ETHICAL COMPUTING IN A BIG TECH WORLD

Can we truly have digital freedom without compromising our ethics?

In this article I look at the ethics of using the “free” software solutions provided by Big Tech and ask if they truly are free. Is the everyday user really in control of their device? Does the hardware you buy influence your software choices? What’s the real cost of the upgrade carousel and what alternatives are available? Is true digital independence even possible or will we always need to compromise some point along the line?

Author’s note: This was supposed to be a short article on software freedom and some recommendations, but I got carried away. If you’re only interested in the hardware/software recommendations, scroll right to Part 2 below. Otherwise, read on…

In today’s digital world, we are offered a whole host of seemingly free products and services that allow us the convenience our modern daily lives require. With the obvious exception of buying your actual device, the electricity to power it and telecom company to provide a connection, you can pretty much organise your life online without paying an extra penny. Why buy a postage stamp if you can e-mail someone for free? Why pay for fuel or a bus ticket to go grocery shopping if you can order online and get free delivery? How expensive is calling directory enquiries to find the phone number of a business? Free if you just search an online directory called Google! Better yet, if you do need to go out, you can get map directions from them and they’ll even guide you all the way there. All free of charge. All very convenient… but all without compromise?

Ethical computing is a real consumer challenge. Consider, if you will, how you would go about building your own computer that used the most environmentally-friendly components, write software designed to be safe, reliable and secure. Finally you’d also need to create a global communication network to allow other people to interact with you in a truly free and ethical way. Not only would you need a lot of time and skills to design the thing, but an even greater amount material and financial resources to build it. And after all that, would it even be compatible with the rest of the world? The answer, I suspect, is no, and thus we are faced with a dilemma that many of us have: what compromises must I make to get the kind of ethical computing experience I want?

Big Tech Rules the Roost…

In the three core areas of computing – hardware, software and infrastructure – we have witnessed large technology companies dominate the global industry. For our convenience and digital pleasure, they have kindly mined the precious metals and ores that are used to make the components of the electronic devices you use, and employed thousands of people to work in manufacture and assembly plants to build them. They employ software engineers to create systems that are intuitive, user-friendly, functional and secure, and finally, provide the satellites, radio and underground and undersea cables to connect every inch of our planet so that we’re all just a click away from the information we need to get on with our day. If you choose to take part in this wonderland of technological marvels, all you need is a computer or smartphone. Once considered luxury items, even those with a modest budget can now share in the digital delights of the computer age, no questions asked!

But what happens if we do ask questions? Just who exactly is building these devices for us? Are they well paid and well treated? What about mining those precious metals? What environmental impact do they have on our planet? When we’re encouraged to upgrade our devices, what happens to the old ones? Are they truly recycled or just put into landfill? What about this software I’m using? Why did it come free with my phone or laptop? Is the software working as I expect or is it doing something else behind the screen? Why do the online services I use also cost nothing to me? When I store my information with these companies, what are they doing with it? Are these companies ethical themselves? What are their political and environmental policies?

If you’ve stopped and asked yourself even a few of these questions, then you’re not alone. If doesn’t take much poking around those “free” search engines to discover that Big Tech have a poorer reputation in some areas than they might have you believe. Not only do search engines such as Google or Bing harvest data and information from you, but some hardware manufacturers don’t have such a rosy reputation either. Take a look at the Good Shopping Guide report (link below), who provide an “ethical company index score” for computer manufacturers, measured by environmental, animal and people ethics. Whilst some well-known brands such as Acer and Packard Bell achieve an impressive 90%+ score, Apple only achieve 50% and Samsung are shamed with a measly 38%.

https://thegoodshoppingguide.com/subject/pcs-laptops-and-tablets/

Whilst there is clearly a big choice when it comes to hardware manufacturers and their products, it is a different story when it comes to choosing the software. More specifically, the operating system. Whilst some people might scratch their heads in confusion at my next point, it’s worth asking. Where can I buy just the computer or phone without the software? To clarify: now I’ve chosen the model of hardware I want, I now want to look at the available software options. Sadly, unlike buying a house, the option to choose what goes in the interior is not always obvious, nor indeed offered. Most laptops and phones are sold with the software pre-installed. A convenience, some might say, but as an ethical consumer, shouldn’t you at least have a choice? After all, why should you pay for something extra that you may not necessarily want?

Wait a minute… what do you mean “pay”? If I’m buying a new Dell laptop, for example, then surely Microsoft Windows comes installed for free? Well no, actually. Unbeknownst to most consumers, the price of the Windows operating system is actually included in the price of the computer it’s pre-installed on. This convenient arrangement between Microsoft and the hardware manufacturers means you don’t have to worry about the tricky business of installing your own operating system. Some retailers can be asked to remove the operating system before selling it to you and deduct the cost of the Windows software accordingly (approx £50-£75), but in practice this is rarely done due to existing contractual arrangements between Microsoft and the manufacturer. Ultimately you can always wipe your new computer first, but Microsoft still get your money. Sneaky huh? You have to wonder that without Windows pre-installed, would Microsoft still be the market leader?

Of course, this arrangement may suit many people who definitely know they want Windows, but what about those who don’t, or worse still, don’t know they even have a choice? I don’t mean the pricey Apple MacBook alternatives or the cheap Google Chromebooks either. I’m referring to the plethora of free and open-source alternative operating systems enjoyed by millions of users worldwide. These “Windows alternatives” run just as well on the same hardware. Predominantly, Linux-based systems have grown in usability and market share over the past decade and provide a genuine alternative to closed-source commercial offerings from Microsoft, Apple and Google.

The Secret’s in the Source…

Open source? Closed source? Linux? What does all this mean? Well to put it simply, it means you have more software choices that you thought. Mistrust in software is not a new thing, but just like other issues in the world today, doing your own research and understanding what is going on is of vital importance. Computer software makes the computer hardware work. It’s the link between the user that interprets our instructions and passes them to the hardware to perform our tasks. It is of vital importance that software works as intended without errors, but from an ethical point of view, it’s also essential that we understand how it works and we trust the programs we run. Computer software is written in very technical language, but having the option to view, study and understand the program via its source code gives people with those technical skills the opportunity to see how the application works and determine its functions.

Open source software is a bit like having a “blueprint” or instruction manual to accompany the main product: it shows you how the program operates and provides complete transparency of how the application performs, including what it does with your personal data. From this you can spot any problems or security issues with the software before you run it.

Closed source software is provided without the blueprint. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that you have to trust the company or individual who wrote the program because you cannot study it yourself to check. It’s like buying a used-car without the paperwork or service history. The vehicle may work just fine, but it could equally break-down as soon as you drive it off – the point is you won’t know until you use it. The main purpose of closed-source software projects is primarily a commercial one. After all, if you let anyone see the the source code, what’s to stop them from copying your work? For many commercial enterprises, producing proprietary closed-source software products is a way of protecting their business interests. The ethical question is, does it protect consumers?

Free (as in freedom)

At the beginning of this article, I suggested that software and services offered for free often came with compromises, yet here I am promoting different free software. What’s the difference? From an ethical stance, there’s a big difference. Most people will associate “free” with a monetary value. Free drink with every meal. Buy one get one free. Free Windows operating system with every Dell laptop! These are examples of where things are provided free of charge, but as mentioned earlier, they rarely are. Free Software, by comparison usually refers to the concept of freedom, whereby software is written and distributed freely without restriction on the user. Whole articles can be found on this topic, so I won’t elaborate here, but merely state that the free software is more of a philosophical and ethical issue than an economic one.

There are strong arguments for both open and closed source approaches, but in ethical computing, both openness and transparency are real advantages when choosing your software. Although there are a number of free alternatives, the most successful by far is “Linux”. GNU/Linux software and kernel were developed throughout the mid 1980s to early 1990s as free software projects, primarily with the intention of promoting software that was free to use, share, study and improve, without the threat of commercial interests or influence. “Linux” was for many years seen as amateur by commercial software houses such as IBM, Microsoft and Apple, but driven by mere enthusiasm by developers around the world to create a viable alternative, Linux-based systems have risen to prominence in the past couple of decades. Now 30 years old, it’s considered a stable, secure, efficient and reliable operating system – and you can now find it running in a variety of formats and versions. It runs 100% of the world’s supercomputers, is a common sight in banking systems, the backbone of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, server farms, cloud-based computing networks (Facebook and Amazon use Linux to run their websites), right down to smaller devices such as smartphones and even the tiny circuit boards in home alarm systems.

Dell XPS laptop running Ubuntu Linux

Home and office users aren’t ignored either. There are literally hundreds of different operating systems have been built around the Linux core system, giving all users so much choice. As well as providing cutting-edge systems for new computers, Linux has also been the lifeblood of older hardware too, being able to resurrect slow old Windows PCs with modern software that allows them to work again, meaning less computer waste going into landfill. You can find new Linux pre-installed computers online, but you’ll rarely find them on sale in high-street shops. For existing computers, the software is easily downloaded and installed. For normal computing tasks, most users wouldn’t even notice the difference.

Now, for complete transparency, it should be noted that Linux is no longer a small “amateur” project, but rather an enormous organisation. True to it’s origins, the Linux Foundation now provides an open organisation that promotes Linux in the global community as well as developing the software. To do this, it invites corporate membership to raise funds for project interoperability and innovation. Big Tech haven’t shied away from this opportunity, and amongst many big names, the likes of Facebook, Google and even Microsoft are big supporters of open source and open standards in computing. As mentioned throughout, there’s no escape from Big Tech and thus there are always compromises, but some are better than others.

Global Infrastructure…

The final element of this whole ethical computing issue surrounds infrastructure. A few decades ago, many home computers were not even online. You ran programs using floppy or compact disks and used dot-matrix printers to produce your work. The advent of the internet has thus improved connectivity, but so too has our reliance on a global infrastructure to support it. When it comes to satellites, cables and radio transmission to enable our devices to communicate, it’s extremely murky waters we find ourselves in. Global telecommunication providers often install and operate the systems. These start with the copper or fibre-optic cabling between your homes and the broadband telephone exchanges, to the cell-phone towers with their 2G to 5G transmitters, to the commercial space flights that place satellites in orbit to control GPS systems in your phone or satnavs, or bounce signals around the world. They have server farms that power internet service providers, websites and banking systems. As far as ethical choice goes, it is so difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. You may think you’re dealing with a good ethical internet provider, but ultimately they just piggy-back on someone else’s hardware infrastructure. The cost to the environment and our health for maintaining these enormous elements is still being counted.

Any illusion you might have that sending an e-mail instead of using paper is somehow more ethical or “green” is probably a fallacy if you’re only counting the pennies you spend. The heat generated by server farms alone costs millions of pounds each year, the carbon dioxide produced again is astounding and in turn, it’s all supplemented by additional electricity usage to power them and cool them. And then there’s the electro-magnetic smog on top of that, affecting wildlife and our own health. All these services are shared by all who use them, with the technology and companies behind them often competing for profits, power and influence. We, the humble end-consumer, sadly do not factor into any of it.

From an entirely ethical level, I could not, in good faith, ever recommend using a computer ever again. For all the apparent benefits of having them, there is a certain appeal to switching them all off… forever. That said, on a more realistic level, even if we cannot do much about the infrastructure, we can and do have the option to make some choices regarding hardware and software. In the next section I have made some recommendations for you to consider.

PART 2: ETHICAL COMPUTING SOLUTIONS

The purpose of this section is to provide some alternative choices you have regarding how you do your ethical computing. Although not exhaustive, this section goes from privacy-respecting search engines, free and open-source software to hardware manufacturers who give you more freedom of choice. There’s also some advice about how to get started, and how to make use of old hardware and bring it back to life.

Search Engines and Web-Browsers.

Most of our computing is done online and therefore many of the services and software we use are interconnected. For example, you cannot visit a website without using a web browser (and vice-versa). More likely than not, you’ll probably want to use a search engine too, so I’ve combined these two things here.

Just as the Yellow Pages were indispensable in the telephone age, the humble search engine – the online “directory enquiries” of the internet – is often our daily start point. We’ve already learned that the information you provide companies like Google, Microsoft (Bing) and Yahoo! use cookies that track your browsing habits and history. They tailor adverts to fit your online search behaviour and create a profile that further improves their knowledge about you. Be under no illusion: you are not using a “free” service. You are their product, and your data is paying for it.

Limiting how much you share online depends not only on your browsing behaviour but also on your choice of web-browser and how you use it. Many popular web-browsers are set up by default for “your convenience”, but often at the expense of your privacy. They will store your history, your cookies and your passwords. They will keep you logged into your emails or favourite websites, and if you have a Microsoft, Apple or Google account, then all this information will be shared with those companies too. As you can see, these settings are really for their convenience. So what are your options?

1. Take back control and change your behaviour.

Change the settings on your browser to stop it saving history, delete cookies when you close it and don’t save your passwords. You have a brain, so remember them (or at write them down securely). It will mean typing passwords in every time you log in to a website, but it’s more secure this way than letting the computer remember for you.

2. Use a privacy-respecting browser.

Use open-source equivalents to Safari, Edge or Chrome, such as Brave, Dissenter or Tor browser. These are based on Google’s Chromium and Mozilla’s Firefox open-source projects, but are designed by default to respect and protect your privacy. Finally, since there’s no avoiding Google, even with the above browsers, it’s worth noting that Chromium and Firefox are excellent open-source browsers in their own right, but by default are set up less securely, so you’d need to be mindful of changing some settings manually before using.

3. Use a respectful search engine.

DuckDuckGo does not track you or store your information or search enquiries. It also provides search results free from filter bubbles that restrict/promote content based commercial interests. DuckDuckGo does have it’s limitations though, so if you absolutely have to use Google, use Startpage instead. Startpage acts as a “middle man” between you and Google, ensuring searches passed to and results received from Google do not reveal anything about you. Another ethical search engine is Ecosia [thanks Jessica for this suggestion] who not only respect your privacy but also plant a tree every time you use their service, which is a nice way of rewarding ethical users I think 🙂

E-mails

Briefly, if you have a Google, Microsoft or Apple account and you use an an email address provided by them, then please be aware that these are insecure and subject to data harvesting. Thus having a @gmail, @live or @icloud account should be avoided. Instead, use a free encrypted email service such as Protonmail (they also provide paid-for plans too). Other services worth considering that carry a fee but respect your privacy are Mailfence, Mailbox.org and Posteo.

Social Media

Here’s the big compromise! If you want to use a social media platform where you can find all your friends and followers, and has a large user base, but don’t like the idea of the platform harvesting and using your data, then you’re out of luck. The big ones (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, WhatsApp) all harvest your data. Newer platforms such as Twitch (owned by Amazon) and Tiktok also have similar policies. The other issue is censorship. If you believe in free speech and saying what’s on your mind, then you might find yourself in breach of numerous “community guideline” policies that will block your posts or freeze your accounts unless you “behave”. We’re not talking the obvious stuff like posting nasty photos or videos or promoting violence, but if you’re inclined to talk politics or vaccines then you may come a cropper. So either you a) accept this, play safe and keep your friends/followers; b) convince your friends and followers to switch en masse; or c) take the ethical/moral high ground and leave for a better, open platform.

For secure messaging and group communications, use Telegram or Signal instead of WhatsApp. Despite its deplatforming earlier this year, Parler remains a good alternative to Twitter. For a Facebook alternative, try Gab. For video sharing alternatives to Youtube (owned by Google), there’s a great choice in Bitchute, Odysee, Rumble, BrandNewTube and UGETube that will support your freedom.

Finally a note about LinkedIn. I’m not covering professional networking sites here but will point out that LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft, so just be wary if you use this platform of how much you choose to share with them! There are numerous alternatives available (search LinkedIn alternatives) but you may need to do your own research for this.

Software Alternatives

It may surprise you to learn that Google is actually a big supporter of open-source software. Android, the mobile operating system, is based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which is sponsored by Google. Their popular web-browser Google Chrome is also based on another of their projects, the Chromium open-source browser. In both cases, the core part of the software is free and open source, but Android and Chrome are later retro-fitted with additional proprietary software that can infringe on your privacy. Because of Google’s financial involvement in so many projects, it makes ethical choices a little more difficult as somewhere along the line, if you follow the money, you’ll probably end up finding something linked to Big Tech. Somewhere there will always be a compromise, but some are better than others.

Android Phones and Tablets

If you’re looking for some alternative applications that respect your freedom, or alternatively, an excuse to divert your financial resources away from Big Tech, then there are a number of alternatives, often open-source. They may not all be as polished, feature-rich or familiar, but depending on your requirements, may be just as suitable. Of course you may not always have a choice. For example, your digital banking app is unlikely to be open source for security reasons, but thankfully most generic phone or tablet utilities can replaced with open free versions (eg web browser).

Pressing “Stop” on Google Play

Most folks will install their apps via Google Play because it’s all they know, but as mentioned earlier, Android the operating system is actually separate from your Google account. You don’t need a Google account to install or update apps on your phone, but you will need to carry out a few manual procedures instead to replace Google Play’s “convenient” app that tracks what you install on your phone.

Although not recommended (by Google), you can disable a safety feature on Android that will allow you to install 3rd party apps directly. Android apps use the APK file extension and can simply be downloaded and installed directly. Below are some options;

1. F-Droid. One excellent source of Free and Open Source software is F-Droid. F-droid provides a catalogue of alternative apps that have been created with open source licences. They rarely come with built-in adverts or in-app purchases and F-Droid rates these based on how “free” the app actually is. Within F-droid you can find free alternatives for SMS, email, web browsers, calendars and games. https://f-droid.org/

2. Aurora Store. If you don’t have a Google account (like me) there will be times when you’ll need to install an app you can only find in Google Play. Aurora Store allows you to log in to Google’s app catalogue anonymously, download the APK file and install. It will also handle any updates to old software as well ensuring your security is up to date. Search for Aurora Store in F-Droid (above) or APK Mirrow (below)

3. APK Mirror. This website is effectively a catalogue of APK (Android Package Kit) files that contain the apps you use on your phone. You can search the website and download directly for installing on your phone. Just be certain you’re happy with what you’re installing before you do – these are the official apps but unlike F-droid or Aurora Store (or even Google Play) there is no security vetting so it’s your responsibility when you install something. https://www.apkmirror.com/

Office Suites

You’ll discover there is so much choice when it comes to applications that it would be impossible to list everything here, but unless you require something highly specialised, there is usually a free or open source equivalent available. I’ve already covered web browsers above, but when it comes to admin work, you’ll usually find a regular use for word processing or spreadsheet software.

If you use a Windows or Apple Mac home computer, you’ll have probably come across Microsoft Office, Google Workspace or iWork (Mac only). All of these are proprietary and whilst highly functional, are all created by Big Tech. Whilst Microsoft Office and iWork can be installed on your Windows or MacOS systems, Google Workspace apps (such as Google Docs) will run from your browser window with documents stored for “convenience” in the cloud. They can also be read, disseminated and removed by Google too – in fact they’ll even try to correct any non-pc sentences or phrases you write. (see: https://reclaimthenet.org/google-docs-gender-neutral-pc-update/)

A popular open-source alternative is LibreOffice (https://www.libreoffice.org/)from the Document Foundation, a non-profit organisation. For many years it’s been a common fixture on Linux desktops, but LibreOffice is also available to install on Windows and Mac, it’s therefore cross-platform and completely free. It’s a great alternative and is 99.9% compatible with all popular proprietary formats, such as MS Word, Excel and Powerpoint. Simplified versions of these programs are also available for Android and Apple mobile devices making it hugely flexible. By default, it also supports the Open Document format, an ISO standard which is used globally by individual users and businesses, but importantly does not lock you down to one application or platform.

Alternative Operating Systems (including Linux)

We’ve had computers for decades and in each one we’ve seen the development of operating systems, the software that runs the computer. At school in the 1980s we had BBC Micro computers and later the Acorn Archimedes. Home users could be found running Apple IIs, Sinclair ZX Spectrums, Commodore 64s or Amigas, Atari STs and Amstrad CPCs, all of which had their own operating systems. Business users had the choice of Sun Microsystems (now Oracle), UNIX or IBM PCs, running Micrsoft’s DOS (Disk Operating System). From this very short and potted history, you’ll no doubt recognise some names and realise that not all have made it into the 21st century. In an attempt for market dominance, each competitor pitted their product against the other, but the main issue was that very few were compatible with each other. Come the Internet Age, and interoperability is the key, so much so that these days there is very little to distinguish Macs from PCs or Chromebooks – they all use roughly the same programs and do the same things.

These days you can still find numerous alternative operating systems but most are either highly specialised or limited in capability, so when it comes to a drop-in replacement for MacOS or Windows, only Linux-based systems can compete. And boy is there some choice! Because of the open-source nature of the software, and thus the ability for users and developers to share source code, change or improve it, you may be overwhelmed to learn there are literally hundreds of varieties, depending on taste and specialist requirements (eg digital forensics, network security, multimedia production etc). This knowledge alone is sometimes enough to put most users off by not knowing where to start!

Thankfully there’s a much smaller number of mainstream, user-friendly, multi-purpose systems to choose from, and here are my recommendations if you’re looking to make a switch:

1. Ubuntu Mate. Based on the popular “Ubuntu” operating system (see below), Ubuntu Mate has been designed with real users in mind. It has modest hardware requirements, meaning you can install it on clunky old machines giving them a new lease of life, as well as brand new hardware. It comes with a variety of pre-installed software (web browser, office suite, photo management) which means you can get on with using it immediately. Additional software is easily and securely installed via a built-in software store. Finally, by ignoring Microsoft or Apple’s “one size fits all” philosophy on desktop design, the “Mate Desktop” allows you to choose between several traditional desktop layouts that suit your workflow, plus if you want your computer to look like an Apple system or Windows then both can be configured with a few clicks. The system is secure by design (no more paying for anti-virus) and provides free updates and upgrades forever.

https://ubuntu-mate.org

Ubuntu Mate

2. Ubuntu. Named after the ancient African word meaning “a shared humanity”, it’s based on Debian Linux but with added usability. Ubuntu is a modern operating system with a stylish user interface (the Gnome Desktop) and great hardware support. Common software (web-browsers, office suite, photo management etc) comes as standard and provides the user with a slick experience. As above, security is built-in by design and you receive regular free security and software upgrades.

https://ubuntu.com/download/desktop

Ubuntu Linux

3. Linux Mint. Another Ubuntu based system which offers a great user experience with a choice of three interfaces and support for both new and older hardware. Common software is installed by default and again is secure by design. Usability is also the ethos of Linux Mint, and so you’ll find it easy to navigate and manage your new system… even comes with an instruction manual!

https://linuxmint.com/

Linux Mint

4. Kubuntu. Yet another system based on Ubuntu, but this time with the flexible KDE desktop (similar to modern Windows). This comes with the same common feature set as the above systems but with the added flexibility and customisability to tune the appearance and behaviour to your liking. Basically, if you like fiddling with your desktop settings, then this is for you – the options are almost limitless, but by default it’s a clean, snappy system that will work well on most modern hardware.

https://kubuntu.org/

Kubuntu

Testing and Installing Linux systems

All the Ubuntu-based systems above come with a “live demo mode” so you can try it out to see what it’s like before making any commitment. To do this, you’ll need to download the operating system and copy it to a blank DVD or USB stick and then reboot your computer with the disk/stick. It will run entirely in memory and does not touch any existing files so no harm will be done to your current system if you don’t like it.

Although you can buy new computers and smartphones with Linux systems pre-installed (see below), if you want to install it on your own computer then you’ll need to install it yourself (or get a techie friend to help). You can either choose to replace your existing system (eg delete Windows) or you can “dual-boot”, meaning you can keep your old system and install Linux alongside it – you just select from a menu when you power up. Installing is very easy to do but will require a little bit of technical know-how, but thankfully there are tonnes of videos and guides online to help you out if you get stuck.

Pre-installed Linux Systems

Although you won’t find these in the latest branch of PC World, there are dozens of hardware vendors that sell pre-installed Linux systems on their hardware. These machines are sometimes a bit more pricey than something similar with Microsoft Windows because they are often built to order by smaller businesses who do not receive Microsoft subsidies. Although these businesses themselves are independent of Big Tech, some of the components, by necessity, are not. For example, the hard drive or processor will most likely be from a mainstream supplier (eg Intel or Hitachi), but at least your money will be supporting a small domestic business rather than a big global tech company who dominate and control!

When my 10-year old PC started struggling with HD video editing, it found a home with my parents who now use it for more simple stuff. This meant I was in the market for a new computer and I ended up with the below shortlist;

Entroware (www.entroware.com) are a British manufacturer based in Liverpool who supply a small range of high-quality PCs, laptops and servers with either Ubuntu or Ubuntu Mate pre-installed. As mentioned above, they do not make their own components, but do build the systems themselves. They are built to order, offer a three year guarantee and provide product support to all customers.

Juno Computers (https://junocomputers.com/uk/) are a UK/US company with a wide range of laptops and desktops based in London and Philadelphia.

Slimbook (https://slimbook.es/en/) are a Spanish computer manufacturer which ships to UK and Europe and is a big supporter of Linux systems.

For other retailers, Linux Preloaded (https://linuxpreloaded.com/) keeps an updated list of Linux computer vendors globally, so do check out the choices available.

A future model for privacy-respecting companies

Finally I wanted to highlight a US company called Purism (www.puri.sm) who launched a few years ago via a crowd-funding campaign to build an open-source mobile phone with privacy-respecting features built-in. They now provide laptops, desktops and servers too. With hardware kill switches to physically disconnect WiFi, Bluetooth, cellular signal, microphone & camera included as standard, they have built their own Linux-based open-source operating system (PureOS) that runs on both their smartphone (Librem5) and Laptop (Librem14), that does not track you, protects your privacy and offers additional security that Apple or Google would not dare to offer. They’re a bit pricey, but with a company ethic that puts people above profit, it’s refreshing to see one business that’s bucking the trend… and so far appear to be profitable too. Who knew people would gladly pay more to get the ethical computing experience they truly deserve? I, for one, hope this trend continues.

I hope this article has given you some options to consider and truly hope you can break free of the chains Big Tech has managed capture us with. I suspect there may be a handful of questions or comments coming my way, but I want to emphasise that technology is not the be-all and end-all of life. We have become so dependent on technology over the past few decades and it’s so neatly integrated into our lives, there are many people now who may struggle to remember a time when they weren’t attached to some sort of personal electronic device. I’m in my early 40s now, but remember when we only had a single TV, and even that was switched off most of the time. My sister and I had to make up our own entertainment or go outdoors in nature or meet real friends to play and socialise with. As with all things, finding the natural balance is essential. If you can live ethically and live naturally with purpose and energy, then your technological requirements should be slight. For all the progress we have made as a species technologically, we’ve equally moved the same distance away from our natural and spiritual selves. Ethical computing isn’t just about running friendly software or avoiding the control of dominant electronics companies, it’s also about living in harmony with technology but not at the expense of losing your own humanity. Do the ethical thing for yourself and treat technology like a tool rather than a lifestyle: use it only when you need it and allow real life to fill the void. Happy Computing!

Monochrome Chris - May 14, 2021

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