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Does the gift you're giving your loved ones put someone else in control?

The COVID-19 pandemic has made us more reliant on technology than ever, which is a compelling reason to think carefully about the choices we're making during the gift-giving season. Is that "smart assistant" smart enough to respect your friend or family member's freedom? Do new gaming consoles like the PlayStation 5 restrict more than they entertain? Does that shiny gadget come at a cost much higher than its price tag?

When we allow proprietary software created by Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and countless other companies to handle our basic computing tasks, we put an enormous amount of power in their hands, power which they constantly exploit. It's only through using free software, and devices running free software, that we can seize this power back.

Freedom is the gift that keeps on giving

Letting your loved ones know that you respect their privacy and freedom too much to cave in for the newest Apple or Google device is a great gift in itself, and one that you can feel good about.

Tell your friends

Use the hashtag #UserFreedom on social media sites like Mastodon, GNU social, or Twitter. You might get a gift out of it yourself!

Unleash your advocacy

Your fight for freedom doesn't have to end at home. Use this printable version of the guide to spread the word.

Support free software

Donate to our suggested charities.

Smartphones

Purism Librem 5
Purism Librem 5

Get it from

Purism

    Why it's cool: While we're still waiting to get our hands on one, this device looks promising. We're giving it a tentative recommendation because the company has publicly committed to doing the right things for prioritizing user freedom and privacy, and because we have evaluated and endorsed the operating system it will run.

    Considering that many people around the world use a mobile phone as their only Internet-enabled device, it's important to have confidence that your mobile phone isn't "listening in" on you to make more money for advertisers.

    (Like many companies, Purism has made financial contributions to the FSF's work, but that is not a consideration when deciding what products we list in this Guide.)

  • Instead of Android or iOS, the Librem 5 runs the PureOS distribution of the GNU/Linux operating system. The FSF has carefully vetted PureOS's commitment to user freedom with our guidelines for fully free systems.
  • Comes equipped with physical killswitches for the microphone, GPS, and Wi-Fi connections, making snitching on your whereabouts a physical impossibility.
  • Please note that the cellular modem still contains nonfree baseband firmware. This nonfree software does not have access to the main CPU or memory. The device can be used for other purposes without the baseband firmware. We list it here because of the ubiquity of cell phones and the fact that this is the best option of which we're currently aware.
Stay away from: iPhone
  • It's not just Siri that's creepy: all Apple devices contain software that's hostile to users. Although they claim to be concerned about user privacy, they don't hesitate to put their users under surveillance.
  • Apple prevents you from installing third-party free software on your own phone, and they use this control to censor apps that compete with or subvert Apple's profits.
  • Apple has a history of exploiting their absolute control over their users to silence political activists and help governments spy on millions of users.

Personal Computers

X200 with GNU/Linux
X200

    Why it's cool: The X200 is one of the few home user devices that's able to run fully free software from top to bottom. Starting with an attractive user interface and extending through the microcode (or "BIOS") at the heart of the system, this laptop is powered by software that takes your freedom and privacy seriously.

    While it may be a little vintage, what it lacks in speed it makes up for in utmost respect to user freedom. It's so good that it's the laptop that's most frequently used in the FSF office!

  • Runs the FSF-endorsed Trisquel operating system and Libreboot firmware.
  • Durable hardware that's meant to be easy to repair.
  • Created by small businesses that replace restrictive components from a stock laptop.
Stay away from: MacBook Air and MacBook Pro
  • Want to graduate from the X200? The D8 is higher performing while still just as respectful of your freedom.
  • Has room for three hard drives and four custom case fans.
  • Despite being a mid-tower PC, it runs quietly, allowing you to surf the Web or code in peace.
Desktops running Microsoft Windows

Cool Devices

  • The perfect present for the cryptogeek in your life.
  • FST-01SZ is a tiny USB 32-bit computer based on a free (as in freedom) hardware design, and newly updated by its designer.
  • NeuG is an implementation of a true random number generator (TRNG) for GD32F103 MCU.
  • Great for all-free-software installations on laptops with incompatible Wi-Fi hardware.
  • Certified as part of our Respects Your Freedom (RYF) program.
  • If you use the X200 laptop listed in this Guide, an adapter like this won't be necessary.
  • Designed to complement your existing router by providing a VPN that enhances privacy and security and circumvents network controls.
  • Designed for easy setup.
  • As free as can be: runs the FSF-endorsed LibreCMC operating system on a product that is RYF-certified.

Books, Music, and Video

a shelf of books, with two layers, organized by color.

Books

DRM-free Ebooks

    There are plenty of places to get your literature fix without the shackles of Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). We're highlighting some publishers and shops you should patronize below!

  • Leanpub is an author-driven ebook Web site encouraging people to "publish early, publish often."
  • Libreture provides a catalog of DRM-free ebook publishers, and a storage solution for all of your digital books and comics.
  • Lektu provides you with an array of DRM-free media in Spanish.
  • No Starch Press offers "the finest in geek entertainment," with educational books on a variety of programming topics.
  • Smashwords is the world's largest distributor of indie ebooks.
  • Many free (as in freedom) educational books are available through sites like FLOSS Manuals, a supporter of the International Day Against DRM 2019.
  • Looking to buy paper books? Check out the GNU Press Shop for your technical manuals and documentation needs.
Stay away from: Amazon
  • Amazon is one of the most notorious DRM offenders. They use this Orwellian control over their devices and services to spy on users and keep them trapped in their walled garden.
  • Read more about the dangers of DRM through our Defective by Design campaign.

Music

DRM-free Music

    Despite the efforts of companies like Spotify, we can still dance to music in the free world. Thanks to the artists, producers, record labels, and shops highlighted on on our Guide to DRM-free Living, the rights-respecting options are nearly endless. Check out music from great labels and artists, including:

  • All of the music on Bandcamp is DRM-free and comes in a variety of formats, including patent-free ones like FLAC and Ogg Vorbis.
  • Dischord Records, a classic punk label providing music since 1980.
  • Emusic offers DRM-free MP3 downloads, providing a local alternative to streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music.
  • Folkways, providing digital downloads of the world's best folk and children's music, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.
    Stay away from: Spotify, Apple Music, and all other major streaming services
  • Spotify is only one of many offenders when it comes to putting DRM in music: all major streaming services do this, with the support of big record labels.
  • In addition to streaming music encumbered by DRM, people who want to use Spotify are required to install additional proprietary software. Even Spotify's client for GNU/Linux relies on proprietary software.
  • Apple Music is no better, and places heavy restrictions on the music streamed through the platform.

Video

DRM-free video

In the last year, many people have unfortunately become more dependent on streaming media. But it's important to remember how streaming services can deprive you of important rights. "Dis-services" like Disney+ and Netflix mandate the use of a hardware-level backdoor called Widevine, giving them permanent access into deep components of your machine.

Widevine prohibits these services from running on many older devices, leaving families who can't afford a new computer or a new television out in the cold.

Try these video services and sites instead:

  • Visit the Moving Internet Archive for free (as in freedom) classic films and art projects.
  • The Blender Open Movies project has a collection of computer-animated films that were made entirely with Blender, an enormously popular free software tool.
  • Visit the Guide to DRM-free Living for more suggestions on how to stay a film lover and keep your freedom at the same time.

Stay away from: Netflix

Help wanted!

In this section of our guide, we've highlighted some of the types of devices where there just isn't a choice on the market that actually respects your freedom. We hope you'll take this list as inspiration for the free software projects you contribute to and support.

In need of development
  • Cameras
  • eBook readers
  • Home appliances
  • Fitness trackers
  • Smartwatches
  • Video gaming consoles
Stay away from these devices:
  • Internet of Things connected home appliances, smart speakers, and virtual assistants are little more than spying devices brought into your home. These include Ring, Amazon Alexa, Amazon Echo, Google Home, Nest, Ecobee, and Sonos products.
  • The Nintendo Switch is a popular holiday gift, but few realize that Nintendo has utter control over the platform and offers little insight into how it really works -- or how it might be spying on you and your family. Not much has changed since our advice to brick them before they bricked the Nintendo DS.

Recommended organizations for holiday donations

fsf

The Giving Guide is brought to you by the Free Software Foundation. Our associate membership program is the heart of the FSF's work campaigning for computer user freedom worldwide. We've been fighting for digital freedoms since 1985, and have no plans of stopping. Will you make your voice heard by joining today?

April
Creative Commons
Tor Foundation
Wikimedia

Promotion details

Companies, distributors, and makers of freedom-friendly gadgets want to make it easier for you to give gifts that you feel good about. Check out these discounts and promotions.

  • GNU Press Shop: 5% discount on all items using the coupon code GIVEFREELY. Code expires on December 31st. As always, FSF members get a 20% discount. Together with this code, your associate membership could net you 25% off!
  • Vikings: 10% discount on all products and services between now and December 31, 2020. Help the FSF: Vikings will also make a donation to the FSF for each product purchased using the coupon code LIBREFEST.
  • ThinkPenguin: 5% discount on all products is available to FSF members.

Licenses

This page by the Free Software Foundation is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 license.

The graphics and photos used on this page have been modified by the Free Software Foundation and are licensed separately under the following terms: