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Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Freenet

This the latest on my series on how to use the internet without government interference - now a pressing issue in the UK, China and Australia and probably coming soon to a country near you.

What is Freenet?

Freenet is is free software which lets you anonymously share files, browse and publish "freesites" (web sites accessible only through Freenet) and chat on forums, without fear of censorship.

It is a proper dark cloud. If you want to share material online and you don't want to be identifiable as the source, this is the software for you.

You would want to use this if you were a member of an outlawed opposition political party or if you wanted to post other material that might get you in trouble because it's against censorship laws. This frees you from having to rely on foreign servers who might comply with requests from your government to remove material or reveal your identity. There s no takedown order on Freenet.

You can also use freenet as a way to share data with friends and collaborators without the source of that data being easily traceable. And it offers peer-to-peer website hosting - so it scales automatically to meet demand. Which, oddly, means it's free web hosting.

If some of this seems dodgy, remember that you should have a right to anonymity and know also, that Google has decided to fund some development on the project, which could be taken to further confirm that it's a an entirely legit use of the internet.

Note that running a node helps out others who are using the project, even if you're not actively using it yourself.

How to use it

I'm on a mac, so I can write up what I did. They have windows documentation on their website as well as general documentation.

First, I downloaded the installer. Then I ran it. After it installed, it opened in my web browser and then told me I should use a second web browser to connect. I normally use Chrome, but for my second browser, I use Camino because it's lightweight, but configurable. However, I need to remember to clear the cache when I'm done.

There are some questions, I went with the defaults and with "normal." Then I got to the home page, which is at http://127.0.0.1:8888/. This page is on my own computer. At the bottom are buttons to shut down the freenet application which is also running on my computer or to restart it.

If you have shut down freenet (or rebooted) and want to start it again, go to the freenet folder and run StartFreenet.command by double click on it. That should work.

Ok, so when I got to the home page I clicked on the Ultimate FreeNet Index. And I noticed that it's slow. And also, the content looks very 1999 (the simplicity makes it load faster) and it's a teeny bit dull.

Alas, well, defeating censorship isn't always glamorous. If you want this to be more secure (and to share interesting content with people you know), you should find your friends on here. You would add them at http://127.0.0.1:8888/addfriends/. At the bottom of that page is your reference link. Share that (securely!) with your friends and they would put it in the box above. There's some documentation on how to do that on this page.

Once you have friends on it, you can send them messages and files securely, from the friends page, so it's good for just trading stuff around. Check it out. If you want to be my friend, let me know. It's not exactly social networking, but it's still cool.

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