Interview with Amolith

Pleroma: @amolith@nixnet.social

Secluded.site

Nixnet services

Pleroma instance

I met Amolith in Mastodon and even I had an account in the previous instance he managed. He has also helped me in some problems I had with my Pleroma instance and it's definitely a great guy!. He also offers many free and amazing services to all those interested.

Thank you for answering these questions Amolith!

1. Hello Amolith. Please tell us something about yourself so that we can get to know you a little: work, knowledge, country or city, etc. Why did you choose that nickname for the internet, do you have a blog or website?

Hello! o/

The pseudonym I go by online is Amolith and it's just a word I made up because I like the way it sounds. My primary “job” is a student but I also work at my university's Career Development Center.

The most accurate I usually get when describing my location is South Eastern US.

My /personal/corner of the internet is Secludes.Site but I also run NixNet.services in my spare time with a friend.

2. Do you manage your own services or use online services, which ones?

I usually run my own services but I do use SourceHut when I need to collaborate on code along with whatever services are required for uni.

Unfortunately, that's mostly made up of Google products and Zoom. I get a large portion of my music from artists on Bandcamp. I think I run just about everything else I use.

3. Currently, what operating system do you use on your computer and cell phone, and why, which ones have you used before? Tell us what you are currently doing.

On my desktop, I'm running vanilla Arch Linux. I currently have a fully libre laptop from Vikings on the way and I'm /hoping/ to use Parabola GNU/Linux-libre but we'll see how that goes. My phone currently runs AOSP Extended, a simple Android ROM without any Google spyware by default.

On desktop, I've tried everything from Ubuntu and Fedora to Hannah Montana Linux and Arch Labs. I used to be a distro hopper and stopped counting after 80 or so.

4. What do you think about those who try to demonize the use of Tor Browser or other private networks and how do you usually use it if that's the case? Do you also use the Tails system from a USB flash drive or any other in this way?

I think they should be daemonizing instead of demonizing 😏

Context:

Daemon (computing)

In all seriousness, I strongly believe in the ideas behind the Tor network, Yggdrasil, I2P, etc. Anonymity is absolutely vital to free expression in countries where government censorship is rampant and these technologies do a great deal to facilitate that.

5. Do you think that today people are open to increasing their privacy or that they have already given up in exchange for having of the latest technological toys?

I think it largely depends on where in the world you are and who you ask. On one side of the coin, I see that most people in the US really don't; they just follow whatever the latest trend is so they can seem “hip” and “up with the times” and communicate with all their friends on the coolest platform. On the other side that coin, I see a lot of people in Europe and especially Germany who are concerned with the state of digital privacy; my first German course at university focused on that for nearly half a chapter.

This entire answer is completely anecdotal but, from what I've seen, my peers in the US go with whichever solution is easiest and care about nothing more than what their friends use.

6. Are you worried about the lack of privacy these days or do you not care enough about it? If so, do you see the possibility of avoiding tracking from the different security agencies or your approach to security and privacy is more oriented towards private companies, advertising, spammers and others?

I am quite worried about the lack of privacy but I don't really think that avoiding government surveillance is particularly feasible, especially in the US. They have mouths at so many different holes there's no way to avoid leakage through at least one of them.

7. Do you currently use free and/or proprietary networks, any advice to those who read us about which free networks they could use, do you think we should give freedom for everyone to use what they want, or should we “evangelize” more about privacy?

I'm not entirely sure which networks you're referring to so I'm going to assume you mean social networks. I'm also going to include messaging applications because they're often used socially in group settings.

The proprietary networks I use are Telegram, Threema, and Google Chat. Telegram because comparatively more private than the common platforms (Discord, Snapchat, SMS, etc.) while remaining user-friendly and approachable; I was able to have my friend group move over from Discord a couple of years ago and it's been wonderful. I use Threema with a few people because their business model is simple, their privacy policy is stellar, and the app works well. Like Telegram, the server is proprietary but I do trust them a wee bit more. Google Chat is just for work and university; there's no getting away from it on a Google campus unfortunately.

The open source messaging applications I use are XMPP, IRC, Signal, email, Mattermost, Matrix, Briar, Jami, and a work-in-progress system called Arbor (arbor.chat).

As far as specifically social media, I have my Pleroma instance Nixnet.social, accounts on a couple other Mastodon, Pleroma, and Pixelfed instances, and I run a PeerTube server with a friend of mine. In this area, I don't use anything proprietary.

I think it depends on who you're communicating with and what your threat model is. If I'm talking to a non-technical individual and they ask for contact details, I ask if they have Telegram first and if not, I'll give them my phone number. If the person is more technical, I might mention XMPP or the fediverse and if they're as “into” this space as I am, I'll suggest Jami.

Trying to ram this stuff down uninterested peoples' throats will only annoy them and push them away from what you're suggesting. It's much more important and effective to work with the other person and make compromises they're comfortable with that gradually improve the situation. Moving from SMS to Telegram is a good first step and sets them up to possibly move on to Signal later. Maybe from there, they'd be willing to try XMPP. But going straight for that at the beginning would likely end up putting them off.

8. Do you usually use a VPN, just Tor, or both depending on what the reason is? Some other network?

I usually just use a VPN but I will occasionally add Tor to the mix. It just depends on what I'm doing and whether I want security, anonymity, or both.

9. Do you think it is important to donate to security, privacy and free software projects, do you receive donations yourself?

To both questions, yes! I donate to a few of the projects I particularly value and encourage others to do the same.

10. Are you a follower of the free software philosophy or do you settle for open source?

I am definitely a believer in the ethics behind libre software rather than “just open source”.

11. What measures do you take when surfing the internet? Do you protect yourself against scripts such as javascript and others, against advertising, tracking and fingerprinting or avoid your fingerprint as much as possible? What browsers do you use on your computer? Do you use extensions on them?

Depending on the day and what I'm doing, I'll either use the Tor Browser or Firefox. TB is completely stock with no modifications or addons whatsoever; installing them would make it more easy to fingerprint my browser and that defeats the whole purpose of using TB. The related Firefox extensions I have are...

I'm trying to use more minimal browsers like Lynx and eww (Emacs Web Wowser) but there are still times I need a full browser for video conferencing stuff, completing coursework, etc.

12. What do you think about GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft), are you worried about it?

This is a big question haha. They are companies that have had a lot of positive impact in some areas but, in the end, their primary motivation is profit and they have resorted to incredibly nefarious means to make as much as possible. Google, Facebook, and Amazon's entire business models centre around collecting individuals' personal data, aggregating it into a single user profile, then leveraging that to manipulate their users in some fashion. Apple's business model is selling overpriced hardware then doing their damnedest to ensure customers don't have the right to repair their own property. Microsoft's is a bit more difficult to pin down because they have fingers in so many different pies all across the world of technology. In the end, however, all of this boils down to user exploitation. They don't care about their customers. They care about making as much money as they possibly can, however they can.

Yes, I am worried about them.

13. Do you take any protection measures regarding the DNS you use on the Internet, any recommendations?

On my desktop and laptop, I handle my own DNS resolution with Unbound. It just queries the root servers and caches the response so lookups are quite quick. On my smartphone, I use AdAway to block ads and tracking and some stuff like that but don't have any custom resolvers. I use my phone as infrequently as I can.

14. Do you think that email has already fulfilled its function and that today it is more necessary something simple and safe for everyone as a messaging app, or do you use it in some way?

Like so much else in the privacy space, depends entirely on your use-case and your threat model. I think email is a fantastic and robust system that people hate on because of bad experiences with Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, etc. Mail servers are flexible, fault-tolerant, and scalable in a way that few chat systems are.

However, email as a protocol is inherently flawed regarding privacy; there's no way to secure metadata and proper encryption can be difficult for new users. If your goal is private and secure communication, I recommend looking at Briar, Jami, Matrix, and XMPP. If that's not as much of a concern, email is fantastic. Personally, email is my favourite communication method when discretion isn't required.

15. What program do you use to make calls and video conferences from your computer, if any?

I use everything from XMPP, Threema, and Telegram to BigBlueButton, Jitsi, and Mumble. It just depends on the person and what they're comfortable with.

16. Are you into the world of crypto-currency? If so, what do you usually use or trade, do you receive donations this way?

I would definitely not say I'm “into” the world of cryptocurrencies. First of all, they're pyramid schemes. Those who get in early have the most incentive to convince as many others as they can that theirs will succeed where the rest failed. I dislike the whole premise. Cryptomining has also had a measurable impact on the climate.

However I feel about “crapto” as I call it, I do still accept donations in BTC and XMR because they're comparatively more private than fiat currencies. However, I trade it for fiat as quickly as possible to ensure the value doesn't dip below what the donor intended.

17. Tell us a little about some security measures you use and with which programs: 2FA, password manager, special configuration of your router, firewall, etc…

For 2FA, I have a YubiKey that was given to me by a friend a few years ago. To manage passwords, I use KeePassXC on desktop and KeePassDX on mobile. My router is /currently/ stock but I eventually plan to set OpenWrt up on it.

18. How did you get interested in these topics: computing, privacy, security…? Tell us how you started and why.

I became interested in computers after getting fed up with how limiting my Chromebook was.

When I was about 17 (four years ago at the time of writing), I was interested in audio production. The only laptop I had at the time was a Chromebook. Not only that but it was also among the first models so it had a terrible processor, no RAM, and less than no storage. Now, I find that appalling. Back then, I was a Google fanboy and used every Google product I could get my hands on. But there wasn't one for music. I could never find anything like Garageband that would work on my Chromebook. I didn't really understand why other than “Garageband only works on Mac/Windows and this is not those”. I didn't even know what ChromeOS was.

One day in the cafeteria, I was complaining about this to a friend of mine and he mentioned this thing called Linux, saying that it runs on anything and would let me use “full desktop applications”, whatever that meant. It sounded interesting and I was fed up with what I had and willing to try anything. We met up the next day, he rebooted my Chromebook, and started pressing F11 as quickly as he could. Nothing happened. He said it should open a “BIOS menu” and we would boot the flash drive from there. Neither of us had any idea what to do so he said to look around online. About a month later, I had managed to get my Chromebook in Developer Mode, wiped ChromeOS, and was on my way to being the neckbeard Linux user I am now.

From there, I dived head first into every rabbit hole I found, from learning about bash and attempting to use GhostBSD to reading about how private Linux was and getting a Raspberry Pi to use as a server.

tl;dr Google's crappy operating system drove me to discovering Linux and changed my life!

19. Do you know any programming language? If so, tell us about it and if you have made any program of your own.

I took three semesters of Java that I have already blocked out, I can hack my way around some shell scripts, and I've worked with Assembly before; I would definitely not call myself a programmer yet. I do, however, plan to learn some Go, Rust, C, Python, Haskell, Emacs Lisp, and a few others at some point.

20. Thank you for volunteering for this interview Amolith. Would you like to add anything else?

Not that come to mind! These questions have been very thorough ;)

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