A Quick Guide to Avoiding Commercial Surveillance Apparatus


Those interested in privacy simply try to avoid and move away from using surveillance appartus online. I have read countless accounts of people swapping Google for Nextcloud and DuckDuckGo or Facebook Messenger for Signal, Matrix or XMPP. Generally these people are technically saavy enough to use or even self-host these privacy respecting software. They’re happy to totally remove themselves from proprietary software that they view as harmful (Spoiler alert: I’m one of these people too). This isn’t an option to most people since they need to be able to use these platforms to keep up with their friends, or the cost of moving their friends to the new platform is too high, even though they are aware of the negative externalities and may even desire to leave.

So for these people, I present a guide to Engaging with Privacy Eroding Websites without compromising your own Privacy: RSS for the modern web. It’s ah, uh, working title. There are obviously limitations in how much you can engage with these black holes of information and still retain your privacy, and obviously it’s better to avoid them entirely if you can.

RSS will not die

No matter how much people will bemoan the death of RSS, it will not die. In fact, RSS still remains the backbone of interacting with the “closed web”. YouTube, Twitter and Instagram all have open source front ends. You can view the content on these websites without subjecting yourself to the large majority of their surveillance, and without any JavaScript. You can subscribe to your friends on these platforms through RSS too (YouTube provides an RSS feed for all channels by default. More on that here). All of these services also have alternatives in the form of PeerTube, Mastodon and PixelFed too, but those are different platforms altogether. There’s also RSSBox which will create an RSS feed for many different platforms, though some of them get rate limited because the primary instance is too large.

On the RSS Reader front one of my favorite new entries is FraidyCat, It’ll even turn websites that don’t support RSS into a usuable feed. I tend to use FeedBin and a combination of the above front-ends for most my RSS consumption. You can install this addon for FireFox to turn all Twitter and YouTube links into either invidio.us or nitter.net links respectively.
If you’re on Android there’s NewPipe from F-Droid to follow people on SoundCloud and YouTube and also NitterizeMe to transform links.

Of course, there are limitations. There’s no way to view private accounts, you can’t interact with any posts, video quality tends to be worse, rate limiting is an issue. I believe these minor tradeoffs in convience are well worth the gain in privacy.