Chromebook Trades Camera for WiFi Freedom

There are a number of companies now providing turn-key computers that meet the Free Software Foundation’s criteria for their “Respects Your Freedom” certification. This means, in a general sense, that the computer is guaranteed not to spy on you or otherwise do anything else you didn’t explicitly ask it to. Unfortunately these machines often have a hefty premium tacked on, making it an unpleasant decision between privacy and performance.

Freedom-loving hacker [SolidHal] writes in to tell us about his quest to create a FSF-compliant laptop without breaking the bank. Based on a cheap Asus C201 Chromebook, his custom machine checks off all the appropriate boxes. The operating system was easy enough with an install of Debian, and the bootloader was rid of any Intel Management Engine shenanigans with a healthy dose of Libreboot. But there was one problem: the permanently installed WiFi hardware that required proprietary firmware. To remedy the issue, he decided to install an internal USB Wi-Fi adapter that has the FSF seal of approval.

As the Chromebook obviously doesn’t have an internal USB port, this was easier said than done. But as [SolidHal] is not the kind of guy who would want his laptop taking pictures of him in the first place, he had the idea to take the internal USB connection used by the integrated webcam and use that. He pulled the webcam out, studied the wiring, and determined which wires corresponded to the normal USB pinout.

The FSF approved ThinkPenguin Wi-Fi adapter he chose is exceptionally small, so it was easy enough to tuck it inside some empty space inside of the Chromebook. [SolidHal] just needed to solder it to the old webcam connection, and wrap it up in Kapton tape to prevent any possible shorts. The signal probably isn’t great considering the antenna is stuck inside the machine with all the noisy components, but it’s a trade-off for having a fully free and open source driver. But as already established, sometimes these are the kind of tough choices you have to make when walking in the righteous footsteps of Saint Ignucius.

Internal laptop modifications like this one remind us of the Ye Olden Days of Hackaday, when Eee PC modifications were all the rage and we still ran black and white pictures “taped” to the screen. Ah, the memories.

Free Software Foundation certifies hardware that Respects Your Freedom

The Free Sofware Foundation, the very same organization responsible for the GNU General Public License and open source advocacy on the part of the Free Software stalwart [Richard Stallman], has certified its first piece of hardware as Respecting Your Freedom.

This new certification goes far beyond the goals of Open Source Hardware. In addition to providing documentation, schematics, and design files, hardware certified as Respecting Your Freedom must meet much more stringent requirements.

Of course, all software used with RYF hardware must be Free Software, but the certification also carries with it a few more requirements. The source and CAD files must be provided, it must use formats unencumbered by closed licenses, and the hardware must not spy on the user.

The honor of the first RYF-certified piece of hardware goes to, of course, a 3D printer. It’s the AO-100 printer developed and sold by Aleph Objects, Inc., a.k.a. Lulzbot out of Colorado.

With so many Open Source Hardware projects coming down the pipe, it’s great to see a somewhat more militant organization (that’s a good thing!) such as the Free Software Foundation provide a certification process for hardware projects. Keep in mind this isn’t a ‘certified once and forget about it’ proposition; the FSF is willing to provide a bounty to encourage the public to report violations of RYF certification. Anything to keep them honest, right?