In an effort both to increase my online privacy and reduce my dependence on companies that give themselves and others access to my computer, I finally decided it was time to install a Linux-based operating system like Ubuntu as my primary OS.
The decision came when the graphics card in my Mac laptop made it crash instantly on startup. I started looking into computers that weren’t going to charge me for an expensive OS I wasn’t going to use (there aren’t many).
I chose Ubuntu over other Linux based operating systems like Debian or Mint mostly because there is a large community of users who can provide help in the forums if problems arise. It’s also remarkably easy to install and use.
While looking through the forums I saw a lot of people installing Ubuntu successfully on old Windows machines that no longer worked because they’d been taken over by viruses. I had an old Sony laptop I had used for programs that didn’t run on Mac, but eventually the keyboard no longer worked. I figured either me or the dogs had spilled something on it and never used it again, but decided to dust it off and try Ubuntu.
The laptop came to life again and worked perfectly after I made a boot disc of Ubuntu 12.4 on a Mac desktop and used it to boot the machine. It installed effortlessly and I found that I could do 95% of everything I did on my Mac laptop with the apps that came with it. So, no new laptop needed.
Ubuntu isn’t without privacy issues, however. Last year Canonical released Ubuntu 12.1 to a hailstorm of criticism from EFF and other privacy advocates. The Unity Dash search feature would search your hard drive and beam the results back to Canonical servers, which would then expose them to sites such as Amazon, Facebook and the BBC.
EFF’s Micah Lee launched a site called Fix Ubuntu, which had a super easy to install piece of code that disables the Amazon search tool. (Canonical recently sent Lee a letter asserting that he was infringing their copyright, and when it blew up in their faces assumed a “blame the new guy” defence.)
Canonical ultimately nuked this function according to the Register, but I installed Lee’s code anyway since it doesn’t apparently hurt anything. Canonical also recently complied with EFF’s request to make full disk encryption easy upon Ubuntu installation. But it all goes to underscore the truth that you can’t put your trust in any system to guard your privacy.
Which is, as I’ve been told many times by security minded folks, ultimately all but impossible to do if anyone really wants to get in. The goal is to make it as difficult as possible to spy on your data, and keep it from being easily scanned in massive data sweeps. Ubuntu is for me just the first of many steps I’m trying to take to make it more difficult for corporate or governmental data predators to sniff in my underwear drawer.
Do you have experience with Ubuntu or other Linux operating systems? Let me know in the comments.