Black faced white bordered device like a radio with two round knobs facing out that look like eyes and lines in the middle that look like a mouth

It’s that time of the year when conspicuous consumption disguises itself as altruism, and we are encouraged to purchase unnecessary goods for the people we care about. Last year was the year of the smart speaker (Echo, Alexa, etc.) also known as the always-on microphone capable of 24-7 surveillance. While many people have rejected the idea of the newer editions that include surveillance cameras, they are still on the market. Rather than giving gifts that benefit Big Brother, here’s a a cyber-punk gift guide designed to give your friends and family more privacy – or at least devices that respect the privacy that they already have.

Gift Idea #1 – A Virtual Private Network subscription

This is one of those services that many technologists already encourage people to use. Last year, rules were lifted that had prevented your Internet Service Provider (ISP) from spying on your traffic and profiting from knowing so much about you. Many people started promoting Virtual Private Networks VPN) as an alternative.

VPNs can also help protect you when you are using sketchy WiFi from being tricked into connecting to a third party when you want to connect to your bank. These threats are kind of nebulous, but the reality is your IP address is a unique identifier and can be used to track you even if you delete cookies or do other things. Another reason people like VPNs is that they allow you to torrent and download movies, TV, games and software without receiving threats from your ISP because some entertainment company hit them with a copyright violation.

Even better, a VPN can be a beneficial thing to help improve your friends’ and family’s privacy. One highly recommended service is They support a variety of open-source projects and they also accept gift cards as payment through a third party. So, you can convert a gift card from a major retailer into a private internet connection. It can cost around $7 a month, but drops to $40 a year and there are other VPNs out there if you want to research – has a survey they conduct of privacy respecting VPNs.

Gift Idea #2 – Tails Flash Drives

While a VPN protects your privacy to a certain degree, it isn’t necessarily truly anonymous. You still have a unique IP, but it just isn’t immediately traceable back to your cable provider. For people who want to browse the web without being tracked, say, for instance to leak documents to investigative journalists, there is TOR. TOR basically connects your computer through a bunch of random hops so that nobody can tell where you are actually coming from when you connect to a website.

While there is a TOR browser that you can download from the web and run in any operating system, it isn’t as secure as booting an OS from a flash drive. For this there is something called Tails. It can be kind of a pain to download and install on a flash drive, but relatively easy to use (if you know how to hit ESC when your computer is booting). You can install Tails on a flash drive for friends and family, and if they decide they don’t want to use it to protect their privacy they can always use it to backup family photos. You can find tails at

Gift Idea #3 – Pi-Hole Ad Blocker

Ok, sure you can always install uBlock Origin on Firefox and get rid of the annoying ads that target your browser. But you will still see annoying ads on your phone or popping up on your TV if you happen to be watching YouTube on it.

There is a solution that would make a perfect gift, but it requires a little bit of work. Basically you can buy a Raspberry Pi 3 – a mobile computer the size of a credit card that usually costs around $35 for the raw device, and up to $70 with a case, power supply and memory card included. If you can install stuff you can go to and follow the instructions, and your home Internet experience will be ad-free even on your phone (if you connect via Wifi).

Gift Idea #4 – MyCroft

Here’s a smart speaker that respects your privacy and uses open-source software and open-source data sets. So yeah, we don’t want to deny ourselves the future just because we don’t want multi-national corporations constantly recording everything we say. MyCroft.Ai exists as an alternative. It still takes your voice recording and uploads it to its server for translation, but then deletes it – unlike most of the other smart speaker companies. If you want to help make their service better, you can opt-in and they still de-identify the data so it can’t be tracked back to you as an individual.

There is a device pre-configured called the Mycroft Mark 1 for sale for $180 at, but you can also set it up to run on a Raspberry Pi with an external microphone if you are really feeling geeky. They also have a Mycroft Mark II (that looks less like an 80s robot) on pre-order for $189 that should ship in December 2018.

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