Part 6 of the Digital Sovereignty Series
Now that we have explored a range of methods to promote digital sovereignty, I would like to use this piece to tie up some of the loose ends of this series, mention some of the technologies I would like to see develop further, and share some thoughts of what I think a digitally sovereign future could look like. Readers are hopefully familiar with the rest of this series and the technologies discussed, but if not I highly recommend going to Part 1 if this is the first article in the Digital Sovereignty Series that you’ve come across.
Controlled Opposition in Digital Technology?
Something I didn’t expect to find, although with hindsight I am not surprised by it, is the amount of financial investments by governments and big tech companies into technologies that supposedly promote digital sovereignty. We touched on the US Government’s involvement with Tor and Google’s investments in Firefox’s creator in Part 2, but it goes beyond this. As part of my research for Part 5 of this series, while seeing what resources the Center for Humane Technology had to offer, I soon discovered the significant investment they’ve received from the likes of George Soros’ Open Society Foundation. While I do think some of the content they have produced is useful, such as some of the things in their Humane Design Resources list, a lot of caution and scrutiny needs to be exercised when evaluating what they publish.
Other areas these financial conflicts of interest have cropped up include:
Ubuntu, a popular Linux-based system, having a suspect relationship with Amazon
Anything receiving funding from the Open Technology Fund, which was pioneered by US Government-funded media under Hillary Clinton’s direction, whose policy was “inspired by” the internet-based destabilisation techniques used in the Middle East. Some notable projects receiving OTF funding include the I2P communications protocol, Signal and MediaWiki (used to build Wikipedia).
That said, I think some of the technologies that have been created with such funding do seem to provide at least some improvement to the status quo. Achieving digital sovereignty may involve, at least for an interim period, combining multiple of these technologies together in order to offset their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. That’s what KodachiOS – which we mentioned in Part 3 – tries to do; it uses a VPN, the Tor network and additional encryption on top of that to try and anonymise and secure the activities of the user. KodachiOS is quite specialised though, and doesn’t operate in the same way a conventional operating system does due to being purpose-built to run off of USBs so there’s no trace of someone having used a particular computer. I’d love to see some of the approaches of KodachiOS applied to a conventional computer or smartphone operating system like Manjaro. Finding ways of getting offline altogether, as we discussed in Part 5, will likely be important too given the extent of “controlled opposition” in the tech space.
In the meantime, for those wanting to see how much of their data is visible to the websites they visit, I did find the Cover Your Tracks tool from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. While the EFF notably receives most of their funding from far-left organisations, their tool may prove somewhat useful for those interested in digital sovereignty.
From Early Adopter To Mainstream
I’ve been very encouraged by the success stories many of you have been sharing in the comments of these articles. I think it goes to show that there are projects and tools out there that are accessible enough to people of all experience which will help make a more sovereignty-respecting world (at least in the digital sense) a reality. That said, there were a lot of discoveries I made during the preparation of this series that I opted not to cover previously, mainly because I did not think they were as accessible options for those with non-tech backgrounds, or were still in prototyping phases which make them difficult to use.
For example, some of the other operating systems that are similar to Manjaro (which we covered in Part 3) have security features which are superior to what Manjaro offers, but aren’t as friendly to the everyday user. We’ve mentioned KodachiOS, but there are others too; Edward Snowden has touted using Whonix in combination with QubesOS, which gives different applications and “workspaces” different levels of security based on the need for anonymity and privacy. There are other interesting privacy features too, however I am concerned a) about having a greater learning curve and less flexibility than something like Manjaro and b) at the fact that, like so many other “freedom-oriented” programs, Whonix has received funding from the aforementioned Open Technology Fund, raising questions about whether it can be compromised. Again, I would love to see a Linux project that can bring the strengths of other Linux-based systems in to one place, as I don’t think the “perfect” Linux-based system for digital sovereignty currently exists. There are other non-Linux alternatives like FreeBSD, which is touted as being more security-minded than Linux, but this comes at the cost of having a more restricted range of available software, at least for the average user.
As to how pressing the need to move to more sovereign digital technologies is, I think there is a growing need to begin migrating more and more of our lives away from the services manipulating and enslaving us. At the same time I was writing earlier parts of the Digital Sovereignty Series, Brazil’s government has ordered a ban on Telegram. As a result, we are already seeing Brazilian citizens using technologies like VPNs to circumvent the ban, but such a ban would be even more difficult for control-hungry regimes to implement if the social media services we used were decentralised.
Other Programs and Artificial Intelligence
There were a bunch of niche but interesting programs which allow for digital sovereignty that I discovered as part of my research for Parts 2 and 3 of this series that were too specialised to mention there, but I list them here just to show that we don’t need any world with Big Tech and proprietary systems to have all the programs we might ever need:
OpenSeaMap – an open-source map program specifically for sailors, combining coastline map data with data from buoys and other nautical data.
Pale Moon – an open-source browser with code completely independent of both the other major offerings (i.e. Google’s “Blink” engine used in Brave and Mozilla’s “Gecko” engine used in Firefox). Although I’ve found a few websites where I get crashes or things not displaying properly, including the Over To The Youth website, this has now become my main browser, with Brave as a backup for when I need it.
Moodle – An open-source, customisable e-learning platform that can be used to provide online learning resources and courses for schools and universities
oPOS uniCenta – an open-source POS system aimed at small and medium-sized businesses, allowing for price-checking, report printing and more.
Stellarium – an open-source planetarium simulates the night sky to allow for tracking of constellations and stars.
The only other type of digital program I am yet to talk about in this series is artificial intelligence. Pop culture definitely gives this impression that AI has this capacity to become a sentient, all-powerful entity that could take control of humanity at any case. However, when the likes of the WEF’s Yuval Noah Harari also take this stance publicly, I feel there is a need to ask if this is really an accurate perception to have of AI.
Just as we have seen in the Covid era, I believe this image of an uncontrollable, anti-human AI is partly created to deliberately spread fear amongst the world’s population, and then to use this fear to call for a “solution” which encourages more centralised, oligarchical control. To me, AI is nothing more than a sophisticated programming technique whereby certain tasks are performed repeatedly with slight variations, sometimes with baseline data inputted by a human, and then the outcomes are compared to see which gets closest to the desired goal. However, AI still requires a human programmer to define what these restrictions are and to program in the criteria by which the AI uses to solve a problem. It can’t suddenly “go rogue” and change the parameters of its coding to something outside what it was given scope to do a la Terminator’s Skynet. I thus get the impression that this take on AI is designed to obfuscate the fact that it is the people using or controlling AI that we need to concern ourselves with. That is the real threat to digital sovereignty, and sovereignty as a whole, and not the concept of AI in and of itself; like any other technology, I think AI is inherently neutral and requires an “abuser” for it to become harmful.
One of the things that writing this article series has really forced me to confront is the areas of my own digital existence that are not harmonising with my sovereignty. I had a lot of gaps in my knowledge regarding things like VPNs, password managers and so forth which had prevented me from considering using them in the past. Now with feeling more comfortable with how these work, and how they can be used to promote digital sovereignty, I feel a lot more inclined to incorporate these solutions into my digital sphere. And I hope others reading this feel more confident in doing so too.
Although that brings us to the end of this series, it is hopefully just the beginning (or continuation) of a journey for everyone following this series into the world of digital sovereignty. I hope this series has equipped you with at least one or two tools you may find useful in untangling ourselves from Big Tech and the technocratic state.
I am open to supplementing this series with some smaller, tutorial-like pieces for some of the specific programs and technologies mentioned in this series. If there’s anything that has come up on this journey that you think it would be worthwhile me exploring further, I’ll be more than happy to learn of these things through the comments section below.