The long and bumpy road to privacy🇬🇧


I admit it. I never had a Windows PC and never an Android phone. I used Unix (Interactive Unix, BSD, SunOS, …) and then NextStep (OpenStep). When Apple bought Next, I became an Apple disciple and used every single iPhone model. This means it is now 25 years ago. Celebration? Nope. I am in the process of leaving my old “love” behind. We are divorcing.

As you can imagine, my home is (was) full of Apple stuff. iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac Mini, Apple TV, AirPods, not to mention all the applications which only run on Mac.
With age I became more privacy conscious and I am learning a lot, due to the help of the community in general and Michael Bazzel in particular. Thanks!!!

As a background: I am not a techie anymore. I studied computer sciences in the 80s and early 90s and the last time I wrote a proper line of code was in the 90s, in Java. So I consider myself a non-techie. But yes, I can use bash (I prefer tcsh) and do an ‚ls -l‘ or even an ‚ls -al‘. And I know how to use ‚kill‘. But not on the level I used to. So I see myself as the bridge of the nerds/techies to the basic user.

So the first question for me: How to get away from the tracking and telemetry of all these players, such as Google, Apple, Microsoft. In order to do that, I needed a plan. I am a project manager, by heart, conviction and everything else. People say I even make a project plan making toast.

The steps I took so far were:

  • Check infrastructure and devices in my home
  • Evaluate which is very talkative
  • Evaluate how the devices communicate
  • Evaluate which applications I need and how they can be replaced
  • Check which hardware is connected to my MacBook Pro and find drivers for Linux
  • Check which learning curve I have for various topics
  • Identify the low hanging fruits 

The first step for me was to analyse which sending devices I have in my network and which are the worst surveillers. Then I needed to determine which dependencies I have in the network. Can I replace one device independently or do I need another device or another app on another device to still keep the functionality. Additionally, I had to figure out which were the easiest to replace. Last but not least, I am not a techie or security specialist, so which had the lowest learning curve for me.

I analysed my devices: Apple TV, Mac Mini as a media hub for high def audio, iPhone privately, iPad privately, MacBook Pro 16” as my base machine, MacBook Air for the road. AirPods, because my ears only allow the base model without any rubber in my ear. No other in ear keeps me healthy. No way to get rid of them but also no need.

Routers and home devices

Not the first thing, but an important thing for me to get rid of was a TP-Link router. When I started tracking my network I noticed that the router sends data home, on average every 24 seconds. I replaced it with a quieter AVM Fritz!Box. This also allows me to block devices from accessing the internet while still being in the network. I also blocked my Philips Hue system, also very communicative. I felt so much better then.

Mac mini Media Hub

I considered the Mac Mini media hub the biggest issue. All the data is organised, sorted and managed in an Audirvāna library. I spent hours, days, weeks, to set everything up. And: It is not connected to the internet, as mentioned above. I only connect it to the internet once every six months to upgrade the OS and Audirvāna. Additionally, I have very much automated the ripping of CDs, backing them up, importing them etc. So put that aside for the time being. I will have to review this later.

Portable MacBook Air and first Linux encounters

First thing: I sold my MacBook Air and bought a Huawei Matebook 13. Linux, to me, is a learning curve. And a big one. My main computer has to work without flaws and without a user who has not a clue what he does. So this was playground. Yes, I had played with virtual machines, tried every single Linux I could get a hand on, prefer Debian and MXLinux and Pop!_OS but had issues with the latter one. The Huawei is powerful, great display, reasonably priced. But it comes with Windows.

So I got a stick, put Debian on it and tried to install it on the Huawei. Drivers for WiFi missing. Later, display issues. No way to go. So I got Ubuntu. Deal done. Trying to remember Unix commands from 30 years ago was fun and tiring. But I got it to work. I had to install it again due to a nasty user (me) error, but this time it went quick and smooth. This was considered my learning device. And damn, did I scold it in the past.

Every problem I researched in the internet ended up with the terminal. 

sudo apt update
ln -s
vi or nano or pic

Even when there were solutions in the UI, most help in the internet started with: Open the Terminal.

After the years with macOS I got really pissed. I am fully aware that I can upgrade the software with the UI. But when I looked for something, I always ended up on pages forcing me to use the terminal. Nothing I can recommend to people without Unix background. I spent hours if not days to simply get hibernation working on basic Ubuntu. Harddisk encryption is one click on macOS and PhD level on Linux (I exaggerate, but this is how I felt, LUKS, LVM etc.). Why do I need to care about swap space and if I need a swap file or a swap device? Learning curve still ongoing. But I am getting closer.

Replacing the iPhone

Next step: My most talkative device was the iPhone. Tracking my own network and each device I noticed, how much more Apple collects with every new iOS version. Looking at some studies, e.g. trinity college, I got shocked that Apple sends in average every 4 minutes data home. Besides what all the apps are collecting, ignoring my ATT settings.The kick came when Apple announced client side scanning. I played around with LineageOS and ended up with GrapheneOS. There are pros and cons of GrapheneOS over iOS but the pros, no data I do not allow is sent and the device still works beautifully well, weigh heavier than anything else. But that also meant: Controlling Apple TV with my phone? No. Controlling my media hub with Audirvāna? No.

No iPad Replacement, yet

This is the main reason why I have not replaced my iPad yet. With it I can handle these things. It is the hardest thing to replace for me. I tried to control Audirvāna via notebook and VNC but this sucked. Besides the fact that there is no good and privacy friendly other tablet available. But Google announced a tablet for 2023 and the developers of GrapheneOS told me they will port GOS to the tablet, I am hopeful and will wait for this. But by then I need to have solutions available for all other topics. The iPad will most likely be the last device to be replaced. In order to be able to replace my iPad, I need to change other things first, most importantly my Mac Mini media hub.

Replacing the main computer

Which leads me to replacing my main machine, my MacBook Pro. Being an Apple evangelist for almost 25 years, I have all the proprietary Apple file formats. I use many DMGs, I have numbers, pages, keynote files. When I travelled the world I took 20.000 pics on my iPhone, all HEIC and HEIF files. My several music files are Apple Losless. So I cannot simply switch to Linux, copy all data over and sell my MacBook Pro. I tried playing around with a few things on my Ubuntu, some worked ok, others didn’t. There is also no desire in me to open every single alac, HEIF, keynote or numbers file in LibreOffice or any other, because this would take years. Besides this I have MS Office documents and would want to get away from them as well, but keep the content. This seems to be much easier, there seem to be much more tools out there for MS Office file formats.

My solution is (currently work in progress): I need to convert all document files older than two years to PDF. I will hardly modify them, too old, but need them as reference. So I need to find a script or anything which allows me to search my entire disk for these file types, automatically convert them to PDF and store them on my Linux box in the same folder structure. I have not been able to do that yet. It will take me hours and days to write the script, test it and rewrite it. And ensure I always have backups in place.

For the newer documents I will have to manually check if I need their content and be able to modify it or if I can convert them. DMGs are another piece. I have learnt that I can use 7z and write a script around it. More difficult to automate this is, if my DMGs are encrypted, which most are. I would ideally want to migrate them to VeraCrypt. Something like: convert DMG Vera. All solutions I have found for migrating DMG are technical to me, cumbersome and error prone. And some of my DMGs contain very important content.

I have organised my approx 100.000 photos in Apple photos. I spent days to manage this, create structures, favourite pictures etc. And hours with Apple support because the is buggy like hell. I initially thought that HEIC and HEIF would be the issue. They are not. There are tools to open them, e.g. VLC, Kodi with an Add-on: HEIF-image-decoder or on Ubuntu heif-gdk-pixbuf. So this is not the issue. The issue is the management. The structures I created, the albums, all this. All the time I invested and seem to have to invest again. I am worried about this. I made so many mistakes with Linux so far that I lack the confidence. Time, I believe I need for this, plus lack of confidence are the main driver I have not replaced my MacBook Pro yet. I try to do things, but step by step.

Backup on macOS is a no brainer. TimeMachine is awesome. Additionally I use Carbon Copy Cloner. I have to investigate what similar solutions are available for Linux.

The devices which are connected to my MacBook Pro also need thorough consideration. Every paper entering my house is scanned and full text indexed. The latest driver for the scanner for Ubuntu is for version 18.04. I have to test this with 22.04 and see if it works. Additionally, I have an OWC docking station connected which serves an external screen, which is Thunderbolt, various hard disks and a Blu-Ray drive. I have not checked how this will work out with a Linux box yet. But I need a docking station it seems. Not sure if I can leverage the OWC. My NAS with 24 TB should not be an issue and the printer is a network printer which I have already tested with my Huawei notebook.
On top of this I have SD cards, additional hard disks which I use once in a while or which contain archives of data. They are all, or almost all, formatted with Mac in mind. I suppose HFS+, AFS and maybe encrypted using Apple’s standard tools. I will have to go through them one by one.

So this is still work in progress but I hope I can get it done. If this community can help with scripts, tools, additional ideas on how to migrate a life long Apple addiction to a privacy friendly Linux, I am all in.

Next steps: 

  • Figure out how to migrate Apple proprietary data to open formats in an automated way.
  • Decide and test solutions for backups.
  • Identify unsupported hardware and consider, if need be, new.
  • Buy a new Linux home machine and migrate from macOS.
  • Sell MacBook Pro for a good price 🙂
  • Replace the Mac mini media hub with a free software available on Linux. Not sure if Kodi, Strawberry, Amarok or others are best suited for me.
  • Replace iPad with new Google Tablet with GrapheneOS.
  • Replace Apple TV.

We cannot buy system76 systems in Europe. In Germany there is Tuxedo Computers. They offer Ubuntu and their own version of Ubuntu, TuxedosOS. I asked about coreboot. They are currently investigating it. They don’t pre-install Pop!_OS. My contacts with them have been more on the negative side. And “HP dev one” is currently also not available.

What I am saying here: It is neither easy nor fast as a non-techie to try to live a less surveillance driven life. For me, everything takes longer, causes more frustration and is wrecking my nerves than for young techies. Hence, I am grateful I am not alone in this journey.