Holiday Gift Guide For the Privacy Conscious

Published December 1, 2020, 9:50 AM

by Professor Rom Feria

For those of you who are thinking of spending your much earned money for gift giving, I have a few suggestions that you can give — without putting your family and friends in danger (yeah, in danger of having their privacy violated, that is). 

Smartphone

This is probably the next best thing to a computer (a Mac or a Linux laptop from puri.sm or system76.com — sorry, no I’d never recommend a Chromebook, nor a Windows computer) or a tablet (there isn’t a tablet in the market that is fully supported by developers with applications specifically for the tablet, not scaled up UI, than the iPad). Whilst there is a ton of options to sift through when buying a smartphone, I can only recommend a handful: Apple’s iPhones, Puri.sm Librem 5, /e/ Fairphones and the Pine64’s PinePhone. Unfortunately, no Android-based smartphone is safe (it is secure, but your data is collected by Google), unless you change the underlying operating system to LineageOS, /e/ or GrapheneOS before you gift it, AND recommend avoiding using *any* Google software.

Raspberry Pi

I couldn’t recommend this tiny computer enough! From the capable RaspberryPi Zero to the latest RaspberryPi 4, you can choose one and tinker with it, just don’t go installing Windows on it. 

I’d recommend the RaspberryPi 400 — a Raspberry Pi 4 with 4GB of RAM stuck inside a keyboard, like the Commodore 64 (for those who remember it). Just connect a mouse and hook it up to the TV via HDMI and it is good to go. This is a great starter computer for children.

For the tinkerer, the Raspberry Pi 4 with 8GB of RAM would provide a lot of power to build their own server at home! I have the 4GB RAM version, and it is running my Pi-Hole (to block trackers), a file/media server (syncs my photos and videos using Resilio Sync and rclone.org) to serve my Apple TVs, and also runs my home network WireGuard VPN server, for those rare times that I am out and need to connect back to my network. 

Smart Speaker

There are three (3) popular smart speakers in the market today: Google Home, Amazon Echo and Apple’s HomePod. Google and Amazon collects data for advertising, so I really do not recommend their products. I still have Amazon’s Echo Spot and Echo Dot, but both are turned off for quite some time now (after I got the HomePod). 

Apple’s HomePod and HomePod Mini are not officially available in the Philippines, but you can buy them from Apple HongKong. 🙂

Streaming TV and Movie

For streaming TV shows and movies, I would stay away from smart TVs. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find non-smart TVs in the market today, specially if you are looking for full features, such as 4K, HDR, OLED, etc. You can buy them but advise never to connect it to the internet — that is where the privacy invasion begins. 

You can get a streaming device, but not all streaming devices are the same. Avoid Google Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire TV at all cost. Apple TV is recommended, and if I’d relax it a bit, the Roku devices are pretty good (maybe with far less privacy intrusion as Google’s and Amazon’s), too.

Wearables

I highly recommend the Apple Watch over the others. I used to recommend Fitbit, but unfortunately, Fitbit is now owned by Google — so expect your health data to be part of your Google/Android profile (they say they won’t use it, but then again, they said that before). 

If you think the recipient is not fond of wearing something on their wrist, perhaps wearing a health tracker on their finger would work, and I recommend getting the Oura ring. 

Gift Cards

I know that giving gift cards might not be preferred by most (some think that it is a last minute thing or something), but with the current quarantine and social distancing situation, I’d say this is one of my recommended gifts. The options are plenty and diverse, but I’d recommend a few:

a. subscription to ProtonMail or TutaNota or FastMail.fm or even Hey.com — ditch that consumer gmail.com or outlook.com address, and use one that respects your privacy. Don’t get swayed by the bells and whistles of auto suggested replies, or integration with this and that other service, and oh, there is no unlimited mailbox storage anymore! 

b. subscription to a password manager — I use 1Password.com, so this is what I recommend first. However, you can get a subscription to LastPass or BitWarden as well. Make your family or friends start practicing proper internet hygiene, and start using a password manager.

c. subscription to a VPN service — protect your internet connection from prying eyes (and data collection). I personally use Windscribe.com, but I do have my own WireGuard servers also. Make sure that you trust the VPN provider before gift a subscription.

d. subscription to micro.blog, wordpress.com, write.as or medium.com — I recommend that people own their content and have the flexibility of being able to back it up and move it to another platform whenever they want. I do not recommend posting any long form writing, articles, or ideas on sites that will own them, like Facebook. 

e. subscription to ad/tracker filtering DNS services — if you think that running their own Pi-Hole is not their cup of tea, then a subscription to Cisco’s OpenDNS or NextDNS.io is the next best thing. Setting their home network to either of these DNS will add protection against privacy invasive trackers from Facebook, Google, Oracle, Amazon and others. 

There you have it. A few tech ideas that you can buy and give to your family and friends for this season. Do not forget to do a quick FaceTime with them during the holidays — beats any gift that you give, in my humble opinion. And oh, you can use Zoom also, but enable full end-to-end encryption (E2EE)! Never, ever use Facebook Messenger, Google Hangout or whatever they call their latest conferencing/messaging product, WhatsApp or Viber! Happy Holidays!

 
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