Corporate news coverage pervades computer news and betrays siding with proprietors

Recently Richard Stallman, founder of the free software movement, spoke at Microsoft (presumably by invitation).

The power of proprietary software over the user remains unjust and a threat. Microsoft remains a chiefly proprietary software distributor. Any serious analysis of server-side computing would conclude that GNU/Linux is widely used and Microsoft Windows is not as widely used. But many tech people are not good political analysts and they still buy into the points Ziff-Davis started and ended their pro-corporate coverage with (a list of proprietary programs Microsoft now offers to run on a GNU/Linux system and claims that Microsoft’s “momentum” toward becoming “a true friend of open source” “is growing”). So whatever software freedom gains were won by running a wholly-free OS are easily lost to a politically naive admin’s choice of running proprietary software atop that free system. Some admins make this choice precisely because they don’t value software freedom (the freedom to run, inspect, share, and modify published computer software) for its own sake. They’ve bought into setting aside software freedom, just as the open source taught them to do.

Some key distinctions are still failing to be made by corporate media coverage and for easily understandable reasons:

  • Microsoft’s Mark Russinovich presumably heard what Stallman said at his talk (which was said to be a “mostly standard talk”). Stallman’s talk usually includes a clear description of how the free software movement he started predates the open source development methodology by over a decade and stands philosophically distinct as well (old essay, newer essay). Yet Russinovich wrote that Stallman’s talk is “OSS-related” (“OSS” being “open source software”) which is right in line with why the open source development methodology was started: corporate co-optation of a social movement that poses a real threat to proprietary software. That threat comes in part by challenging proprietary software’s unethical underpinnings.
  • Ziff-Davis’s article continues on this theme at the top and bottom of the article (as to be expected of corporate news which makes up the majority of computer news coverage:

    Each time Microsoft makes another open-source-related move these days, there are still always folks on Twitter or in comments on blog posts who caution that Microsoft hasn’t really changed and never will be a true friend of open source. This change in Microsoft didn’t happen overnight, but the momentum is growing.

  • Proprietors (including Microsoft) like “open source” instead of “free software” because open source doesn’t question proprietary control over the user. Open source poses no threat to proprietary power by questioning running proprietary software on OSes that respect a user’s software freedom (the freedoms to run, inspect, share, and modify published computer software).

Microsoft is much the same as it was before, only the PR campaign has changed from more honest namecalling (“Linux [sic] is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches“)—honest in that such language reveals what Microsoft actually considers principled competition to be—to appearing warmly welcoming (“Microsoft [heart symbol] Linux [sic]”). They dare not call a complete GNU/Linux OS with a name that mentions GNU (which it most likely is in both quotes) because that might bring software freedom to mind (I’ll bet Stallman mentioned this as this too is part of every talk he’s given on this topic for many years).

What Ziff-Davis called Stallman’s “distaste for Microsoft” is clearly understood to be serious and deeply cutting. Simply read or listen to Stallman’s principled objections; all of his talks and essays are based in the facts of how computers work and an ethical examination of how we ought to treat each other with computers. But in corporate media it’s necessary to downplay principled ethical examination in order to diminish the severity of the objection. After all, Ziff-Davis, like virtually all other computer news coverage out there, is corporate and sympathetic to “open source”.

Microsoft wants users to run a GNU/Linux system as a VM on top of Microsoft’s system as that helps Microsoft collect payments (licensing or rent, depending on the details of hosting) and, perhaps more importantly, spy on literally every bit of data that the user’s OS deals with. Spying is big business and spying directly tied to proprietary control over the user. Microsoft offers a service to help users host their VM on Microsoft-owned hardware (so-called “cloud computing”) too. Stallman, by comparison, explains what “cloud computing” actually means (as he may well have done at his Microsoft talk) and why you should only run VMs on free software systems you own and control.

The free software movement has its work cut out for it in terms of getting people to reject proprietary software on principle and in light of how users are (by design) treated unfairly with all proprietary software. Reality is making this job simultaneously harder and easier: there are more unignorable stories of harm from proprietary software than ever. This makes people’s lives harder and sometimes proprietary software is lethal. But there’s also so much education work to do with the public and reports of how proprietary software hurts people makes it a little easier to understand that this is not a phantom fear.

So nothing of substance has changed: ethics are too deeply rooted for tech to have an effect, and computing has only really changed in that more people are being offered computing services than ever before. Software proprietors are still unmotivated by the same principles that software freedom activists are. Microsoft’s changes are quite superficial and PR-related. The most important issue remains the same: The social harm of proprietary software continues apace.

Why proprietary software firms like “open source” and not “free software”

In 2016 Microsoft changed its stance from saying “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches” (said by then former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer) to “Microsoft ♥ Linux” (current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella). Ballmer later said that he no longer entirely agrees with his former words. Upon Microsoft’s choice to distribute its proprietary database program for GNU/Linux, Ziff-Davis wrote that “[Ballmer] said going to war with open source “made a ton of money” that still contributes to Microsoft’s revenue. But he said he now considers that the threat from Linux is over.”. In 2018 Microsoft bought GitHub.com, a website for hosting software projects and managing revisions of the software with Git, a free software program.

In 2019 Microsoft removed projects from GitHub which implemented algorithms to simulate removing clothing in pictures of clothed women. There were many such projects on GitHub, some derived from an application called “DeepNude”.

An unnamed GitHub spokesperson told vice.com (archive.fo copy)

We do not proactively monitor user-generated content, but we do actively investigate abuse reports. In this case, we disabled the project because we found it to be in violation of our acceptable use policy. We do not condone using GitHub for posting sexually obscene content and prohibit such conduct in our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines.

GitHub’s “sexually obscene” section of their guidelines reads:

Don’t post content that is pornographic. This does not mean that all nudity, or all code and content related to sexuality, is prohibited. We recognize that sexuality is a part of life and non-pornographic sexual content may be a part of your project, or may be presented for educational or artistic purposes. We do not allow obscene sexual content or content that may involve the exploitation or sexualization of minors.

It’s not clear what Microsoft means but apparently this is how Microsoft shows it loves the open source development methodology. And the open source development methodology does not apparently stand for software freedom (the freedom to run, inspect, share, and modify published computer software) or freedom of speech. GitHub decided that this speech is “sexually obscene” according to GitHub’s representative even though the program itself contains no “sexually obscene” information.

Microsoft associates itself as a distributor of “open source” (hence the existence of opensource.microsoft.com and their so-called “Open Source blog”) not “free software”. Microsoft is not alone in this, Google, for example, also chooses to align itself with supporting “open source”.


Why do proprietary software distributors choose to associate themselves with “open source” and not with “free software”?

Software proprietors tacitly tell us that there is a difference. The difference is that open source development methodology is amenable to the power of a proprietor and the free software social movement objects to that power as unjust.

When Microsoft restricts what kind of software one is allowed to develop using GitHub, they’re not calling anyone’s software freedom to mind. Proprietors prefer open source development methodology because that philosophy favors the programming labor proprietors like—developers ought to write code which is useful to the proprietor and license that code in such a way that the proprietor can make proprietary versions of that code including incorporating that code into proprietary programs. This means treating a software proprietor as though they were a charity and bolstering no additional software freedom for users.

Copyleft is a general method for making a program free and ensuring that derivative programs are also free. When a copyleft free software license’s terms are enforced, the software freedom sticks to the program and ensures that everyone who gets a copy of the program (modified or not) gets the same freedoms to run, inspect, share, and modify the program. A free software license that doesn’t ensure software freedom for derivatives is non-copyleft. Richard Stallman, founder of the free software movement, rightly calls non-copyleft free software licenses “pushover” licenses because they’ll stand up for nothing.

Copyleft free software licenses are readily identified as such in the Free Software Foundation’s (FSF) license list and the FSF advises careful judgment before choosing a non-copyleft free software license precisely because such licenses allow proprietary derivatives. The FSF recommends picking a strongly copyleft free software license (such as the GNU General Public License) by default, and selecting a non-copyleft free software license only under certain circumstances. By contrast, the Open Source Initiative lists licenses they approve of in one large list with no commentary pointing to differences among the licenses. Thus those not incentivized to study the licenses might well pick a short license simply because it is short, which risks leaving out important assurances the user won’t be subject to gaps in license coverage like patent treachery (such is found in understanding the difference between two non-copylefted free software licenses—the 3-clause BSD license and the Apache 2.0 license). The Open Source Initiative is opposed to framing any issue in terms of a user’s software freedom, historically calling such efforts “ideological tub-thumping”. So it is not surprising that they don’t offer distinctions that indicate which approved licenses will respect a user’s software freedom in the program, or explain a general-purpose means for securing software freedom such as copyleft (the closest the Open Source Initiative comes is a FAQ entry which doesn’t bring up software freedom or speak against proprietary software which does not respect a user’s software freedom).

Leaving out software freedom means missing the point

Geoffrey A. Fowler, tech columnist for The Washington Post has written an article (archive copy) discussing why tracking cookies make Google Chrome a bad choice of web browser and Mozilla Firefox a better choice.

The real choice is between software freedom and non-freedom

But the main reason people should prefer Firefox over Chrome has nothing to do with tracking cookies, the best reason to switch to a free software browser (such as Firefox) has to do with software freedom—the freedom to run, inspect, modify, and share published software.

After all, tracking cookies are one means for third parties to track where people browse, and they are a privacy threat which affect everyone regardless of the browser they’re using. They’re also easily defeated with free software add-ons that let one delete such cookies soon after they’re no longer needed (such as Cookie AutoDelete and uMatrix for more powerful controls). Chrome users might have a difficult time using some add-ons to do the same job because Google has a history of disabling add-ons not found in Google’s app store. Also, Google is modifying their browser so that extensions won’t be able to alter or block whatever the page contains. This is part of the power software proprietors have over users.

But Chrome and other non-free (or proprietary) programs can spy on the user in a more insidious way that cannot be fixed other than changing how the program works. As the GNU Project tells us:

Proprietary software, also called nonfree software, means software that doesn’t respect users’ freedom and community. A proprietary program puts its developer or owner in a position of power over its users. This power is in itself an injustice.

[…]

Power corrupts; the proprietary program’s developer is tempted to design the program to mistreat its users. (Software whose functioning mistreats the user is called malware.) Of course, the developer usually does not do this out of malice, but rather to profit more at the users’ expense. That does not make it any less nasty or more legitimate.

Yielding to that temptation has become ever more frequent; nowadays it is standard practice. Modern proprietary software is typically a way to be had.

The GNU Project has collected and listed around 400 instances of proprietary malware as of April 2019, grouped by product brand and the type of injustice committed against the user.

Google’s malware is extensive and there’s no way to work around what Google chooses to put into Chrome, a proprietary web browser. Chrome (like every other proprietary program) lets users choose amongst options that Google implements (much like William M. Tweed, political boss of Tammany Hall, is famous for saying, “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.”). Software proprietors remain in charge because their users work fully within the narrowed choices the proprietor have selected first, and users are never given the freedom to modify the software (to help themselves) or to share the modified software (to help their community).

Firefox, by comparison, is free software; users are free to run, inspect, edit, and share Firefox if they choose. Some (more technical) users have already done this—for example, Firefox is the basis of TorBrowser, a browser that makes it easy for non-technical users to get on the tor network and browse without censorship, tracking, or surveillance.

Even if you’re like most computer users—you’re not technical enough to know what to do with source code—you still directly benefit from everyone having the freedoms of free software. Other people can make the modifications you want and pass along the improved software to you. You can learn to make modifications and help yourself (nobody is born a programmer, everyone who currently knows how had to learn at some point). And when we share programs and improve them we build social solidarity which helps us improve our community.

The Washington Post apparently did not introduce the reader to software freedom. Nor did the Washington Post explain that without software freedom computer users have no hope of getting the privacy they need and deserve. Let’s hope they change their mind and take an ethics-based approach to understanding how computers work and publish articles to convey that ethics-based explanation to their audience.

Software freedom is a prerequisite for computer security, reading privately, and fully controlling one’s own computer to the extent one wishes. This is also why proprietary operating systems (MacOS, Windows, iOS, and virtually every other portable device operating system) are impossible to secure against the proprietor. The proprietor can put in backdoors (allowing remote access to one’s computer without one’s authorization or knowledge), keyloggers (software that records one’s keystrokes and sends the keystroke data to the proprietor also without user consent), covertly control the camera and mic, and bundle other kinds of malware. The user can’t escape this spying and control until the user chooses to switch to an entirely free operating system and hardware the user can use in freedom.

How free software and open source differ on the ground

Occasionally I see news stories that highlight the differences between the older free software social movement and the newer open source development methodology. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has published a couple of essays on this topic (older essay, newer essay) and they’re both worth reading; elements of both essays continue to show up in the news. I recommend reading those essays to more fully understand references in this article.

The FSF told us

While free software by any other name would give you the same freedom, it makes a big difference which name we use: different words convey different ideas.

and we see that as open source philosophy plays out on the ground. Open source advocate Bruce Perens claimed (archive.fo copy) that the Open Source Initiative (OSI)

OSI was founded to evangelize the idea of Free Software with different language, because at the time RMS [free software founder and campaigner Richard M. Stallman] wasn’t really reaching business people – the message of a priori valuation of freedom over all else still plays best with programmers.

I suspect that free software businesses were “reaching business people” in a way the proprietary software business people didn’t like—software freedom threatened their business model directly by positing a need no proprietor can meet. Evaluating software on the basis of whether that program respects a user’s software freedom (the freedom to run, inspect, share, and modify published software even commercially) remains something incredibly important for computer users to do (including proprietors) but is also something no proprietor can compete with and proprietors know this. So proprietors figured out that they needed a way to chat up some of the same software without the freedom talk.

Part of this move took the form of objecting to “open source” entirely. The OSI obviously wouldn’t go for this but the OSI has consistently blurred the distinction between types of licenses they offer no clear terms to discuss. Take copyleft free software licenses as an example; copyleft is a strategy for preserving software freedom for derivative works. Copyleft free software licenses typically say that distributed copies of the covered work must be licensed under the same license, thus preserving software freedom for whomever gets the copy. The OSI, which eschews freedom-talk, has no way to discuss copyleft. Copyleft means preserving something the OSI was founded to not bring up—software freedom. Therefore all OSI-approved licenses are lumped together and listed as though copyleft and non-copyleft licenses are equivalent.

More recently there has been a shift toward thinking highly of gratis labor in the form of useful non-copylefted free software because those licenses are pushovers, allowing proprietary derivatives and add-ons (such as many web frameworks, the LLVM compiler, and unenforced GNU GPL-covered programs). Copylefted free software (particularly when defended in court) was not okay (consider Apple’s perverse hatred of the GNU GPL, for instance, which shows up in Apple being a GNU GPL licensor but not a GNU GPL licensee to the extent they are able—Apple got rid of Samba in MacOS X, Apple is working on getting rid of GCC as well, and Apple bought Easy Software which owned CUPS). The OSI has been around long enough to prepare a license list that explains the differences between OSI-approved licenses in a way that helps copyright holders differentiate among licenses based on protection of software freedom but nothing has materialized. Meanwhile, the FSF has long published their license list which makes precisely this distinction a major category of licenses.

Examples of how open source affiliated efforts don’t talk about software freedom (or eschew software freedom)

Open source software (OSS) enthusiasts want to argue that they’re for software freedom, but only in circumstances when talking about software freedom won’t interfere with business desires for more power over the user (which typically require proprietary software).

  • Red Hat announced that they became “partners” with Microsoft (archive.fo copy)—Red Hat and Microsoft encourage you to run Red Hat GNU/Linux (which Red Hat calls “Linux”) on a proprietary Microsoft-hosted virtual machine (VM). This means trading away a system where you have more control over what hardware to use for your system where you lose all of the freedom you would gain by hosting the hardware yourself (or on a free software VM system under your exclusive control). The VM hoster gains the power to monitor everything one does on that VM. So one who hosts with Microsoft’s VM service gives Microsoft that control.This is not a move toward software freedom but it is inextricably bound up with “open source” because open source was defined to get away from software freedom. Red Hat and Microsoft also say what they offer is “all about choice and flexibility” but choice can be a scam: a choice of 3 proprietary programs that do the same job (3 proprietary word processors, for example) offer “choice and flexibility” but not software freedom. Choice and flexibility are not suitable goals in themselves and proprietors know this. Proprietors frame the issue in this way because they don’t want you thinking about software freedom.

    Later, in 2019, Red Hat and Microsoft would announce a partnership (archive copy) aimed to convincing people to subordinate their free software system to Microsoft’s proprietary VM system. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is said to have “embraced open source” “because it’s driven by what I believe is fundamentally what our customers expect for us to do” which is framed as “[d]oing what’s best for both companies’ customers” with no apparent regard for software freedom and (so long as Microsoft’s VM system remains proprietary) no software freedom is delivered to Microsoft’s users.

  • Canonical made a comparable partnership with Microsoft (archive.fo copy) offering much the same thing as Red Hat above—Canonical encourages you to run a (possibly free software) Ubuntu GNU/Linux system atop a proprietary Microsoft-hosted VM. It’s efforts like these that give rise to Microsoft’s changing public position on open source which used to be seeing it as a threat to now welcoming it so long as Microsoft is truly in control. At no point does anyone involved in the effort champion software freedom for its own sake using unambiguous terminology meant to get you thinking about software freedom.

  • Paint.NET developer Rick Brewster argued self-contradictory claims (archive.fo copy) in service of software non-freedom while claiming he’s not “anti-OSS”. Krita is a free software paint program, Paint.NET is non-free (proprietary, user-subjugating) software:

    Paint.NET is also not something I want to be chopped up and swept into other projects like Krita. Remember, I make my living off of this — why would I just give away my IP like that? (although, of course, the whole conversation space here is much more complex — please don’t assume I’m anti-OSS or something)

    It’s impossible to reconcile the conflicts between what Brewster claimed without understanding that open source is really not interested in software freedom (hence their enthusiasts’ support for proprietor partnerships and acceptance of running proprietary software). In addition, Brewster also used the term “IP” meaning “intellectual property” which is ill-advised and carries a hidden assumption.

    Two of the freedoms of free software include the freedoms to modify one’s own copy of a program (make derivative works) and to distribute copies (modified or unmodified) of the covered program even commercially. Paint.NET’s license (archive.fo mirror) prohibits all of these freedoms (“You may not modify, adapt, rent, lease, loan, sell, or create derivative works based upon the Software or any part thereof.”).

  • On 2019-05-10, Hacker News linked to a repository of Commodore 64 ROMs with a headline which read “Unencumbered Open Source Commodore 64 ROMs”.

    The license for software in that repo around 8AM on 2019-05-10 read:

    This software is Copyright Paul Gardner-Stephen (2019). All rights reserved.
    It must not be used or distributed without prior written permission of the author.
    NOTE: This is a placeholder statement until a final license is selected.

    It’s not clear what license could be chosen, as it’s not clear that Paul Gardner-Stephen holds a copyright in the work and thus has the power to license the work to others. But this and the license on the work listed above didn’t stop this from being called “unencumbered open source”. Despite the text of the license the complete lack of respect for a user’s software freedom is certainly there.

The older FSF essay on the differences between free software and open source philosophy mentioned:

This manipulative practice would be no less harmful if it were done using the term “free software.” But companies do not seem to use the term “free software” that way; perhaps its association with idealism makes it seem unsuitable. The term “open source” opened the door for this.

And we can see that philosophical difference play out in front of us—what Perens referred to as open source’s “different language” gave room for proprietors to talk about their non-free software as though it were equivalent to free software, just another choice to consider. An organization committed to pitching for software freedom wouldn’t do this, but the OSI did this.

Pitching non-free software as “open source” is known as “openwashing” (a term coined by former FSF Executive Director and now Chief Technologist of the Software Freedom Conservancy Brad Kuhn). The term derives from “greenwashing” because both use whatever socially attractive sensibilities exist to make something non-compliant appear to be better than it is (environmentally-harmful goods and services are pitched as environmentally-friendly, software not licensed under an OSI-approved license are marketed as “open source”).

Proprietary software is free software’s enemy not open source. However the open source development methodology apparently does work as designed and gives ground to the notion that it’s right and proper to push software freedom and freedom talk aside anytime software freedom becomes inconvenient.

Free software security is defensible. Proprietary software is untrustworthy all the time and any claim of “security” is impossible to back up.

According to the neoliberal New York Times,

But [Firefox] became irrelevant after Google in 2008 released Chrome, a faster, more secure and versatile browser.

The Gray Lady gets it wrong again. Google Chrome is proprietary software, software that does not respect a user’s freedom and community. There’s no way to back up any claim of proprietary software being “secure” because there’s no way to determine what proprietary programs do or stop them if one discovers they do something harmful (malware). Proprietary software is often malware. Users lack the permission to inspect the program’s source code, alter the program, or distribute altered versions. Furthermore Google is a known international spy agency. There’s good reason to believe that Google Chrome spies on all of its users, behavior users are unlikely consider “secure”.

Firefox, by comparison, was never proprietary. Users were and are free to run, inspect, share, and modify Firefox; these freedoms are collectively known as “free software”. In fact, these freedoms are likely a main reason why TorBrowser (and so many other derivative browsers) are based on Firefox.

Software freedom isn’t about guaranteeing the user security, it’s about addressing the inequity between users and developers inherent in non-free software. Technical advantages and popularity are ephemeral. In the free world, technical features only require anyone who wants to take the time to improve the program. People can and do learn to become software developers. And free software’s technical merit can be improved by anyone willing to do the work. Ergo we can add impressive technical features to free software.

But we can’t make proprietary software free. So the path to getting software we can evaluate against a claim of “security” and back up that claim starts and ends with software freedom.

Should you have ever hosted on GitHub? No. GitLab was a wiser choice for years.

In “Three Takes on Microsoft Acquires GitHub” posters are conflating free software and open source. For reference, consult the GNU Project’s two essays on this topic (older, newer).

The Techdirt.com discussion includes an anonymous comment, “Windows 10 includes WSL [Windows subsystem for Linux — nonfree software for Windows which allows one to run a GNU/Linux OS on top of Windows] now… Microsoft has become a major promoter of free software.”. Actually Microsoft continues as they were: they develop and distribute proprietary software, the opposite of free software.

Microsoft didn’t promote free software before and continues to not promote free software now. Microsoft shifted from calling the GNU General Public License (GPL) a “cancer” including screeds from company reps who claimed “The way the license is written, if you use any open-source software, you have to make the rest of your software open source” and “Government funding should be for work that is available to everybody, [but] open source is not available to commercial companies” which is wrong for multiple reasons. Saying that now would make them look foolish because that misinterpretation of how the GPL works would mean all of Microsoft Windows would come under the GPL. That was one of many errors in Steve Ballmer’s claim at the time and Microsoft knew it, but they had an enemy in software freedom and didn’t have a better response than to lie about their adversary. Given that history we’re supposed to believe Microsoft now when they promote their “love” for open source, and that it is wise to depend on Microsoft in order to run free software such as these GNU/Linux distributions.

Open source is not the same as free software. Long ago free software activists knew that free software with nonfree software dependencies made for free software that was useless in the free world precisely because adopting such software means a loss of one’s software freedom. Thus the free world doesn’t need a Linux kernel based operating system with Windows kernel dependencies (such as GNU/Linux running atop Windows) despite that this now exists. Open source doesn’t encourage anyone to want or defend software freedom. Therefore abandoning software freedom for convenience seems like a right and proper thing to an open source advocate. That’s one of the major points in the newer of the two essays linked above in the section “Different Values Can Lead to Similar Conclusions…but Not Always”:

[…P]eople from the free software movement and the open source camp often work together on practical projects such as software development. It is remarkable that such different philosophical views can so often motivate different people to participate in the same projects. Nonetheless, there are situations where these fundamentally different views lead to very different actions.

The idea of open source is that allowing users to change and redistribute the software will make it more powerful and reliable. But this is not guaranteed. Developers of proprietary software are not necessarily incompetent. Sometimes they produce a program that is powerful and reliable, even though it does not respect the users’ freedom. Free software activists and open source enthusiasts will react very differently to that.

A pure open source enthusiast, one that is not at all influenced by the ideals of free software, will say, “I am surprised you were able to make the program work so well without using our development model, but you did. How can I get a copy?” This attitude will reward schemes that take away our freedom, leading to its loss.

The free software activist will say, “Your program is very attractive, but I value my freedom more. So I reject your program. I will get my work done some other way, and support a project to develop a free replacement.” If we value our freedom, we can act to maintain and defend it.

I don’t see why one would choose to let Microsoft host their software, nor do I see how it is in any user’s interest to not have control over their own repository. So running one’s own instance of GitLab strikes me as a reasonable choice but not hosting one’s data on GitHub. Thus it’s no surprise to me that GitLab earned a “C” rating back in 2015 and GitHub an “F” rating from back in 2016 well prior to any talk of Microsoft buying GitHub. And this is yet another example of how (as Eben Moglen puts it in numerous talks) “Stallman was right” or the GNU Project got there well before it became in vogue to reevaluate one’s Git-related hosting options and move away from GitHub.

What can the reaction to removing “Roseanne” and reaction to allegations of sexual misconduct teach us about streaming?

By now you’ve probably heard that stand-up comics Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr have both had TV shows pulled from streaming services (such as Hulu and Netflix). Louis C.K. was accused of sexual misconduct and Roseanne Barr wrote posts on her Twitter account some found offensive. In response to the allegations and Twitter posts, C.K.’s and Barr’s shows were no longer listed. Considering the popularity of “cord-cutting” (no longer subscribing to cable TV but retaining Internet access) and the popularity of streaming services, this is an increasingly effective means of censorship not only of the artists but of the audience.

Users lost access to those shows. For all we know people paid for services like these and gave up their software freedom in order to gain access to those shows and now people at each service decided that users should be disallowed access to those shows via the service.

Remote control of one’s library means submitting to someone else’s control of that library. This is a compelling reason to own copies of one’s own media instead of depending on inherently unreliable streaming media (which means downloading media data without retaining a copy and thus constantly depending on the server to supply a new copy for re-watching, often combined with proprietary software which is always untrustworthy and digital restrictions management (DRM)—proprietary software and DRM are also reasons to reject a streaming service).

It should be up to you to decide what to watch and when, what is offensive and what isn’t.

If you had your own copies of Louis C.K.’s stand-up sets, or episodes of the “Roseanne” show in DRM-free formats favorable to free software, you wouldn’t need to rely on a streaming service to watch them. You wouldn’t have to put up with being tracked as you watch them. You couldn’t be cut off from access to them without your consent. These are some of the reasons why file sharing (not the propagandistic term “piracy“) is rightly considered a service.

Apparently the reasons for losing access to media via streaming services grows over time. Streaming services don’t advertise that if a celebrity says the wrong thing or allegedly mistreats someone, you lose access to the works in which they’re a star. You can’t predict what will disappear next when you depend on someone else to grant you access to their library. You also can’t control what your computer is doing when you run their software. You should prefer media in formats you personally can break (DVD DRM is easily broken now but Blu-Rays are less easily broken) and play with free software even offline.

Facebook remains a monstrous surveillance engine

Years ago software freedom fighters understood the harm Facebook poses and threatens. And they warned us all to avoid Facebook.

The Free Software Foundation got there earlier: the FSF published a warning on on Dec 20, 2010. FSF & GNU Project founder Richard Stallman has been rightly objecting to Facebook for years in his talks and on his personal website.

In his talks, long-time former FSF lawyer Eben Moglen rightly called Facebook a monstrous surveillance engine. He pointed out the ugliness of Facebook’s endless surveillance (at length in part 3 but in other places in the same lecture series as well). See http://snowdenandthefuture.info/ for the entire series of talks. Moglen routinely points out that ‘Stallman was right’ in his talks and for good reason.

GNU General Public License 3’s termination term getting wider reception

Want to fix a licensing problem for a GPLv2 or LGPLv2.x program? Relicense under GPLv3 or later, or under AGPLv3 or later. Consider LGPLv3 or later carefully before use, erring on the side of picking the GNU GPL v3 or later. This will grant recipients of the program the more lenient terms which do a good job of covering accidental infringement while still being able to legally compel other infringers to stop their infringement until they come into compliance.

This zdnet.com article bears the bias of coming from corporate media; it implicitly highlights the difference between free software (a social movement based in how people ought to treat one another with regard to computer software) and open source (a means for businesses to see free software hackers as an exploitable source of gratis labor by divesting the ethical underpinning of free software, pitched primarily to businesses). But no clear distinction is drawn so it’s not easy to see past the business-first talk that is not in keeping with why the GPLs exist, who wrote the GPLs, and why the GPLs say what they do.

For example, consider this from the article

In 2007, Microsoft was very openly and publicly anti-GPLv3, claiming it was an attempt “to tear down the bridge between proprietary and open source technology that Microsoft has worked to build with the industry and customers.”

This short-sighted comment receives no examination in the article but certainly deserves some since the entire “cure” is to do what the GPLv3 has long done—make it easier for accidental or non-malicious infringement to be fixed, thus allowing distributors to come into compliance, and continue distribution under compliance.

Microsoft’s words ignore that the Free Software Foundation (FSF) wrote the GPLs. The FSF is focused on software freedom (specifically a user’s freedom to run, inspect, share, and modify published computer software). Richard Stallman is credited as the chief author of the GPLs v1-3. Stallman also started the free software movement. Open source advocates, in what Stallman once called a right-wing counter to free software, want to use GPLv2 and GPLv3 (and related licenses) without talking about the ethical basis for these licenses and their derivatives (AGPL and LGPL).

Microsoft’s language would have you believe this is all to do with business concerns because that’s the open source enthusiast’s primary audience. But how a copyright holder behaves in light of infringement concerns anyone who distributes copyrighted works including any copyrighted free, libre, and open source software under any FLOSS license.

Microsoft essentially wants what any other proprietor (Apple, Oracle, Intel, etc.) want: more hackers writing and distributing code under licenses that allow proprietors to make proprietary derivatives. The GNU General Public Licenses (GNU GPL or GPL) say no to that; the GNU GPLs versions 1-3 say we should be equals in this work and all users must be free to run, inspect, share, and modify the program. No privileged position (such as is the nature of proprietary software) allowed. The “Lesser GPL” (originally the Library GPL) puts in an exception that grants a bit more inequity for software where there are plenty of other implementations that would get used more and possibly do less to protect a user’s software freedom (such as C libraries). The Affero GPL protects a user’s software freedom for remotely run applications such as web-based programs.

Any evaluation of software that excludes the underlying ethical (and class-based!) examination free software provides is bound to favor proprietors. That’s why proprietors all like “open source” but don’t frame anything in terms of free software. Software freedom has at its heart the very thing that keeps would-be proprietors honest and keeps users informed about changes, and in power over their own computers. Proprietary software is a social ill, never to be trusted, and a degree of control even other proprietors merely tolerate because they can’t easily object (‘power for me but not for thee’ doesn’t fly amongst those jockeying for power over one’s users).

Mass surveillance is unneeded, unethical, and used to relieve you of your privacy

Consider that schools are said to be spending a lot on mass surveillance kit and what that means for parents, students, and everyone else in the neighborhood.

Mass surveillance is the principal abuse here and the likely reliance on non-free (user-subjugating, proprietary) software (which is often malware) compounds the problems. One could go further in exploring additional abuses by looking into what is done with the data:

  • Where is the data stored?
  • Who else has access to the data?
  • What do they do with the data?
  • Is any of this knowable?

but indiscriminately collecting information on people in the hope it will somehow prove useful is mass surveillance, spying on everyone as if everyone is guilty by default. This is also a way to convince fearful people of the notion that it’s right and proper to have no privacy.

Consider this excerpt from the article:

“Schools are justified in thinking about safety, both in terms of gun violence and other possible hazards,” Rachel Levinson, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, told Gizmodo. “At the same time, these technologies do not exist in a vacuum; we know, for instance, that facial recognition is less accurate for women and people of color, and also that school discipline is imposed more harshly on children of color.”

Everything Levinson says here is vague and remarkably inarticulate, and I don’t blame Levinson. For all we know, Gizmodo simply didn’t ask further questions to clarify these claims in what should have been the basis of the entire article. Being concerned is insufficient. Precisely how is a bunch of data like this going to curb gun violence? What other hazards are you referring to, exactly? Why should we be concerned about the details of accuracy of the collected information while we’re questioning whether it was ethical and useful to collect this data in the first place? Which school situations where “discipline is imposed more harshly on children of color” will be resolved by watching surveillance footage or examining location data?

All the more reason why people should get their own computers, never use school-issued computers, and make sure that their own computers run only a free software OS, and install nothing but free software on top of that. Also everyone (not just parents and students) need to politically organize to let students use privacy respecting books and (only if strictly needed) computer education that can be used from any computer OS.