KDE’s Goal: Privacy

by Banksy
by Banksy
At Akademy 2016, the KDE community started a long-term project to invigorate its development (both, technically and organizationally) with more focus. This process of soul-searching has already yielded some very useful results, the most important one so far being agreement of a common community-wide vision:

A world in which everyone has control over their digital life and enjoys freedom and privacy.

This presents a very high-level vision, so a logical follow-up question has been how this influences KDE’s activities and actions in practice. KDE, being a fairly loose community with many separate sub-communities and products, is not an easy target to align to a common goal. A common goal may have very different on each of KDE’s products, for an email and groupware client, that may be very straight-forward (e.g. support high-end crypto, work very well with privacy-respecting and/or self-hosted services), for others, it may be mostly irrelevant (a natural painting app such as Krita simply doesn’t have a lot of privacy exposure), yet for a product such as Plasma, the implications may be fundamental and varied.
So in the pursuit of the common ground and a common goal, we had to concentrate on what unites us. There’s of course Software Freedom, but that is somewhat vague as well, and also it’s already entrenched in KDE’s DNA. It’s not a very useful goal since it doesn’t give us something to strive for, but something we maintain anyway. A “good goal” has to be more specific, yet it should have a clear connection to Free Software, since that is probably the single most important thing that unites us. Almost two years ago, I posed that privacy is Free Software’s new milestone, trying to set a new goal post for us to head for. Now the point where these streams join has come, and KDE has chosen privacy as one of its primary goals for the next 3 to 4 years. The full proposal can be read here.
“In 5 years, KDE software enables and promotes privacy”

Privacy, being a vague concept, especially given the diversity in the KDE community needs some explanation, some operationalization to make it specific and to know how we can create software that enables privacy. There are three general focus areas we will concentrate on: Security, privacy-respecting defaults and offering the right tools in the first place.

Security

Improving security means improving our processes to make it easier to spot and fix security problems and avoiding single points of failure in both software and development processes. This entails code review, quick turnaround times for security fixes.

Privacy-respecting defaults

Defaulting to encrypted connections where possible and storing sensible data in a secure way. The user should be able to expect the KDE software Does The Right Thing and protect his or her data in the best possible way. Surprises should be avoided as much as possible, and reasonable expectations should be met with best effort.

Offering the right tools

KDE prides itself for providing a very wide range of useful software. From a privacy point of view, some functions are more important than others, of course. We want to offer the tools that most users need in a way that allows them to lead their life privately, so the toolset needs to be comprehensive and cover as many needs as possible. The tools itself should make it easy and straight-forward to achieve privacy. Some examples:

  • An email client allowing encrypted communication
  • Chat and instant messenging with state-of-the art protocol security
  • Support for online services that can be operated as private instance, not depending on a 3rd party provider

Of course, this is only a small part, and the needs of our userbase varies wildly.

Onwards from here…

In the past, KDE software has come a long way in providing privacy tools, but the tool-set is neither comprehensive, nor is privacy its implications widely seen as critical to our success in this area. Setting privacy as a central goal for KDE means that we will put more focus on this topic and lead to improved tools that allow users to increase their level of privacy. Moreover, it will set an example for others to follow and hopefully increase standards across the whole software ecosystem. There is much work to do, and we’re excited to put our shoulder under it and work on it.

IKEA Trådfri first impressions

Warm white lights
Warm white lights
Since I’ve been playing with various home automation technologies for some time already, I thought I’d also start writing about it. Be prepared for some blogs about smart lighting, smart home and related technologies.

Most recently, I’ve gotten myself a few items from IKEA new product range of smartlight. It’s called trådfri (Swedish for wireless). These lights can be remote-controlled using a smartphone app or other kinds of switches. These products are still fairly young, so I thought I’d give them a try. Overall. the system seems well thought-through and feels fairly high-end. I didn’t notice any major annoyances.

First Impressions

Trådfri hub and dimmer
Trådfri hub and dimmer

My first impressions are actually pretty good. Initially, I bought a hub which is used to control the lights centrally. This hub is required to be able to use the smartphone app or update the firmware of any component (more on that later!). If you just want to use one of the switches or dimmers that come separately, you won’t need the hub.
Setting everything up is straight-forward, the documentation is fine and no special skills are needed to install these smartlights. Unpacking unfortunately means the usual fight with blister packaging (will it ever stop?), but after that, a few handy surprises awaited me. What I liked:
Hub hides cables
Hub hides cables

  • The light is nice and warm. The GU10 bulbs i got give 400 lumens and are dimmable. For my taste, they could be a bit darker at the lower end of the scale, but overall, the light feels comfy warm and not too cold, but not too yellow either. The GU10 bulbs I got are spec’ed at 2700 Kelvin. No visible flickering either.
  • Trådfri components are relatively inexpensive. A hub, dimmer and 4 warm-white GU10 bulbs set me back about 75€. It is way cheaper than comparable smartlights, for example Philips Hue. As needs are fairly individual exact prices are best looked up on IKEA’s website by yourself.
  • The hub has a handy cable storage function, you can roll up excessive cable inside the hub — a godsend if you want to have the slightest chance of preventing a spaghetti situation.
  • The hub is USB-powered, 1A power supply suffices, so you may be able to plug it into the USB port of some other device, or share a power supply.
  • The dimmer can be removed from the cradle. The cradle can be stuck on any flat surface, it doesn’t need additional cabling, and you can easily take out the dimmer and carry it around.
  • The wireless technology used is ZigBee, which is a standard thing and also used by other smarthome technologies, most notably, Philips Hue. I already own (and love) some Philips Hue lights, so in theory I should be able to pair up the Trådfri lights with my already existing Hue lights. (This is a big thing for me, I don’t want to have different lighting networks around in my house, but rather concert the whole lighting centrally.)

Pairing IKEA Trådfri with Philips Hue

Let’s call this “work in progress”, meaning, I haven’t yet been able to pair a Trådfri bulb with my Hue system. I’ll dig some more into it, and I’m pretty sure I’ll make it work at some point. If you’re interested in combining Hue and Trådfri bulbs, I’ll suffice with a couple of pointers:

If you want to try this yourself, make sure you get the most recent lights from the store (the clerk was helpful to me and knowledgable, good advice there!). You’ll also likely need a hub at least for updating the firmware. If you’re just planning to use the bulbs together with a Hue system, you won’t need the hub later on, so that may seem like 30€ down the drain. Bit of a bummer, but depending on how many lights you’ll be buying, given the difference in price between IKEA and Philips, it may well be worth it.

\edit: After a few more tries, the bulb is now paired to the Philips Hue system. More testing will ensue, and I’ll either update this post, or write a new one.