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Put the internet back under your control with the FreedomBox

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Privacy is dead
Tonya Hall sits down with Amy Webb, professor at the NYU Stern School of Business and founder of the Future Today Institute, about the 2019 Tech Trends Report and its findings.

On today’s internet, most of us find ourselves locked into one service provider or the other. We find ourselves tied down to Apple, Facebook, Google, or Microsoft for our e-mail, social networking, calendering — you name it. It doesn’t have to be that way. The FreedomBox Foundation has just released its first commercially available FreedomBox: The Pioneer Edition FreedomBox Home Server Kit. With it, you — not some company — control over your internet-based services.

The Olimex Pioneer FreedomBox costs less than $100 and is powered by a single-board computer (SBC), the open source hardware-based Olimex A20-OLinuXino-LIME2 board. This SBC is powered by a 1GHz A20/T2 dual core Cortex-A7 processor and dual-core Mali 400 GPU. It also comes with a Gigabyte of RAM, a high-speed 32GB micro SD card for storage with the FreedomBox software pre-installed, two USB ports, SATA-drive support, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and a backup battery.

Doesn’t sounds like much does it? But, here’s the thing: You don’t need much to run a personal server.

Sure, some of us have been running our own servers at home, the office, or at a hosting site for ages. I’m one of those people. But, it’s hard to do. What the FreedomBox brings to the table is the power to let almost anyone run their own server without being a Linux expert.

The supplied FreedomBox software is based on Debian Linux. It’s designed from the ground-up to make it as hard as possible for anyone to exploit your data. It does this by putting you in control of your own corner of the internet at home. Its simple user interface lets you host your own internet services with little expertise.

You can also just download the FreedomBox software and run it on your own SBC. The Foundation recommends using the Cubietruck, Cubieboard2, BeagleBone Black, A20 OLinuXino Lime2, A20 OLinuXino MICRO, and PC Engines APU. It will also run on most newer Raspberry Pi models.

Want an encrypted chat server to replace WhatsApp? It’s got that. A VoIP server? Sure. A personal website? Of course! Web-based file sharing à la Dropbox? You bet. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) server of your own? Yes, that’s essential for its mission.

The software stack isn’t perfect. This is still a work in progress. So, for example, it still doesn’t have a personal email server or federated social networking, such as GNU Social and Diaspora, to provide a privacy-respecting alternative to Facebook. That’s not because they won’t run on a FreedomBox; they will. What they haven’t been able to do yet is to make it easy enough for anyone to do and not someone with Linux sysadmin chops. That will come in time.

As the Foundation stated, “The word ‘Pioneer’ was included in the name of these kits in order to emphasize the leadership required to run a FreedomBox in 2019. Users will be pioneers both because they have the initiative to define this new frontier and because their feedback will make FreedomBox better for its next generation of users.”

To help you get up to speedm the FreedomBox community will be offering free technical support for owners of the Pioneer Edition FreedomBox servers on its support forum. The Foundation also welcomes new developers to help it perfect the FreedomBox platform. 

Why do this?  Eben Moglen, Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, saw the mess we were heading toward almost 10 years ago: “Mr. Zuckerberg has attained an unenviable record: he has done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age.” That was before Facebook proved itself to be totally incompetent with security and sold off your data to Cambridge Analytica to scam 50 million US Facebook users with  personalized anti-Clinton and pro-Trump propaganda in the 2016 election.

It didn’t have to be that way. In an interview, Moglen told me this: “Concentration of technology is a surprising outcome of cheap hardware and free software. We could have had a world of peers. Instead, the net we built is the net we didn’t want. We’re in an age of surveillance with centralized control. We’re in a world, which encourages swiping, clicking, and flame throwing.”

With FreedomBox, “We can undo this. We can make it possible for ordinary people to provide internet services. You can have your own private messaging, services without a man in the middle watching your every move.” 

We can, in short, rebuild the internet so that we, and not multi-billion dollar companies, are in charge.

I like this plan.

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The Incredible And Controversial Evolution Of Elon Musk’s Neuralink

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During a 2021 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Musk outlined his desire to put a Neuralink chip in a person at some point in 2022. During the interview, Musk described the device as “safe,” “reliable,” and “something that can be removed safely.” Musk again confirmed the first patients the device would be tested on would be people who suffer from serious, debilitating spinal cord injuries such as quadriplegics and tetraplegics (people who have lost the ability to voluntarily control the movement of multiple limbs). The world’s richest man went on to say he is “cautiously optimistic” about Neuralink’s chances of success.

Although Neuralink is still waiting for FDA approval, some of the company’s direct rivals have been given the green light to proceed with human testing. New York-based Synchron Inc., which has been around since 2012, got the go-ahead in 2021 and announced the enrollment of their first patient in early May 2022 (via Businesswire). Like Neuralink, Synchron is developing a product that will allow the human brain to interface with existing electronic devices. Synchron also intends to use its device to improve the lives of people with debilitating medical conditions. So Neuralink may one day change the world, but there’s a good chance another company will get there first.

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Apple’s New Privacy Commercial Puts Data Brokers On Notice

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Since then, we’ve seen a number of other options added, some of which this new commercial — called, simply, “Data Auction” — calls out. Some are active, like Intelligent Tracking Prevention in Safari, which when activated will use machine learning to figure out what in websites is functional and what is for tracking, and then block the latter. More recently, it has also gained the ability to hide your IP address, too.

That’s something Mail Privacy Protection does as well, as well as blocking the so-called “invisible pixels” which can report back to data brokers whether or not you opened an email. Obscuring location in a more granular way is something Apple has been exploring for a while now: iOS 14, for example, introduced the ability to share approximate location with apps and sites. Rather than giving exact coordinates, it narrows your position down to a roughly 10 square mile zone; enough to get local recommendations and news, but nothing more specific.

Other additions have focused more on awareness. App Privacy Report, for example, shows which apps have tapped which hardware and software permissions on your iPhone and iPad, including a list of the domains that app might be contacting in the background. Safari Privacy Report does much the same thing, only for website trackers.

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The Subaru Legacy Is Getting Some Serious Upgrades

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We like what we’re seeing (so far), but the most significant update is a bigger Boxer engine for the Legacy Sport, bringing some much-needed adrenaline and “sportiness” to the equation. It’s typically the same motor from the outgoing Legacy Limited XT and Touring XT, boasting 2.4 liters of displacement and turbocharging to deliver a healthy 260 horsepower.

The 2023 Legacy Sport is also home to bespoke styling updates like striking red accents on the front grille, gray metallic side mirrors, a gray rear spoiler, 18-inch gray alloy wheels, and custom-made black and gray seats with red stitching. Further enhancing the Legacy Sport’s “sportier” driving feel includes a sport-tuned suspension, LED fog lights, a power moonroof, a 360-degree heated steering wheel, and navigation — features you’ll also find in the range-topping Legacy Touring XT.

All Legacy models have standard Subaru symmetrical all-wheel-drive and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Meanwhile, the standard engine is a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter Boxer-four with 182 horsepower. Subaru claims the standard 2.5-liter Boxer engine achieves an EPA-estimated 35 mpg and 600 miles of range on a single full gas tank. On the other hand, the new Legacy Sport and its turbocharged 2.4-liter mill achieve 24 to 32 mpg.

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