you; however, you would¬† be able to specify what extent of hacking is allowed. For instance, a server with unprivileged SSH users as part of a wargame might have terms saying you can only use those users and not attempt to gain access to anything else.

This idea is still a work in progress, so if you have any suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them!

LD36 Update: A little progress.

I only got to spend about 2 hours on my game today due to other things on my schedule. With the time remaining, there is no way that I will be able to completely finish the game, even for the Jam. However, I will still continue to develop it until it is finished, posting updates here as usual when I hit major milestones.

Today, I did a little more art and put it together in code. Currently, you can drag and drop the various parts (motherboard, psu, hard drive) around the screen. Sorry that I cant post images or video this time, I am too tired ūüėõ Tomorrow I’ll do more graphic design and hopefully add “connections” ¬†between components to the code!

LD36: Day 1 Complete!

It’s nearing midnight of Day 1, and I have made a reasonable amount of progress.

The first thing I did was the initial planning that I always do: I create a thought map and try to decide what kind of game I would like to make. I start with my theme and work down to the specifics of each “game idea” and decide which one is the best choice. (I decided to go with a 90’s computer sim that involves both building hardware and using software.)

Once I got that done, I started working on some of the graphics. At this point, I’ve got the most important parts of the motherboard done; however, I still have a long way to go. I have to worry less about detailing than getting a working texture; the problem is, I like to detail.

Here’s the motherboard, side by side with the original image:

motehrboard

If time allows, I’ll be adding more details to the motherboard, but for now it has all of the necessary connectors.

 

Well, that wraps it up for today! Tomorrow, I’ll work on the rest of the “scene” for the hardware and get into some Processing code to get the cables connecting! Although I wasn’t streaming on Twitch today, I plan to tomorrow. Stay tuned for more updates!

Ludum Dare 36!

I’m going to be participating in the Ludum Dare, starting this night! Sadly, I haven’t finished my Java game engine yet, so here’s the software lineup for this jam:

  • IDE/Language: Processing
  • Graphics: GIMP
  • Sound effects: DrPetter’s sfxr
  • Music: Otomata, Ardour, incompetech.com (royalty-free music)

I’ll be busy during the time of the announcement, but back and ready ¬†within 1 hour afterwards! Stay tuned at my Twitch channel¬†to watch the development process! I’ll also be posting a timelapse of the development at my YouTube channel once the jam is over.

Hosting a new Minecraft server

I found a new type of Minecraft server today Рanarchy servers, which are survival servers with very few or no rules. I have decided to host my own. It is 100% vanilla; there are no mods or plugins, and there are no rules of course. You can join by using the hostname anarchy.nonemu.ninja in the multiplayer browser.

I chose to host an anarchy server because it has a different metagame than many other survival servers. For example, unlike Factions, there is absolutely no protection of what you build, which means you have to build your own hidden traps and checks to keep your base protected. I feel like this kind of “vanilla” gameplay is more interesting, yet most people look over it. I hope that this server draws more people to the idea of unmodded servers and communities.

Migration to GitLab!

Hey guys, I’ve been introduced to a new cloud service called GitLab. It is a free code collaboration utility based on the Git version control system. Besides¬†VCS, it has features like issue tracking and continuous integration built-in. So, for all of my new projects, I’ll be using this instead of my GitHub. (Note: All of my GitHub stuff will still be available online. I will simply not check it as often.)

You can visit my personal account at https://gitlab.com/u/AGausmann and the group associated with my YouTube channel at https://gitlab.com/groups/NonemuNinja . I hope this transition goes well!

LD35: I’m Done!

GO VOTE: http://ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-35/?action=preview&uid=39216

Well, this is an earlier stop than I intended; we are having company over tonight (I have to socialize D:). Anyway, this game is fully playable and can be finished, so that’s something to be proud of. It also has a higher difficulty than the other two games I’ve released on Ludum Dare.

I’m fairly proud of the outcome this time around. This is the first time that I’ve used a random level generator. Although I have no experience on tuning the output of a level generator, I think that I’ve done a good job.

In case you’ve just tuned in, the theme for this Ludum Dare is “Shapeshift.” Because I had earlier committed to writing a text-based game, I made the levels shift around instead of some morphing physics objects. After adding some other challenges, I feel like this game is quite nice to play. I haven’t played many levels yet (except for my testing seed, “deadbeef”) but I’ve confirmed that it’s mostly beatable. Actually, it has a similarity to Solitaire: not all levels are beatable, and any wrong move on a beatable level may also screw you over.

A reminder: Go vote! And thanks for supporting the development of this game.