I am an advocate for freedom and privacy. Since my nerd level is so high this leaks into my love of technology. You may not know this but I did not graduate with a degree in computer science. It was political science with a minor in music.
But technology has always been my passion and while I was at university, I wanted the challenge of learning something new. I believe this was the desired path for me or else I may not be as passionate about freedom and privacy in our technology.
So what does this have to do with the cloud? A lot to be honest. We hear about ISPs doing shady things or a company leaking data like Equifax all the time. This is good and helps to keep most people privacy minded if only for a short while.
What we don't hear a lot about is cloud computing and file storage; services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Apple iCloud. These services are super convenient and save us a lot of hassle when we need to share a file between several devices.
This convenience comes at a price even if you are only using their free plans. When you trust another entity with your files you always put yourself at risk of a massive data breach. In the contracts we don't read are many stipulations about your data and what you let them do with you uploaded content.
The only way to be sure your data stays private is to encrypt every file before uploading. Most people don't even understand how to encrypt their data let alone want to go threw that process each time. If you want a crash course in encryption with PGP check out the post, I made covering the topic.
You may ask why even bother worrying about all of this?
There is no way we can drop these services cold turkey since they are far too ingrained into our daily life. But we need to start taking control or it will only get worse as our technology improves.
We have the ability to live a life of digital privacy. One that is one our own terms with free and open-source software. We can use devices without Google, watch videos without YouTube, or socialize without Facebook. But we have to make the choice.
No on else can stand up for you except you.
Cloud storage is no different for the privacy of our data. You may have nothing to hide as I but we still need our personal files to stay personal. When one of these services gets cracked the attacker has the ability to take any file they want. The more you store the more information they now have on you.
This makes identity theft easier.
Look at the event where Apple's iCloud was cracked and many female celebrity's personal photos leaked onto the web a few years back. These photos, showing what they thought only their significant other would ever see are now online for anyone to download. There will always be something you don't want available for the world to see. Even if the data is not some sexy photo or illegal activity, it will be something else.
Nextcloud is the solution to the major players in the cloud storage space. It is an open-source project that aims to give the user back the control of their data while bringing the same functionality we get with services from Google Drive, Dropbox, or Apple iCloud. There are several ways to use Nextcloud and we will cover the two most obvious here.
One way to use Nextcloud is to host it on an old computer or home server. This is the hands on approach and what I am doing with my setup at home. You will need to set up a LAMP stack server and allow the server web access over SSL. This is not the post to walk you through that but there are many well written ones online. The other option is to buy hosting from a company that will get Nextcloud set up for you. On the website for Nextcloud you will find the hosts they recommend. I also recall seeing devices that come with Nextcloud pre-installed and all you need to do is plug it into your router.
File synchronization & Sharing
This is the Dropbox and Google drive like feature where you can upload files to share or store them. You can also have a folder an your computer that stays up to date with a copy of the desired files within Nextcloud. This makes it easy to keep files up to date across several machines.
Nextcloud has a ton of apps you can add to the ones that come pre-installed. Most of these apps are designed by the community and some by the core developers of Nextcloud. One such app is a Google docs like program called Collabora. While not made buy Nextcloud, the ability to integrate exists allowing multiple people to work on a document at the same time.
You can also create guest accounts that only have access to a few folders or files.
They also built in audio and video chat! I use this, and it works well. It is even better than running Skype on my machine. It is a very smooth experience with the ability to share a link to anyone you want to join in on the call. Their video chat is a great alternative if you want to deny the big companies the ability to save your conversations.
There is a nice contact portal for you to keep your phone numbers and emails up to date. I used this when I spent a year Google free on my phone and was not able sync with my contacts using Google. It works as well, and I only had a few minor issues but that was the app I use to get the contacts on my phone and not Nextcloud.
This just scratches the surface of what Nextcloud can do. Other apps include notes, a calendar, circles to add friends that use the service, and automatic photo uploading. If you are someone that aims to keep your data yours and private then you need to check out Nextcloud. It is freeing to know you have full control over the data you create and share.
If you are an email kind of nerd you can sign up for mine here. You can always replay to any of my emails to start a conversation or ask me a question. You can donate to this site from my Liberapay account if you so choose.