Screenshot from 2013-11-18 09:35:30I have in general always disliked websites or apps that insist on “sharing my contacts”. In principal I have no objection to using that information to help find my friends and colleagues on that particular service.

However it all becomes a bit grey when you ask where does it stop? I mean what happens after I’ve shared that information with you? How much of the information in my contacts will you use? Is it just the email and name or would it also include the birthday if I had that field filled out?

However with several hundred contacts in my address book and years of working in collaborative research sometimes I think I really do need to let services like LinkedIn access those contacts so that I can establish and maintain the best network I possibly can. But then again LinkedIn did get hacked and I know for certain my email address was taken since I get lots of spam on it. Fortunately for me it was an address just for LinkedIn and as soon as it was apparent that it had been compromised it was changed and deactivated. But what if that had been all my contacts email addresses as well? Scary thought.

So the only service I really let have access to my address book was Google and of late with all the NSA and advertisement/commercialisation of data I’ve been thinking and trying to reduce my dependency on that facility. It was nice being able to get all my contacts for my phone and computer (email, messaging, etc) to synchronise and update. But is there a way to do this without having my data out there in Google or anyone elses hands?

An Alternative Address Book Solution

Not a million years ago I got introduce to the OwnCloud project. Well I’d been wanting to host a Network Accessible Storage (NAS) - not to be confused with the NSA I had a Raspberry Pi and OwnCloud seemed the cleanest NAS solution. So I was even more impress when I discovered it also provided contacts, calendar and task synchronisation capability.

Bragg2So I started porting out my contacts from my Google Contacts to my NAS contacts and sure enough I even managed to keep some of the contact profile images as well. But then this is where the rot set in. As where my phone was happy with the contacts on OwnCloud Evolution via the Gnome Online Accounts (GOA) started to do strange stuff. It started to add ’\,’ escape characters to peoples names and to alter the phone numbers from work to other and well generally annoy me a lot.

I reported the bug and they quite promptly showed it was a duplicate and then shut it as a bug with OwnCloud not Evolution/GOA. So I reported it with OwnCloud who then shut it as a known issue and to be fixed in version 5.0.14 (the current release is 5.0.13).

I started to explore the address book in more detail on OwnCloud looking at the MySQL backend and trying to understand how the system was working. In short the database generates virtual vcf cards for each contact which is how the other programs interact with it via a webdav protocol. In my virtual vcf files I could finds lots of horrible looking “X-Evolution” lines and worse still “Google” URI and UID information with Google URLs.

I had enough and frustratedly I dumped my entire addressbook to a single vcf file. I then set to sed’ing out all the UID and google related lines. With this done and a few other housekeeping jobs I uploaded the modified fill back to my OwnCloud server which I had also purged all the details out of.

Looking at my new contacts in OwnCloud they all seemed lovely and perfect. I also uploaded some new profile pictures where some had gone missing and all in all it wasn’t looking too bad.  Looking at the new contacts on my phone I could tell tBragg4he images uploaded to OwnCloud via its web interface as the picture quality had dropped compared from existing contacts. Which was a shame. But the phone seemed ok.

With that done it was time to let the computer see the new address book and well now I wish I hadn’t! Because as soon as it did it duplicated all the contacts creating versions with ’\,’ versions without pictures and sometimes four or five copies of the same contact? I have no idea why nor how to purge out all the information from the local address book. I cleared out the “.local/share/evolution/addressbook” directory but no joy. It seems to be some sort of odd caching issue I think? As those new contacts do not exists on the OwnCloud version? But how or why it is happening I do not know.

Address Book Hell

Bragg3So right now I am in address book hell. My computer doesn’t read fields present in my address book so some contacts are blank until I look at them on OwnCloud and see that they are not. It is very frustrating. The Evolution contacts interface does not have the same level of depth that the GOA interface has.  Evolution shows each address book source separately and still even by doing this it is making an utter mess of things.

For now I am hanging fire and waiting for the new update to OwnCloud and hoping that helps fix things. I’m also looking for alternate contact and calendar services that I can host on my Pi. I’ve thought about putting Horde on there. I used to use Horde back in the day but I’ve got a horrible feeling that I would just end up with three mutilated versions of my contacts in Gnome/Evolution and be even more unhappy.

And those wondering about LinkedIn well I manually search and add. It is a lot slower but perhaps it retains my contacts security or at least their privacy more than if I just showed all.