Freedombone Blog

Freedom in the Cloud

Matrix on Python 3

Also another development is that the Matrix app on Freedombone now runs on Python 3. This improves its performance and makes it more suitable for running on ARM single board computers with 1GB of RAM. In tests while running a room with 20 users and subscribing to a few rooms on other homeservers, some of which are quite high volume, Synapse on Python 3 only uses 200MB of RAM. So this makes it similar to an XMPP server in terms of resource use.

XMPP still has advantages, such as the ability to proxy through Tor on mobile (the Android Riot app currently can't do that, hence exposing metadata) but the competition is getting closer. Really the idea of competition is the wrong frame here though, because bridging between Matrix and XMPP is improving and so in the end choice of chat software will just be down to personal preference.

Also on the topic of chat systems I noticed that OTR version 4 was announced on day 3 of 35C3. It doesn't support multi-user encrypted chat though, so this is an encryption standard which is dead upon arrival. Yes, a lot of private chat is one-to-one, but in the last few years private group chat has become a major phenomena and to ignore that in your security model is a gigantic oversight. So an easy prediction is that OTR will continue to decline in popularity in 2019.

The Dark Matrix

While listening to some 35C3 talks I've managed to get the Matrix and Riot apps for Freedombone working on onion addresses. I don't think there were any fundamental barriers preventing this from happening earlier, and so my previous statements about Matrix being tied to TLS and not compatible with Tor were probably just wrong. Since RiotWeb is composed of client side javascript if you're running it within a Tor compatible browser it doesn't care whether the domains being used are clearnet or onion ones.

I expect that federated onion homeservers, forming a "dark Matrix", will work but that there will be issues with federating onion and clearnet homeservers. This isn't unusual, and the same applies to fediverse instances.

Running on onion addresses does provide some security advantages, but also it means that you don't need to buy a clearnet domain, you don't need to forward any ports and so could be behind a hostile internet router and you don't need to care about obtaining TLS certificates. There was a talk on the first day of 35C3 about TLS1.3 which also described the many issues with TLS and what a dumpster fire it is. In a lot of ways using onion addresses is more convenient and with better security properties, so long as you don't mind the long random strings or QR codes.

Freedombone Homepage

One way to get to apps installed on a Freedombone server is to use the FreedomBox companion app on Android. But on desktops until recently there wasn't any equivalent to that.

Now there's the Freedombone Homepage, accessible via http://freedombone/home

homepage

The homepage looks similar to the apps screen within the admin section, but here clicking or pressing on icons takes you straight to the URL of the chosen app. You can set http://freedombone/home, or the equivalent onion address in a Tor browser, to the home page in a web browser for maximum convenience.

Also unlike the admin section of the web interface, which requires a password to log in, any user on the server can access the homepage.

There is a search bar for doing web searches, and the hope is that this helps to encourage you to get out of the habit of always using Google.

Freedombone in 2019

2018 has been a fairly significant year for the project. Interest in decentralized systems and education about the problems of large silo systems has been increasing. Mainstream criticisms of Sillicon Valley companies which began to be reported in 2017 became more trenchant. There were continuing purges against disfavored demographics or particular topics of discussion.

Freedombone, and self-hosting projects like it, are becoming more relevant over time.

Probably the most significant changes to Freedombone this year have been the move out of Github and the introduction of the web interface. The web interface takes the project from being hacker grade to something which potentially could be a mass market product pre-installed on hardware. Some plans for the remainder of the year, and into the new year are:

Transition to buster

2019 is another Debian release year and version 10, nickname "buster", will be in freeze early in the year with the expectation of release some time in the middle of the year. Once it goes into freeze then I'll start on a new buster branch of Freedombone. If things are similar to the last release then it will take one or two months to make a new version, depending upon how big the changes are.

Rock64 build

It's probably possible to make a fully free software build for Rock64. I assumed there would be blobs in the boot sequence, but upon more investigation it looks like that isn't the case and it can all be built with Free Software licenses. As usual there might still be proprietary 3D graphics, but for a server that's not needed.

More apps

With the Debian 10 release it will be possible to enable more apps, such as those which require more recent php or python versions. One example is PixelFed.

Web interface polish

Improving the translations. Adding warnings screens. To make something really usable requires laser-like focus on interface minutiae, including things like color contrast, making sure that things are phrased in a comprehensible way and that the flow between screens is as semantically coherent as possible.

Your homepage

Add a web interface screen which can be set as a browser home page, allowing you to quickly navigate to any of your installed apps, and also do web searches.

guifi.net integration

The guifi.net model seems like a good one, with a foundation as a legal mechanism and crowdfunding of network infrastructure. This would be a good direction for the internet to go in, where it is neither run by corporations nor by the government but instead run by and for its users. It would be nice to have an easy way to set up Freedombone as a guifi.net node.

Website Icons

A few tweaks have been made to the index page of the website.

Image description

Information about the mesh version now has its own icon and the Patreon icon has been removed so that there are two rows of four icons. The icons have also been made not so overwhelmingly gigantic. This makes the site look better on a small mobile screen in portrait orientation. The Patreon link has been moved into the FAQ.

Muted words

It's still experimental and not very well tested but I've been adding a new feature to the blocking screen of Freedombone which allows for messages containing certain words or phrases to be blocked. Twitter has this feature and calls it "muted words" and there's a similar capability within the Pleroma interface.

As an example, maybe I don't want to see anything containing the phrase "Black Friday" or "blockchain". There has been so much blockchain hype in the last year that posts on the topic are just another eye-rolling event.

I'm also expecting that as the fediverse becomes more popular that it will also become more adversarial with a greater amount of spammy posts. This type of word based blocking, combined with the existing domain/address blocking might help to mitigate that.