Freedom Box: A Computer Built From The Ground Up With Privacy In Mind

by Grey One •

The FreedomBox is basically a router loaded up with privacy-ensuring software. Once plugged into your home network, it will “protect your security, your privacy and your anonymity while you use the internet,” according to James Vasile, the executive director of the FreedomBox Foundation, the nonprofit which was formed to develop the technology using more than $85,000 raised on Kickstarter.

The ultimate goal is to give every internet user, no matter how technophobic, a simple tool that can protect their data from prying hands, be it from ruthless hackers, nosy neighbors, profiling algorithms or repressive governments. The box can either replace a current router or simply sit between an existing router and a modem.

“That is turnkey privacy. It’s turnkey anonymity. It’s turnkey security,” said James Vasile in an October presentation introducing the FreedomBox. “We’re going try to make privacy, freedom, security, anonymity as easy and convenient as what you have now, which is the exact opposite of all of those things.”

I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of this valuable piece of free hardware.

Freedom Box Development and Updates

Here’s the Kickstarter page for the Freedombox. The project is still under development, here the latest updates on the project:

FreedomBox development, like development for most free software projects, happens in many places at once. Our project mailing list (http://lists.alioth.debian.org/pipermail/freedombox-discuss/), community wiki, and the FreedomBox Foundations’ website are the primary places where development progress, plans, and upcoming events are discussed. The mailing list and wiki in particular have received many thousands of messages and changes since the project began a year ago.

For any who are frustrated by lack of communication through Kickstarter’s system, please accept my apologies and know that it is the result of having too many communication channels. We are still here and still working hard.

What we are working on can be broken down into four general areas:

1) Dealing with hardware.

We choose the DreamPlug from Global Scale as our initial development platform last year because of its flexibility and immediate availability on the market. A handful of contributors have devoted their time since then to building a completely free software image for this device that can use all its various features. Because the hardware industry moves so quickly, Bdale Garbee, the head of our technical advisory committee, built a more general purpose image building tool to make it easier to move between platforms. That tool is called freedom-maker and is available from the https://www.freedomboxfoundation.org/code/ site.

2) Getting boxes to talk to each other

One of the biggest challenges faced by distributed services is making sure all the different elements can talk to each other. This was particularly challenging in the FreedomBox context because we want many different software tools, from email to chat to software phones, to be able to talk to each other without having to all be re-written to use the same protocol and to communicate securely using the best available encryption and anonymity-preserving tools. Our answer is a new tool called the Freedom-buddy, documented here and discussed here on the mailing list. This tool is built on the world class TOR network to enable individual FreedomBoxes in the world’s most restricted location to find each other and decide on a secure way to communicate further.

3) Cleaning up web traffic

Web tracking, through advertising and the monitoring of un-encrypted network connections, is one of the largest and most pervasive forms of privacy invasions today. Free software web browsers like Firefox offer users tools like AdBlock Plus and HTTPS Everywhere to help push back against this web tracking, but not all devices allow you to choose your browser these days. So we built a web proxy you can run with any browser to get the functionality from both these tools. That too is available at the https://www.freedomboxfoundation.org/code/ site.

4) Configuration soup

Combining software tools can be a little like building a jigsaw puzzle with pieces from several different kits. Getting the pieces to line up and keeping them that way as the system changes is a challenge, especially when one of your main goals is making all of this easy. To be as universal as possible we built our configuration management tool as a website that runs on your FreedomBox. That tool is called plinth and is designed for flexibility and simplicity. Plinth is the last item currently available at https://www.freedomboxfoundation.org/code/.

Summing up

There are plenty of things yet to do before reaching all the goals set out in our project vision, some of which will be worked on in this week’s North and South American hackfests, but we are making progress towards those goals and appreciate your continued support.

Initial release information will follow in two weeks and all the physical rewards will ship by the end of the month. Anyone who has not yet sent in a tee shirt size please do reply to the Kickstarter survey and anyone whose address will be different in the beginning of July from the one they sent in the survey, please message me with that updated information.

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