Spies Amongst US

I usually don't wade into politics, but this hits too close to home to not voice an opinion, and there is a link to Ubuntu.

When I was growing up, I loved the music of Prism , a band that hails from Vancouver. Now that I call Vancouver home, I love them even more. Here's an interesting fact for the space lovers amongst us: "On Sunday, March 6, 2011, Prism's "Spaceship Superstar" was chosen as the wakeup song for the Space Shuttle Discovery crew members." How cool is that? If you love space, please take a listen. It will cheer you up and inspire you before you read the rest of my article.

Late last week some news broke about a different group with a lacklustre name and no musical talent. Terrible musicians who unfortunately stole the name of one of my favourite bands for their pet project - spying. Very disappointing. And, it seems they have a list of friends that you'll recognize.

News of this project and its goals did not come as a surprise to me, and likely not to you as well.

Take a deep breath and read this.

Take another deep breath and read this.

If the articles are a surprise to you, please consider the logical fallacy known as "false premise". Perhaps growing up you were given a premise that certain places are beacons of freedom and free speech and that they protect the same. You may have received this "information" from movies, television, newspapers, etc. And if you lived in certain places, you may have even sung songs to that effect. You were lied to.

So, knowing that these events have occurred and will continue to occur, what is an appropriate and direct action that you can take? On the surface it seems like an intractable problem to solve. Fortunately it's not. Here are a few simple steps that you can take right now to protect yourself, your friends and your family:

1) Start with yourself. Think about all the services you use and whether they are on the list. If they are, take immediate steps to discontinue their use. Are you a Verizon customer? Time to leave. Liking Facebook? What's stopping you from using Diaspora instead?

2) Next help your friends and loved ones. If you have people in your life that you care about that use services or products from the companies listed in the report, please reach out to them and help them leave TODAY. Does your best friend use Yahoo mail? Offer an alternative. Help make it easy for them.

3) Double down your efforts on Ubuntu. Encourage your friends who have been sitting on the sidelines to do the same. The only way to achieve freedom and the promise of a shared humanity is to build it. Don't waste your time trying to fix a broken political process that is built on greed and psychopathy. The best way forward is to build a system that works better. (Luckily, many of you reading this post are already involved in Ubuntu. Thank you! Please tell your friends.)

There is a saying that I like to cite in circumstances like this: "You can't change the world, but you *can* change your world."

Start simple. Start local. Be the change you want to see.

Image by "Colourless Rainbow" http://www.flickr.com/photos/irteza/ CC by-nc-sa


So, if none of the big e-mail providers are real, where is a good GNU FOSS FLOSS e-mail provider? Like other commentors I am unable to simply switch to something better, if there is no provided alternative.
For google search the alternatives are
ixquick.com duckduckgo.com (or proxy google searches @ startpage.com)
mapquest.com for google maps
jitsi for google+ and skype (is this really workable and viable in 99% of user case scenarios?)
Phone OS... none yet (though Firefox OS is close, and Ubuntu is in 'dogfooding' stage, and SailFish is getting pretty close too....)
mp3 ----> ogg
netflix ----> amazon(at least it isn't google?!?)
itunes ----> ubuntu music store, though they sell mp3 format not ogg so still no REAL option available.
steam --> uh... no... at least it is available to run in a GNU OS (Linux and maybe BSD?)
it seems like at this point until there is a massive education of Ubuntu users (and other distros) about how to program the main problem will remain.
If we get massive amounts of capable developers coding real alternatives to the problems and hosting real alternatives (ubuntu alternatives to all things google... well maybe just e-mail.... i.e. anon@umail.com not a bad ring to it)
I really want to mitigate all the non-free things, but Gnash doesn't cut it.... HTML5 is getting better.... but may incorporate DRM also....
Ubuntu needs more educational things available. I know there is a C++ book in the repos, but it does not install where a normal user would look (in fact where does it install?)


Point 3) assumes that Ubuntu is better in this regard. But I don’t see why this should necessarily be the case.

The privacy issues have only little to do with the OS being free software. It has to do with the issue of cloud services – and especially Ubuntu is integrating such services to a great extend. So while I do not want to join the general Canonical critique (Amazon lens, smart scopes), I think that Canonical is not generally more trustworthy than Google.

The only thing in favor of Canonical is that it is a UK based business. And while the UK is not generally known for its love for privacy, at least it is subject to EU regulations. If the Prism scandal has shown one thing, then that US privacy rules apply for US citizens only.

But the better approach would be to vote for self-hosted free software server components. The GNOME project does this by embracing e.g. owncloud, but Canonical favors – not surprisingly – its own, closed services. I know that many people argue that not everybody has the resources and expertise to host an own instance. But this is not the point. Local institutions, like universities, administrations and enterprises can, and I’d trust my university and employer more than a third party.

I use Canonical services, I mostly trust Canonical, but all the reasons you list for not trusting the mentioned services generally apply to Canonical, too. That they are not on the list now does not mean they could not be on the next one.


For us newbies, could you please exemplify 1-3?


That's assuming "the list" is actually accurate. Both Google and Apple are categorically denying the existence of all-access backdoors in their systems.

Google says it directly to the world here :


So who are we supposed to trust? On one hand, we have Larry Page himself denying the allegations of a backdoor and on the other hand we have a reputable news source that claims it obtained top secret documents from an undisclosed source. The only evidence we're shown is a few tiny screenshots of what appears to be a very ugly powerpoint presentation.

Seems to be too little information to warrant jumping off the ship, at least for me. I'm as skeptical of undisclosed sources as I am from major US-based cloud service providers.


If I were Larry, I'd deny it too. There is a lot at stake, especially market cap.

Personally, I will err on the side of caution. It's not too difficult to ditch these services.


The bit I'm struggling with is to find an alternative to gmail or yahoo mail to recommend to people, 'run your own mail server' isn't going to be a realistic option. Do you have any suggestions? Or would the best option just be to tell people assume your email is public.


You can use lavabit, hushmail, or riseup as alternatives.


It's a combination.

I'd recommend that people:
1) Use more trustworthy providers,
2) Use encryption,
3) Get involved in projects that are designed to decentralize the web.


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