Blog Sample Blog Description 2019-09-30T14:32:48+02:00 Mathias Setting up Firefox 2019-09-30T14:32:48+02:00 2019-09-30T14:32:48+02:00

I have previously said you probably want to, or at least should want to, move away from Google Chrome as your web browser. I also listed a couple of alternatives, but reading back I noticed I wasn't more specific in how you can, and probably should, set those alterntives up. Let's start with Firefox.

Firefox logo
Firefox logo

After some deliberation I have now decided on going with Firefox as my main web browser. I had some good time with Vivaldi, but unfortunately Vivaldi isn't available on my mobile devices. It is still my second browser on my desktops though, and I do have it fully configured etc.

On my mobile devices I had some good experiences of Brave browser. Then I learnt that Brave browser had some worrying funding schemas going to extreme right-wing groups, and also that the former (sacked) Mozilla CEO, who was funding campaigns out of his own pocket to stop LGBT-people from marrying etc, now was working in Brave, I figured I should revisit my options, as there are some things I do not wish to support.

Set up Firefox

Firefox has been around for a while, and its latest generation of browsers are top-notch. They have also built in privacy concious controls for pretty much everything, and if you know what settings to tweak and what add-ons to...umm...add, it can be made very secure, privacy concious and still usable. Furthermore, it works fine on all platforms, such as desktops and mobile devices. It also can sync your bookmarks and other settings between your devices. In short, you can have all the benefits of Google Chrome, without selling your soul, and your data, to Google.

It should be noted that you should aim to keep your add-ons to as few as possible. The more add-ons you add, the more likely you are to become an unsuspecting victim of bad code somewhere, so add-ons should be carefully considered before installing them. Having said that, I will be suggesting a couple of add-ons that you should install, which can help you increase your privacy.

If you have downloaded Firefox and you wish to use the multi-device sync functionality, you are probably going to wish to create a sync account, but this is entirely optional. If you have multiple devices and you do not wish to create an account, you can instead set up Firefox for each of your devices. I like having a sync account though, so I'm going to assume you do too.

General preferences

Preferences - Content Blocking
Preferences - Content Blocking

Next you should open up your "Preferences" and go to the "Privacy & Security" settings. Start with scrolling down to "Firefox Data Collection and Use" and uncheck all the boxes there.

Whilst you are in Privacy & Security, find the section called "Content Blocking". There are three options there: Standard, Strict and Custom. I have mine set to "Custom", with the following block settings:

  • Trackers (In all windows)
  • Cookies (Third-party trackers)
  • Cryptominers
  • Fingerprinters

I guess that is the...

Moving from Facebook 2019-09-29T14:31:51+02:00 2019-09-29T14:31:51+02:00

So the time has come to cut the Facebook dependency. Cutting the cord if you like. Basically I will limit my Facebook activity quite a lot more than I already have. I will not "quit" Facebook though. This is how it will work.

Time for a change
Time for a change

As you might have gathered from my previous posts I've been less than impressed with mine (and others) dependency on Facebook (and also Google services). One might have many concerns about what data we share, and how, when and where we share it, but I think the final trigger for me has been the following questions:

The answers to both questions are "no". That scares me.

It scares me enough to decide I will severely limit my interactions with both Facebook and Google. However, I will not "leave" or "quit" Facebook. There is no point. You can read this article on the topic of leaving Facebook if you like, but the tl;dr (too-long-didn't-read) is: They will be able to keep track of most of my interactions with other Facebook users anyways, regardless of if I leave or not. That pretty much includes most citizens of the "western world". I do have some tips on how to limit that tracking too though, but that is for another article.

So, instead of ignoring the beast and pretending it isn't there, I have come to the conclusion that my best route of action is to limit what I do there, and how I do it. Limit the data they can collect from me going forward. Lately I have mainly re-shared meme's and done "happy birthday" greetings. I have not done any other posts with original content, and have also refrained from commenting/liking on others posts. I will do those things even less going forward. Everything else I will do elsewhere.

  • I will keep my Facebook account and (only) participate in closed interest groups I'm in.
  • I will share my new posts on this blog on Facebook.
  • I will be contactable on Messenger, but only when I login in a (controlled) desktop browser, so if you are in a rush, use something else to contact me (see below).
  • I have already started leaving "groups" and/or "chat groups". It isn't personal, but do feel free to join me elsewhere, where we can talk/discuss freely without being put under surveillance, and without contributing to creating a data pool that is worth doing illegal activities to get hold of.

You will be able to find me here:

  • Email (mathias.hellquist@ this web site domain for example, or as well)...
Are You Leaking Personal Details? 2019-09-20T16:46:19+02:00 2019-09-20T16:46:19+02:00

Your house. Your family and kids. Your health status & insurances. Your job & income. Your car. Your friends. I'm guessing all of those things are, to a varying degree, important to most of us. We care about them, and that they are safe and well. We usually do not share too many details about them with complete strangers. Except when you use web sites online...

Some things should remain private
Some things should remain private

In daily regular off-line life it is fairly common to assume the following:

  • You lock your house when you leave in the morning
  • You unlock your car to get in, to drive kids to school and/or go to work
  • Your kids do not have their personal number/social security/national insurance number along with their address and telephone numbers printed in big letters on the back of their clothing
  • If you are old-school and write a diary I'm guessing you don't leave it open at the counter in a bar or in a store
  • If a friend tells you something that is for your ears only, you don't tell everyone you meet what your friend said
  • Self preservation usually stops us from sharing work details to people who are not colleagues
  • You don't start off conversations by telling people how much income you have/make and what your insurance situation is like, and you don't give everyone access to your bank account.

Yet these are details many happily share, knowingly or unknowingly, when they get online, with complete strangers, be it people or companies. A surprising amount of people actually do know they "over-share" information, but seem to think "it is alright, it isn't like Google/Facebook/Microsoft/whoever would be able to do anything with it anyways" and sort of picture the smiling kind faces of Larry and Sergei, the founders of Google, and who indeed look like very nice people (as opposed to the robot stare of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg).

Another misconception too many people have is "I have nothing to hide" or "I'm not that interesting and I'm not involved in illegal activities, good luck with finding my details in the information hay stack" without realising they are helping out in overturning democratic elections around the globe, in their roles of being easily led and controlled, because they can (easily) be found, categorized and used as micro-influencers. It isn't people sifting through all the data. Computers do. Computers are really really good at it too. That is what they do. That is why we build them and that is why we use them.

Email detailing data to sell
Email detailing data to sell

Have a look at the image to the right to see the draft over what "conclusions" about people Cambridge Analytica managed to compile in the Facebook scandal, based on the data they shared and how/who they interacted with others. This type of data was what managed Cambridge Analytica to successfully target large groups of people with just the right type of message triggers that made them vote in particular ways, in...

How to turn off Facebook facial recognition 2019-09-06T11:04:59+02:00 2019-09-06T11:04:59+02:00

The latest improvement for your online privacy from Facebook is to enable you to turn off Facebooks automated facial recognition. You should. This is how you do it.

Little robot standing in the grass
Little robot standing in the grass

Facebook can do all kinds of tracking of its users, i.e. you and your friends, and it can draw even more kinds of conclusions based on what you’ve said or how you’ve interacted. However, as they are now also closely monitored by the world (due to Cambridge Analytica etc) they have taken a few steps in letting you control what of your personal data they can use, and also when and where. The latest changes is regarding your face and Facebooks facial recognition algorithms.

Turning off the automated facial recognition will do the following for you and your privacy:

  • Facebook will no longer automatically tag you in images (your own images or images uploaded by your friends)
  • It will also stop the “photo review” feature, which searches any/all images and looks for you, even if you are tagged by Facebook in that image or not

More importantly, until now Facebook has, behind the scenes, created a “template” of your face, which is set of numbers based on a bunch of criteria (distance, orientation etc), which it uses to compare your face (or actually your string of numbers) to other number strings extracted from images on their site. Turning off the facial recognition will delete your template. It will also mean Facebook can’t create a new template for your face as long as you keep that setting disabled. If you later turn it on again Facebook will be able to create a new template of your face.

Facebook settings

To disable the setting for facial recognition you need to go to your profile settings and then click on "Face recognition" on the left hand side (on the desktop) or scroll to it in the Facebook app.

Then you check the value of "Face recognition". If it says anything other than "no", click "edit" on the far right of the screen, and change your value to "no".

Facebook settings for facial recognition

That is it! If you have done that you have increased your privacy on Facebook a little bit. If you, unlike me, plan on continue to use Facebook regularly, there are a bunch of more settings you probably should have a look at, to verify you are happy with what they are set to.

More extreme ways to avoid facial recognition

As I was researching for this topic I came across a couple of other links that can help you in trying to avoid facial recognition. We live in interesting times indeed when these things are actually done by some.

Watch The Great Hack 2019-08-29T10:36:37+02:00 2019-08-29T10:36:37+02:00

If you have wondered why you should cut down usage of the big company services such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple etc you should probably watch the movie The Great Hack.

The movie, which is a documentary, can be viewed on Netflix (and also elsewhere online I noticed when searching for it) and it takes quite a deep look at the involvement of Cambridge Analytica's role in the 2016 US presidential election, and also looks to a degree at Brexit and how it too was influenced by Cambridge Analytica.

Actually the movie highlights quite a few regions that have had political tension/problems, then someone hired Cambridge Analytica, who started to work on information-intelligence-warfare, often for "the other side", to make that other side do, or not do, something specific.

There are basically two things you can try to influence in elections: either what people should do OR what they shouldn't do.

The movie also explains how it came to be that Cambridge Analytica had "5 000 data access points of every voter in the USA". This is the data that partially came from Facebook, various Facebook quizes, scraping profiles and friends-of-friends profiles etc.

Later in the movie they also explain how they had swung an election in Trinidad-Tobago, which apparently is divided into an Indian side and a Black side, by making young (black) people not go to vote. This in turn swung the entire election result to the Indian party that had hired Cambridge Analytica. Basically Cambridge Analytica appeared to work for the black youth community in uniting them towards a common goal of doing something cool, a political rebellion against politicians. The black community felt strongly in their conviction of not doing as the politicians said, and "rebelled" by not voting. As we all know though, elections are won by political parties that get the most votes, and to get the most votes you need voters. As the Indian kids did as their parents told them they went to the ballots to cast their votes, when the black kids didn't. The Indian side won. Mission accomplished. As pointed out, Cambridge Analytica did this without focusing on actual politics.

Screenshot from CA's sales presentation
Screenshot from CA's sales presentation

Other elections mentioned in the movie where Cambridge Analytica or SCL, another company in the same sphere, played a major impact on the final result:

  • Argentina 2015
  • Trinidad & Tobago 2009
  • Thailand 1997
  • India 2010
  • Malaysia 2013
  • Italy 2012
  • Kenya 2013
  • Colombia 2011
  • South Africa 1994
  • Ukraine 2004
  • Antigua 2013
  • Indonesia 1998
  • many more (the movie scrolls faster and faster)

Facebook obviously claims that it was its, at the time, "regretfully lax policies" that enabled Cambridge Analytica to scrape this data/information from Facebook, and not Facebook willingly giving it to Cambridge Analytica. However, we do know that Facebook have conducted their own "tests" in trying to affect how people feel, literally. They have placed messages in such a way that they wanted to measure if they could make people feel happy, or...

You should install Signal 2019-08-28T10:38:00+02:00 2019-08-28T10:38:00+02:00

Messaging. Security. Privacy. Three words that rarely can be combined these days. Unless, of course, your chosen messaging app is Signal or Telegram. However, for the sake of simplicity, I decided on one messaging app to rule them all. I chose Signal. This is why...

Every time you and your friends use Facebook Messenger you are topping up a pool of keywords assigned to you by Facebook with even more keywords. Those are keywords that help Facebook to do some very clever placement of advertisements and "messages" to you and your friends. Those messages are personally tailored, for you, to make you purchase as much as possible. Those messages are also known to have been used in experiments on you, to control your feelings (and thereby thoughts). Yes, you dear reader.

This is also a part of the overall formula to why Facebook can be perceived to be eerily accurate on placing ads they "shouldn't even know you had an interest in". Well, they do. If you continue to feed the beast with lots of things it likes, the beast will grow bigger, not smaller. What it likes is your words and conversations, your interactions, your likes and other reactions. It can also work out that if you like (or interact a lot with) a specific person, and that person likes a lot of specific things, it is probably not useless to target you based on your friends preferences too. If nothing else you will have seen something they know your friend is interested in.

Basically we have fed Facebook so much information, in so many channels, that they now can select what you should see and thereby feel, via formula. Have you been feeling sad lately? Angry? Happy? Have you been hanging on social media in general and Facebook in particular? Just long as you keep feeding Facebook and/or other social media with keywords that they can assign to you, the more likely you are to be in their hands when it comes to decision making.

That is the price of "free", which should probably be considered "free - unless your privacy counts...", which it does to me these days. It is time to break the chains.

Enter Signal.

Signal is, unlike Facebook, a not-for-profit company. They have created a chat/message app that has all the functionality of the popular services. You can obviously send direct text messages. You can also send pictures/photos, videos, files, voice messages, "disappearing messages" and you can share other documents, without the fees for SMS/MMS. Of course if you use data packages on a mobile connection it will use data (as it is impossible to send for example a video without moving data somehow, so this is true for Facebook Messenger too).

Further to that you can also use Signal for making calls. Again, distances doesn't count here as we are talking about moving (voice-) data over IP-networks, much like Skype (which, by the way, have hired Signal...

The family IT policy 2019-08-27T12:08:00+02:00 2019-08-27T12:08:00+02:00

Right, so I took a couple of days off my summer vacation to finish off what I had started when it comes to sorting out self-hosted email & calendars for the entire family. This is what I've done.

Basically I wanted to achieve the following:

  • Have email that isn't hosted (read stored and "scanned") by any of the big players such as Google, Microsoft, Apple etc.
  • Have spam/virus checking of the emails already on the server (i.e. before it reaches any device).
  • Ensure that our sent emails from my domain(s) don't classify as spam with Google/Microsoft et al.
  • That the entire family would be able to check email on desktops, laptops as well as mobile devices. This meant I have to take height for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android.
  • Ensure the entire family could sync calendars on their devices too.
  • Establish a shared calendar that all of us could see and input content for.
  • Sync contacts/addressbook for the family too, especially the kids.
  • Sync tasks and to-do's in the family.
  • All of the above should ideally be possible to manage with built-in apps/software and/or free software in whatever device that person prefers

I was also looking for a good and secure way to send messages within the family, as I was quite fed up with the confusion on what app the kids were using that day (WhatsApp, Snapchat, TikTok etc).

Further to that I was also looking at doing yet another overhaul of how I should sort out my workflow in getting things done, both for work related things as well as private projects, that would work on all platforms. I usually tend to keep work/private completely separated, but that doesn't mean I want multiple workflows to keep track of. I used to have this sorted quite well when I only had to cater for using a Mac, but that is no longer the case, and so it has to work on PC's too.

But first things first:

1. Server with Ubuntu on Digital Ocean

I have my web hosting in "the cloud" and mainly on Digital Ocean. Therefore I decided to try it all out with another server on Digital Ocean. Any virtual server by any of the cloud providers would have been alright though, the main thing is that I trust Digital Ocean to not dig through my server for content, and even if they did they wouldn't be able to sell that data without causing a major scandal. The "where to host it" is otherwise the weakest point in the whole set-up, where the safest option would be owning a physical server hosted somewhere in a building you can control yourself, but that is taking it a bit too far for my needs.

The server I'm using for this costs me $20/month, which is alright. It has 4GB ram, a decently sized harddrive for the system and a bunch of extra storage mounted as well for storing the actual email/calendar database. It also has generous back-up...

Using a VPN 2019-04-26T14:50:00+02:00 2019-04-26T14:50:00+02:00

In a previous post I mentioned I would get back to VPN's and also Tor. Though this post will not cover Tor or the "Onion network" to any length I have now decided on trying out a new VPN provider for my computers and mobile devices.

It is a quick thing to write (I just did), but anyone who has tried to work out what VPN service that is the best one in general and the best one for you in particular, will know that there's a whole djungle out there with various VPN providers all claiming to be the "best", "fastest", "most secure" etc.

Please note that this, and most other articles on this site, contains links. If they have a little arrow next to them it indicates that the link is external, i.e the contents of the destination site is out of my control. Also rest assured that none of the links are "affiliate" links. I do not get paid by anyone to link to anything in particular. I do like to add links though so you can see/investigate things for yourself, to make up your own mind.

Hide My Ass

I have been using a couple of VPN services previously. I started off with HMA (which stands for Hide My, seriously...check the URL) but I stopped using them after a couple of incidents (abroad) where they had handed over logfiles and "evidence" to the US government. That you might think is all fine and well, but for me that means they also keep logfiles and "evidence" in the first place. If there were to be hacked you could, in theory, be traced even when connected via their VPN service. It should be noted the drive-by-mentioned incident occured 2014, so it might well have changed by now, but I decided to not renew my subscription and instead I went with PureVPN a couple of years ago.


PureVPN, at the time, had a great sign-up deal which was really cheap, and this is another learning for anyone who investigates this segment: there are always "extra special deals" or "right now, massive discount on long-term deals!". Always. If you are shopping for VPN providers, give it a couple of weeks and what might have costed you an arm and a leg last month might well go for $3/month tomorrow. In fact, all of them currently seem to have an offer that lands at around $3/month if you sign up for 3-years.

PureVPN was great and they had a nice mobile iOS app too, which meant it was rather quick/simple/easy to connect to my VPN when I was out-and-about. It had a period of "can't connect, sorry" but they sorted it out and it was pretty stable and decently fast after that. Somehow though I managed to miss the reminders to renew the subscription, and I only noticed it had expired when it refused to connect. Looking through their offers...

The anti-social bliss 2019-04-17T15:40:00+02:00 2019-04-17T15:40:00+02:00

Due to both work and interests I have been very active on social media for many years. All of them. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc, but also the old ones that are no longer in business. Basically, if there was a new service I signed up on it and tried it out. Often it was to figure out what the service was all about and thus also to figure out how it worked.

Photo of someone meditating in the sunset
Photo of someone meditating in the sunset

If it did something new, and/or in an interesting way, it would then be possible to incorporate similar functionality for whatever services or customers we had at work. If nothing else it was good to find out what the users of a service expected in their user journey.

I'm my new world order I have now cut back on my usage of social media services quite drastically, much due to privacy reasons and how those services treat my personal information. At first I figured I would be using Facebook, Twitter and the other services just as much as previously, and that I would just tweak my settings to be more privacy concious. After a while I started feeling I wanted to, if possible, ditch or at least cut down my usage of the "big" social media services to use something that is more in line with what I think should be the route forward, some of which is included in this list:

Also, as outlined in previous posts on this blog, I wanted to get away from the negative people that are seemingly everywhere, complaining about everything but doing absolutely nothing about it themselves apart from complaining even more about the people who are trying to do something about it, as they obviously are doing it wrongly. Etc.

A couple of weeks into it all I have some reflections. Some of them I will cover in this post.

Less of everything

Firstly the most surprising thing to me: I basically have cut down on usage of all social media. And it feels great! No really. I literally feel happier by not even seeing peoples complaints about arbitrary things they feel they have to voice their opinion about and which they are not topic experts on (despite them claiming the opposite). I don't see them. They are quite probably still right where I left them, but I'm not there, and my absence from them and their bile has improved my life.

It has also given me more time on each day to do "normal", or at least other, things. Because lets face it: posting about every minute about your life online shouldn't be normal. Reading someone elses posts about every minute of their life shouldn't be normal. I never did either to that degree, apart from possibly posting photos when...

Re-jigging and future proofing 2019-04-16T15:41:00+02:00 2019-04-16T15:41:00+02:00

As I'm changing things in most places when it comes to my online life and my online services etc I ran into problems with updating a couple of things. This was not related to me changing behaviours/apps, but in general, to updating software/services I was already using.

Building site
Always under construction

One of them was Plex for example, which basically took away a whole Friday evening with a press on a "Update" button just before I was going to put on a movie for the kids.

Basically I tried to run an update and things broke because of that update. That also happened to this very site for example, which was using an old (and thus un-supported) theme, that didn't stand the test of time any longer. One press on a "Update all" button = site no longer working. Luckily my back-up/restore strategy was working.

My options were to either not update and continue as it was, or to find another theme that was up to date with todays ways of doing things. For those who know me I'm rarely sentimental about things, and I'm also quite security concious, which meant the option to not update/upgrade wasn't really an option. I need to be able to update things at all times, if nothing else to ensure I am closing the latest bugs/holes when it comes to security related matters.

It is rather time consuming though to change an entire web site without taking it down first. It is a job that is still on-going as I'm not finished just yet. If you see something on this site that seems out of order, or something that looks strange, that is probably a correct observation. I figured it is alright. It isn't like I make money off this site or have millions of users, and those that come here anyways do so to read whatever article I have just written, and that part will obviously always be the focus of this site.

In fact I took the opportunity to go through what I really wanted to get out from the site myself, and it came down to this list:

  • Not break old and previously shared URL's to existing articles
  • The article should be in focus
  • It should be easy to read the articles (which means looking at text size, line-heights etc)
  • The site obviously has to work on mobile devices (the old one looked slightly...wonky...on mobiles)
  • Not too many sidebar distractions, especially if they are not relevant to me or authored by me. I still might plonk some social feed in there, like latest tweets or latest Instagram photos or something, but for now I'm quite pleased with the nothingness of things.
  • Still no commenting on posts. If you would like to comment the contents of a post or get in touch in general I recommend you use Mastodon, Signal, Telegram, Line or Twitter. Facebook if you absolutely must, but as might have been apparent by my posts of late, I'm rarely on...