News today is filled with stories of how Big Tech, companies like Facebook, Google, or Amazon, repeatedly violate their own users’ privacy, intentionally or otherwise. One big problem, however, is how we’ve become so dependent on their apps and services that it’s nearly impossible to break free. And while there are indeed more privacy-focused alternatives, setting those up sometimes feels like you need to be a computer scientist first. That is why Purism, a startup whose business is providing “ethical” laptops and software, has launched Librem One, a suite of services to do all of the dirty work for you. At a price, of course.
Purism made a name for itself a few years back by successfully crowdfunding laptops that used open source software and privacy-respecting hardware instead of your run of the mill products from Microsoft, HP, Dell, and the like. It then set its eyes on the mobile market with the Librem 5, a Linux-based smartphone that has yet to be delivered to its backers this year. Knowing that hardware and software alone are not enough, the company has now turned its attention to the services that continue to lock users down to proprietary services and their alleged questionable business practices.
Librem One isn’t just one service but a set of apps and services designed to replace chat, email, VPN, and even social media like Twitter. Its core tenets revolve around respecting the user’s privacy and security and it uses end to end encryption all throughout to make that possible. It will even delete unencrypted email after 30 days by default.
The open source software Purism uses for Librem One aren’t exactly new. It uses Matrix for Librem Chat and Mastodon for Librem Social, for example. What Purism really offers here is the convenience of having all that software setup already so you won’t have to worry about configuration, hosting, or security all on your own. In other words, it removes the barriers to entry for ditching those services. And instead of waiting for the Purism Librem 5 to use these on your phone, the apps are already available today on Android and iOS.
The one word you won’t hear used to describe Librem One is “free”, or at least “free as in beer”. Unlike Facebook, Gmail, or Skype, Librem One is a paid subscription service that starts at $7.99 a month. A free tier does exist but it only includes Chat and Social. Purism is also presenting it as a crowdfunded endeavor to develop more services that include cloud storage and even a pay-as-you-go phone service.
Purism Librem One definitely addresses the technical hurdles in adopting open source and secure alternatives to Big Tech and that might be enough for those who are already ready to jump ship. It might, however, be underestimating the inertia needed to break free from social networks. After all, a social network won’t exactly be that social if your social circles aren’t in it.