The best apps & software for NoSurf


#1

The problem with our smartphones and our PC’s is that there are no constraints on how we use them. Any other tools that we can see as being remotely dangerous have design features in them that prevent us from misusing them. Think the safety on guns. With the internet, we’re allowed to do whatever we want and there’s no way to protect ourselves.

To be fair, the main problem is that Tim Berners Lee, the research team at Xerox PARC, Steve Jobs, or the guy who invented email could never have foreseen all the potential ramifications and negative use cases of their creations.

Thankfully a lot of developers in the community have responded by creating software that helps us prevent a lot of the negative use cases of the internet. I’ve listed my favorites below, feel free to share any you might have discovered or ask any questions about the software.
These are my recommendations as of today:

PC & Mac

Time Tracking

RescueTime was the first “holy shit I’m an internet addict” moment I had. It revealed to me that I spent almost 7 hours a day on reddit and youtube. It gave me the motivation to actually block these sites with web blockers. I now use it for gentle nudges to remind if I’ve gone too far off my “productivity zone”.

Blockers

  • Cold Turkey
    Cold Turkey is great if you want to block specific sites like youtube, reddit, or facebook. The paid version also allows you to set up schedules to block things in advance. (I think it was worth the money)

  • K9 Web Protection
    K9 is great if you want more power than Cold Turkey and want to block entire categories of websites like “news” or “shopping”. Unfortunately it’s not the most user friendly software for self moderation.

Linux

  • Chomper
    This was PM’ed to me by a redditor, haven’t used it personally. It seems like the only option on Linux.

iPhone

Moment is like Rescuetime for your phone. Timeguard let’s you block apps like chrome, instagram etc.

Android

Quality time tracks your use and also let’s you set breaks away from your phone with apps to allow as exceptions. It’s actually really useful, I just wish the override period for the breaks was longer. The max right now is only 5 minutes, which means if you really wanted to, you could override the break period to get back into your phone.


What Chrome Extensions do you like?
#2

I can share some iOS specific restriction tips! (At least for iOS 11+)

If you open your Settings and go to General > Restrictions, you can enable restrictions for specific things on the phone.
You will be asked to set a code, maybe it’s helpful for someone else to set it. And then you can set what specific actions you allow, and which you don’t allow - which can be great in limiting Safari, Installing Apps, etc. As an example of how you can use this, you may not use Safari anymore and redownloading apps that you’ve deleted (apps that further your addition, for example) can’t be redownloaded.
Further down, under ‘Allowed Content’ you can only allow specific websites (Websites > Specific Websites Only) and completely ban apps from your phone, if you’d like to (Apps > Dont Allow Apps).

There’s another less useful option, but I still want to mention it in case someone finds some good use for it: Guided Access.

Guided Access is for when you want to prevent yourself (or someone else) from exiting the current app, and you can also set a time limit!
This means if you have a really useful app on your phone you should really focus on, you can prevent yourself from exiting to check social media, and you can also set yourself a time limit. Maybe you can get creative and set this to a really horrible app you don’t want to use, so you’re stuck with it, or something.
What you can also do with it, is to tap distracting elements in the app/on the website and Guided Access will disable them for the duration, and you can disable specific buttons.

You can find it at Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access (scroll really far down to find it). Turn it on, let someone set a passcode (or set it yourself), and enable “Accessibility Shortcut”.
Now go to the app where you a) want to stay in, b) want a time limit to be set, or c) want distracting elements to be gone. Then triple tap the Home Button and it’ll either give you the option to open Guided Access or enables it automatically. There, you can circle the distracting elements, and also set options. In the options, you can disable certain buttons and elements, and also set the timer. If you press start, the Guided Access starts and you will only be able to end it if you exceed the timer, or you put in the set passcode. This only works for one app at a time, since you can’t exit.


#3

edit: updated post with some descriptions about each tool.

@anthymn Really cool stuff about the iPhone. I didn’t know you could block specific apps, this is great because the only real problem I have with is chrome and reddit. I can use everything else fairly well.


#4

On android:

I would recommend ( OFFTIME ) Pro version as an alternative to Quality Time, just for the feature of scheduling and the option where there is no way to disable it, therefore making you commit to your promise. I’m setting offtime at 8.00 PM - 7.00 PM and this is successful to wean my internet usage (at least until I was sick and hospitalized for 10 days with absolutely nothing to do). This software is a little bugged in that if you leave the phone dead for a day (maybe it is when the profile schedule is initialized), the block doesn’t start. So, maybe set your allowed schedule to 2.00 AM to 3.00 AM on sunday and block all day for others? If you set the allowed time in the middle of the night, that will give you serious hassle to open the block.

For launcher, I’d recommend T-UI, with autocomplete option off. Well… if you are not comfortable with Command Line Interface, maybe this one is not for you. This launcher will make you type every app’s name to launch it, as long as you change the config to disable autocomplete. You can lock the app too (even though the lock is weak, I hope the developer will think of adding password lock or TOTP lock to apps), and make a hassle of yourself opening the app using the command “apps -frc [INSERT APP NAME HERE]”. For some shortcut, you can add alias, so you can type w to launch whatsapp. Since the apps list is not displayed unless you use the command “apps -ls”, some app in your phone will just get forgotten if not used enough, so it might be the right time for you to delete the apps too when you review your app usage. As theming, there is theme for the text. But I’d just take the easy way and set my phone to grayscale. Less hassle that way.

As others in /r/nosurf have pointed out, app lock such as domobile applock is necessary to lock your browser for android (as the only alternative for this is root, and this may brick your phone) if they don’t have built-in locking mechanism (Thank ASUS for zenfone). It is better if you put this file in password manager or give it to your trusted one.

Also. Make a habit to log out from google play store and add password generated in password manager and TOTP to your google account. You may not get your app immediately updated, but that is never a problem for me. I’ve sync’d my software update to whatsapp and grab (SEA taxi service), as it is the only app that doesn’t work after a month or so. The reasoning for this is that it would give you a momentary hassle of opening password manager, typing the password and opening the OTP client, in which you can have additional time whether you need it or not. If you’re determined though, that is a matter of willpower.


#5

I’ve collected iOS and Android apps for this forum/website and the subreddit. Let me know if some of them are trash or if I should add some; I tried to research a lot and test most of them, but I didn’t manage all. So I included all the ones I could find with good reviews or that me or my girlfriend have personally tested.


Free Smartphone apps – either to track screentime, or block phone/specific apps, set time limits, raise productivity etc.

(Note: Some of these apps force you to make an account. They also often offer a premium subscription with even more options. On iOS, some of these apps need Location Services (and 3G outside) enabled so iOS doesn’t close the app in the background and stop tracking phone usage. This might limit your privacy and battery life.)
Price and availability may vary with location.

Feel free to try multiple to see which one fits best.

iOS:

  • Moment / Link
    Tracks how much you use the devices you set it up with daily, and which apps you use and shows statistics. Lets you set daily limits. Also offers „Moment Family“ for families practicing NoSurf, or parents looking to implement this for their children. Coming soon for Android.
    Avoid the app „In Moment“, they’re an impostor only offering a subscription.
  • Space (previously known as BreakFree ) / Link
    Offers to let you set goals and limits for your smartphone use. Tracks the last 60 days and lets you see your progress via statistics and analytics. Has other tools to block your smartphone for a distraction free time as well, like a timer and a notification blocker. Alerts you about your use and encourages you to stop.
    They say they offer a personalized program based on the users own phone habits.
  • Flipd / Link
    Challenges you to unplug during work or school, and reminds you to stay on task. Tracks the time you saved. Lets you schedule reminders for whenever you need to be reminded to unplug.
    Offers a Full Lock, which hides all distracting apps for a time you decide, and can sync with your calendar as well. This is interesting for teachers and professors who want to implement this in their lessons and lectures!
  • TimeGuard/ Link
    Lets you choose apps and websites to block. Currently reliant on the apps and websites being added to the app’s list, but the list is getting bigger with each update and you can request some as well. Then you can enable blocking, and either add scheduled blocking pauses, or tap „Pause Blocking“ and set the duration. You can only change the blocked apps when the blocking is paused, and you can also set a timer between the blockings so that you can’t unblock again immediately (default is 1 hour between the unblockings). You can only completely disable the app in its settings when a timer of 5 minutes runs down. To do all this, it creates a VPN on your phone so that each app you block is blacklisted and doesn’t get a connection.
  • Onward / Link
    UCLA based clinical advisers were consulted in the creation of this app. Uses a personalized AI coach and forces users to confront the amount of time they’re spending on the phone. Screentime tracker, filter & blocker. Offers different modes so you can quit cold turkey or gradually decrease your time. Lets you set a maximum use time per day and also offers specific educational content. Optional parental control part in this app via accountability sharing.
  • (There is also the Forest app for iOS but it’s only the premium version and not free like on Android!)

Android

  • Offtime / Link
    Track and customize the way you receive notifications and limit phone usage. Create profiles to block your calls, texts, notifications and restrict access to certain apps. Offers setting exceptions of people that can still reach you, and offers an activity log and analytics of your phone time. Only listed as for Android here because the iOS version is not free and also extremely bad.[/SIZE]
  • Space (previously known as BreakFree) / Link
    Offers to let you set goals and limits for your smartphone use. Tracks the last 60 days and lets you see your progress via statistics and analytics. Has other tools to block your smartphone for a distraction free time as well, like a timer and a notification blocker. Alerts you about your use and encourages you to stop.
    They say they offer a personalized program based on the users own phone habits.[/SIZE]
  • Flipd / Link
    Challenges you to unplug during work or school, and reminds you to stay on task. Tracks the time you saved. Lets you schedule reminders for whenever you need to be reminded to unplug.
    Offers a Full Lock, which hides all distracting apps for a time you decide, and can sync with your calendar as well. This is interesting for teachers and professors who want to implement this in their lessons and lectures!
  • AppDetox / Link
    Lets you set your own restrictions on an app-per-app basis. Sends reminders when you break your own rules. Lets you set a pin code to protect your own rules and settings.
  • Stay focused / Link
    Lets you set daily limits on apps, to the selected time and specified time intervals even. While using one of those restricted apps, you can opt to see a timer which shows how much time you have left for the day. Also gives you the option to block incoming notifications so you don’t get distracted.
  • Forest / Link
    This is free on Android while iOS only offers the premium version. It lets you set a timer for how long you want to stop using your phone, and lets you plant a fictional tree. The more time you don’t use your phone, the more trees grow. If you do go on your phone and exit the app, the forest becomes sick and trees die. The premium service offers more options like phone usage tracking and Forest-ing together as well.
  • HelpMeFocus / Link
    Lets you block apps and set a timer, offers different app blocker schedule profiles to enable/disable quickly. You can set motivating quotes to inspire you every time you try to access a blocked app. SuperStrictMode prevents the uninstallation of the app so you have a harder time getting around the blocking.
  • QualityTime / Link
    Offers indepth analysis of your smartphone activities by tracking total usage, screen unlocks, and individual apps with reporting options via a diary/timeline type of style. Lets you set time restrictions and schedule breaks.

Note: It might also be beneficial to look at parental control apps for the following reasons:

  • Possibly even better blocking and filtering of content
  • A friend or family member you trust can set it up with their and your phone
  • Accountability partners can help set it up for eachother if possible with the app
  • NoSurfers with family and children can use this or the above mentioned apps who offer parental/group/family restriction

Many of them cost money though or can be a privacy concern through location tracking (if enabled in the specific app). Just search for ‘parental control’ in your Google Play Store/App Store.


#6

Another round of Software resources:

From NoSurfers:

  • Cloudy: Grayscale extension for Google Chrome made by /u/philstudent123 (LINK)
  • Greyscale The Web: Grayscale extension for Google Chrome made by /u/devastora (LINK)
  • Chomper: Linux internet blocker with proxies and whitelisting made by /u/MiltonWatterson (LINK) (My girlfriend tested this and it works well!)
  • Latitude: Browser extension for Google Chrome that removes distractions and gives website a clean, less addictive look made by /u/FormerMajor (LINK)
  • Gnothi: Android App that tracks usage, allows goals and reminder notifications made by /u/gnothiseauton_life (LINK)
  • Get Off Your Phone!: Android app that lets you set a limit for how many times you are allowed to check your phone, and punishes you if you go over the limit. Made by /u/Camus145 (LINK)

Others

Browser: Chrome

  • Todobook: Browser Extension that turns the Facebook and LinkedIn feed into your ToDo list (LINK)
  • StayFocusd: Browser Extension that lets you limit time on websites (LINK)
  • Morphine: Extension that turns website time into a currency that slowly depletes (LINK)
  • WasteNoTime: Works like StayFocusd but with more customizability (LINK)
  • Crackbook: Delays access to websites; you have to wait x seconds for the content to appear (LINK)
  • Counter: Shows you an overlay with how many times you visited the site, and increases delay to access the website accordingly (LINK)
  • StrictWorkflow: A Pomodoro timer that gives you 25mins of blocking, 5 minutes break, and then 25 minutes blocking again (LINK)
  • SimpleBlocker: Website blocker with password option (LINK)
  • BlockSite: Another website blocker (LINK)
  • Blacklist: Another website blocker (LINK)
  • DistractBlock: Website blocker with timer for temporary blocking (LINK)

Browser: Firefox

  • LeechBlock: Website blocker (LINK)
  • BlockSite: Website blocker (LINK)
  • TomatoClock: Pomodoro Timer (LINK)
  • ImpulseBlocker: Website blocker (LINK)
  • MinimaList: Minimal clean to-do list in your browser (LINK)
  • Easy Image Blocker: Block image visuals on websites; with whitelist, different modes etc. (LINK)
  • No Youtube Comments: Blocks comment section, but also has the option to block recommended videos, related videos, sidebar etc. (LINK)
  • Chrome Store Foxified: Install this to use Chrome extensions on this list! (LINK)

Browser: Opera

  • BlockSite (LINK)
  • Fast Image Blocker: For anyone who wants to block all visuals on websites (LINK)

Browser: Safari

  • WasteNoTime: Website blocker with a lot of customization (LINK)
  • DistractionFree: Interesting for writers - hides all distractions in Google Docs to just write (LINK)
  • Forest: Block websites and while not visiting those, trees grow. If you do visit, they die (LINK)
  • SurfClock: Time tracker for the browser (LINK)

Websites:


#7

Chrome extension I found:

Intent (LINK)


#8

All Xiaomi Android phones have built-in app lock. I have been able to get around every single third-party (non system app) app lock for Android that there is, so I need it built-in. On the plus side, Xiaomi phones are inexpensive. To disable apps on Xiaomi for extra protection, use an app called Hidden Android Settings (and then promptly delete it afterwards), as the Google Search app cannot be locked.

Netgear routers have content filtering and website blocking. In addition, you can set up specific times for the filtering, and a timer for the router to go off at a certain time at night.


#9

I tried a lot and are happy with the pro version of cold turkey. Reading this thread i also discovered that there is an update. Now the application feels smoother.


#10

Another one:

Tunnel Focus by Reddit user ChipThien for Google Chrome - an extension that removes distractions like the recommended videos from Youtube, the news feed from Facebook, and clutter from Gmail (LINK)


#11

A new one by Reddit user hojdog:

Clar - News Feed Eradicator App for Safari on iPhone and iPad (LINK)
Premium version includes blockers for Instagram, Twitter, Reddit & more.


#12

One thing that I found helpful for Android smartphones is downloading F-Droid and using the open source apps available there – the open source options for Reddit, for example, are considerably less addictive than the official app. I have been downloading from there the apps I want to use and complementing with Yalp to download from the Play Store without using a Google Account, for privacy reasons) for those which do not have a good open source option.


#13

A good way to block distracting websites on android phone without root:

Download the adblocker DNS66 here. It’s not on the play store, so grab it from the github or the f-droid link I linked.

Write a hosts file, call it myfilter.txt or whatever. This is what mine looks like:

127.0.0.1 localhost
::1 localhost

0.0.0.0 www.youtube.com
0.0.0.0 m.youtube.com
0.0.0.0 www.reddit.com
0.0.0.0 m.reddit.com

Now save that on your phone. Open the DNS66 app, make sure it is running, go to the HOSTS tab, and press the + button. There you can add your filter, and make sure to choose the action as DENY. Now you’re set to go! For me, thats enough, but if you want to make it completely weasel-proof you can lock the app with some app locker.

My personal technique to not waste time on Facebook (both laptop and mobile):
Laptop:
I had tried using things like coldturkey before, only allowing me to go on facebook after say 8pm. The issue I had with this was that I would spend the whole time I had allocated, from 8-10 on facebook. And from like 6pm onwards I was just always thinking about getting on facebook, and was just anxious about waiting for 8pm to roll over. I couldn’t completely block fb because of events, facebook login with other services, looking up certain fb pages at times etc. What I’ve found more effective for me is the disable fb newsfeed plugin (firefox, but there are chrome versions). This works way better for me because instead of blocking the desirable FB and giving me a taste every day for a couple hours to keep me hooked, this just makes facebook boring. There’s literally nothing to do. AND I don’t feel any compulsion to remove the addon, because all the features I need in facebook are still there. I can still manually look at people’s profiles, FB pages, events, run my own page etc. There were a couple of meme pages that I completely adored and really regretted blocking. With this system, if I want, I can go directly to that FB page and look at their posts. So, for me anyway, this was way more effective. :slight_smile:

Phone:
First get rid of the app obviously. If you don’t want to ever touch facebook, block it using the above method. If you sometimes find yourself needing facebook for whatever reason on the go occasionally, below is a method that works well for me.
download firefox focus app. This is optional, but makes it more weasel-proof since passwords aren’t stored on it.
Use a password managed like lastpass, and make your fb password a randomly generated one that you couldn’t remember, and save it in your password manager.
Now every time you need to check facebook, you have to go through the rigmarole of logging into your password manager, copying the password, typing in your email, pasting the password, and then it only lasts for one sPhone:ession. Once you close the app, if you need to check something again, you have to repeat the process.


#14

Do any of these have a delay time before changes can be made? Pluckeye has this, but I find that program difficult. These filters etc. really are no good if we can just turn them off, no?


#15

They don’t, but you can lock the DNS66 app with an applocker, and give the password to someone/write in down and put it in an inconvenient location or something.


#16

I know that TimeGuard has a 5 minute delay before turning off the blocking, and you can also set delays for inbetween blocking pauses so that you can’t immediately pause the blocking again :slight_smile:


Just added a new Grayscale software to a post up top so things stay a bit more organized.


#17

If you set up K9 correctly, you can’t circumvent it. Here’s a how to: https://nosurf.org/2018/03/17/how-to-use-k9-to-secure-your-pc/


#18

Thank you for the responses. I will check out K9. I’m looking for something that cannot be changed until task is completed or delay time is up. And not have any easy work arounds and deactivates private browsing. I was using pluckeye then self control. The work around for those are ridiculously simple and easily done in one second. They also don’t block private browsers! What’s the point of these things then? Also, if you have other browsers on your machine, you can just use those. Does this make sense to anyone? I have an idea that might work, not sure. I’m on a mac.

  1. Delete Chrome and Firefox.
  2. Use “Waste No Time” the block all websites except my whitelist. (I won’t be able to DL another browser)
  3. Somehow turn of private browsing option or “allow” Waste No Time to be activated in Safari.
  4. Will not be able to change anything until I do their ridiculous task or the delay is up.

This would be much easier to do with Pluckeye, but Level 2 wont load on may Mac. You then have to enter all this stuff into a terminal to shut down the work arounds and private browsing.

Self Control, an extension for Chrome worked great, until I tested the work arounds. Again, way too easy.


#19

Another that may work to limit your internet usage, is to use TOTP. For this one, you had to have either keepass 2 with TOTP add on, or using your phone for TOTP generator. For linux user, there are tutorials to use TOTP as another means to gain access to administrator account, so this may apply for you too.

The setup is to use another TOTP application beside your main one, and activate two step verification. With this, you have to have your TOTP application with you. By locking your account with TOTP, and lock your phone from access except in the certain hours you allocate to browsing, you can limit yourself from accessing the forum before that hour pass.


#20

Recommending TOTP to lock your account on the internet, so that you’ll not be able to access them if you don’t have the TOTP generator.