Browsing The Web In 2020: Is It Madness ?

My Dearest Mad-Watchers,

I would like to express a concern of mine. I am worried about my privacy and my freedom. I am worried about the current state of the internet. It is in a state of absolute chaos. I am worried about the centralization of the world wide web, which is more and more limited to a few online platforms such as YouTube, Medium, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and several others which I cannot name, for the sake of keeping this introduction concise.

What Is The Web?

It is the common appellation of something much bigger: The World Wide Web. It should not be mixed up with the internet, which is a worldwide infrastructure, a global network of networks. The web is only one service provided by the internet. Another service which you should all be familiar with, except if you have been looking in a cave for the past twenty years (and in such case I respect your decision), is electronic mail, also known as Email.

But then, you ask, what can one do with the web? It is an information system which one may access with a web browser, such as Google Chrome, Vivaldi, Opera, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Brave... to name but a few. Since most of you will think I speak Chinese, I merely recommend to those of you who are interested to find some more information on HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), which is a protocol utilized to transfer the various resources of the web; and URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) which locate said resources.

An Unexpected History?

I am not convinced that Tim Berner’s Lee imagined the consequences of his invention, back in 1989. Indeed, what he named “The Web” only a year later has tremendously grown into… Well, into a beast that is rather complex to define. If you travel back one, two, or even three decades in the past, the web was only walking its very first steps with much lighter tools. The web was almost a hundred percent text-based. Loading an audio file or a video required far too much resource for people to do it lightly.

What Should One Do?

The major problem is: using a computer has become synonym to using a personal computer. The Chrome book illustrates this argument perfectly. From now on, huge companies like Google (so YouTube), Netflix, Amazon, Apple, expect you to use only their online resources in the cloud. This means that you no longer have root (or administrative) powers over your machine. Take another example: Android. You do not have root access on your phones, yet this is the machine you use the most on a day to day basis.

Do you find this normal? Should one accept this?

I do not. I cherish my freedom, and this affects me more than anything else in the world.

What Are Our Options?

Let Ourselves Be Enslaved

It is easy and comfortable to ignore the threats which represent these companies on your personal rights. It is easy and comfortable to find excuses such as: I will do it later, it allows me to stay in contact with said friend, it is better to find a job… These have become truths over time, yet there are much better alternatives which will respect your individuality.

Resist, One Person At A Time

Every time you make a choice, it affects others. You may not see it, but your smallest decisions have an impact on the whole world. With the internet, this is amplified. You need to become aware of these small yet terrible decisions which you make on a daily basis. You need to stop using Google Chrome, or Facebook, or all these platforms which could not care less about your privacy.

Privacy is only dead if you choose to believe it is!

A VPN: Thank you, but no thank you!

Who has not heard of Virtual Private Networks these past few years? Presented as the one miraculous solution to get your privacy back, are they really what they seem to be? Well, I do not believe so. Perhaps I am too skeptical, yet I would rather be excessively cautious than give away my data to some random people that cannot entrusted with it.

If it is not opensource, where is the guarantee that your VPN is not selling your data just like google is? there is none. The only VPN I can safely recommend is OpenVPN. Install it on your own server, configure and do what you will with it but do not trust someone else with your data.

If you search properly, you should be able to find some other open-source alternatives. I did not look closely but had a glance at a few promising reviews for these VPN services :

  • Libreswan
  • SoftEther
  • OpenSwan
  • FreeLan

A New Old Way To Browse

What if the web strove to be more minimal? What if it was the solution? Should you stop using the web entirely? Perhaps. Although, it would probably mean excluding yourself from modern society. It may not be your most brilliant idea… In any case, here are some suggestions which I did my best to properly nuance:

  • Disable javascript: do only what you need do. If you cannot trust a website, stop visiting it. The only thing you need is the information it has to offer. Nothing else. For this purpose, said website merely requires html and CSS. JavaScript will only get in the way (and track your every move on the page, because it is so much fun).
  • Change browser: Ditch Old-Sport Google Chrome. Use one which does not accept JavaScript out of the box, if you are extreme: Surf, for instance. Be more minimalist. Not only do you not need all this JavaScript but the environment will thank you for it, since networks will consume less bandwidth. If you are not willing to go that far, there are plenty of other promising fish in the sea:
    1. Qutebrowser
    2. Brave
    3. Iridium
  • Stop using social-networking platforms. Delete all your accounts and reduce your consumption to what is strictly necessary. No need for Facebook to keep in touch with old friends and colleagues. Regarding all the people you see all day long, you may or may not need to be connected to them all the time… Anyway, if you insist on keeping something to communicate with others (or just waste your time, generally speaking), here is what I can safely suggest:
    1. Jami
    2. Mastodon
  • If you are like me, you may even want to unsubscribe from all your YouTube channels. All you need is a RSS feed-reader to keep track with what is happening in the rest of the world. If your eyes are sharp enough, you may even have noticed that I have an RSS feed (in the top-right corner of my home page).
  • Reduce your overall time interacting with technology. Go for a run, read a book, play a board game instead of watching TV, draw… There are countless possibilities. As a start, you could actually use your phone as a phone, instead of playing candy crush whenever you have a second for yourself. Plus, what if you took that spare time to just breathe? Would you feel more relaxed in the end?

Conclusion

It would certainly be naive to turn a blind eye on all the problems which current society is causing with its so-called progress. It would be just as naive not to see that there are myriads of solutions. You barely need reach out. The answers are all in your hands, already. I am not here to tell you what to do or not to do. I am here to warn you. I can only hope you will act on my warning afterward.

If I can make at least one of you change today, the battle will be won.

Cheers,

Phil.