Cairo - Egypt

Freetube – doing it the most privacy-preserving Qubes OS-way

Hackaday.com recently had an article about a new application called “FreeTube” that tries to give you back some privacy while using youtube. Well – I’m not a strong youtube user and use it very rarely, but wanted to quickly demonstrate the strong value-add of Qubes OS as a daily-use OS in combination with whonix in order to create a privacy-preserving version of FreeTube.

What is FreeTube?

FreeTube is an open source desktop YouTube player built with privacy in mind. Use YouTube without advertisements and prevent Google from tracking you with their cookies and JavaScript. Available for Windows, Mac & Linux thanks to Electron.

Problem Statement

Youtube tracks your behaviors as soon as you visit the website (and beyond). FreeTube tries to address this by:

“FreeTube is private in the sense that it doesn’t track your viewing habits or make a profile based on your interests. FreeTube does not learn based on your subscriptions or searches.”

The problem with FreeTube is, that your original IP is still delivered to youtube.com while trackers on the application level are managed by the application itself (e.g. cookies etc.). See the FAQ for further information here:

Because you must connect to YouTube to stream the video, your IP is sent to their servers. It is recommended that you use some sort of VPN (or you can use the built in proxy settings) in order to avoid having your IP sent to YouTube servers.

The following DNS requests demonstrate this:
DNS requests for youtube.com from the FreeTube application

So this is something that you want to prevent as well. FreeTube recommends to use TOR according to their help pages here. We will do this now step-by-step in a few minutes via Qubes OS and the whonix-sys gateway.

Install FreeTube on Fedora-31

First, I created a temporary VM based on Fedora-31 – you could name it “FreeTubeVM”.

Within the VM, download the application here and install the FreeTube application:

Install FreeTube package

Now, start the application, test it and since your FreeTubeVM is connected to your standard sys-firewall, your original IP will leak to youtube in case you use FreeTube.

[user@FreeTubeVM ~]$ wget -qO- ifconfig.co

This is something that we don’t want and we could get this fixed via the installation of TOR into the VM.

However, the smarter move is to use the already existing sys-whonix gateway and then redirect the FreeTubeVM traffic via this one. This should give us a high probability, that none of the traffic leaks via “traditional” channels.

Using sys-whonix

Now bring up your sys-whonix gateway:

dom0: qvm-start sys-whonix

And change the netvm of our FreeTubeVM to the sys-whonix gateway (or use the GUI for doing so):

dom0: qvm-prefs FreeTubeVM netvm sys-whonix

Check in your VM whether a TOR IP is assigned – CLI will not work via ifconfig.co since they use captchas for TOR-based IPs.

Now start your FreeTube application and enjoy youtube in a more privacy-preserving way.

Conclusion

This setup does not take more than 3 minutes to be set up on Qubes due to the pre-existence of sys-whonix. Furthermore, you don’t overload your local VMs with additional, individual TOR installations and in case you don’t trust the application too much, you can isolate it in an own VM (or review the code here ;)) without exposing additional VMs.

Again – Qubes OS is a great OS for these kind of tasks.

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