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Open Source Software Technology

Proprietary Software is the Driver of Unprecedented Surveillance: Richard Stallman (factor-tech.com) 197

From a wide-ranging interview of Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation, programming legend and recipient of at least 15 honorary doctorates and professorships: "The reason that we are subject now to more surveillance than there was in the Soviet Union is that digital technology made it possible," he says. "And the first disaster of digital technology was proprietary software that people would install and run on their own computers, and they wouldn't know what it was doing. They can't tell what it's doing. And that is the first injustice that I began fighting in 1983: proprietary software, software that is not free, that the users don't control." Here, Stallman is keen to stress, he doesn't mean free in the sense of not costing money -- plenty of free software is paid for -- but free in the sense of freedom to control. Software, after all, instructs your computer to perform actions, and when another company has written and locked down that software, you can't know exactly what it is doing. "You might think your computer is obeying you, when really its obeying the real master first, and it only obeys you when the real master says it's ok. With every program there are two possibilities: either the user controls the program or the program controls the users," he says. "It's free software if users control it. And that's why it respects their freedom. Otherwise it's a non-free, proprietary, user subjugating program."
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Proprietary Software is the Driver of Unprecedented Surveillance: Richard Stallman

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Given the opportunity, users will fuck up anything and everything. There is a reason we don't give users more than the bare minimum of control that they need. It's because we don't want to spend all of our time chasing our tails in circles trying to patch up everything the ruin.
    • Given the opportunity, users will fuck up anything and everything. There is a reason we don't give users more than the bare minimum of control that they need. It's because we don't want to spend all of our time chasing our tails in circles trying to patch up everything the ruin.

      This attitude is the single biggest reason for bad software that always pisses users off.

      Good salesmen tell you: you will be successful when you give people what they want. Not what you think they should want.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 17, 2017 @01:18PM (#55571009)

    The Free Software Foundation requirements are so restrictive that no mainstream Linux distribution qualifies. Stallman is living in a fantasy world where he thinks billions of people are going to start learning command lines and troubleshooting their own comparability issues. This is not reality.

    Open source MUST be made easy to use or else Average Joe User will never use it. In the real world, rightly or wrongly, people care about EASE OF USE more than abstract philosophical concerns about free software.

    The open source movement needs more businesspeople and fewer armchair philosophers. We do not need yet another FOSS project reinventing the wheel and having 3-5 developers trying to drum up support for their spin on something that has been done 50 times already. We need to see more along the likes of RedHat and Canonical if open source is going to take over the mainstream.

    • You don't reach Stallman-levels of famous by being sane and rational, you do it by being the personification of an idea. All extreme views are fundamentally retarded, and for that reason all famous people are retarded. They are useful as talking points of an ideology but not much else, all working systems have compromise.
    • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @01:34PM (#55571161)

      The Free Software Foundation requirements are so restrictive that no mainstream Linux distribution qualifies. Stallman is living in a fantasy world where he thinks billions of people are going to start learning command lines and troubleshooting their own comparability issues. This is not reality.

      So because all instances of X are bad, we can't strive for better X? Because there's some level of corruption in all countries, we can't strive for less corruption anywhere? Because there's some level of mortality in all healthcare systems, we shouldn't strive for progress in medicine? That's a terrible, terrible view of the world.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Of course we can and should do better, but the point is that if you want FOSS to succeed, it is the job of the engineers and developers to make it do what the users (read: the market) want, and that means it has to be functional and easy.

        The rampant tribalism in FOSS is why we have countless little projects that cater to a niche crowd, but very few projects that have wide scale adoption. Torvalds and the kernel have been successful because they institutionalized and allied with business. RedHat and Canonica

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Kjella ( 173770 )

        More like that in every democracy you must to some degree submit to majority opinion, hence the only ethical solution is anarchy or something like that. RMS is saying that to ethically sell someone a product, you must tell that person how to make it so he can modify it, repair it etc. as they want. Go to a shoe store, try to get blueprints, molds and process/work descriptions on how to make those shoes. Would it be nice? Yes. Do you get it? No. Are those shoe sellers unethical? Maybe if you're RMS. He's hol

        • Fortunately, what software I run is much more a choice of mine than what party runs my country. So there seems to be quite a bit more hope for software than for politics.
        • Stallman doesn't support open source shoes. Now open toes [youtube.com], that's entirely different.

    • Well unfortunately it comes down to how you can monitize OSS.
      1. Selling media: most software today doesn’t have media. So no more selling CD or Tapes.
      2. Consulting services: That means the product needs to sufficiently complex and hard to use that you need specialists to figure it out.
      3. Grant/Donations: The product will need to be popular enough to get the interest and numbers.
      4. Hobbie: Don’t expect wide usage for long because it will only get updated on what is fun and once the product isn

      • Don't forget the original income source recommended directly by Stallman: sell open source t-shirts and mugs. Immeasurable wealth is within every open source developer's reach!

    • > "Open source MUST be made easy to use or else Average Joe User will never use it."

      You think average users magically know proprietary software and proprietary operating systems? Just enough to get by, many not even that.

    • This is completely off-topic but probably you don't understand that.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    And then they can't be spied on and tracked via the web, because FF is free software.

    Keep dreaming...

    • Everyone who considers using Firefox should read its privacy policy [mozilla.org].

      Firefox collects a lot of personal information, and sends it to a variety of organizations/companies, including Google.

      The privacy policy dated September 28, 2017 contains awful stuff like:

      Firefox sends data about your interactions with Firefox to us (such as number of open tabs and windows; number of webpages visited; number and type of installed Firefox Add-ons; and session length) and Firefox features offered by Mozilla or our partners (

    • by koavf ( 1099649 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @03:44PM (#55572317)
      The problem here is not the browser but the user's behavior. Free software is necessary but insufficient for privacy. Pair the software with things like strong legal protections, constant innovation, and the smart use of best practices, and that decreases your surface quite a bit. It may not be perfect but it's *impossible* in principle to have security and privacy with proprietary software; free software makes it *possible* if not inevitable.
  • ... to read the article T_T
  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @01:27PM (#55571107)
    For the average person trying to decide whether to run some new support ticketing package on IIS or LAMP is thinking "free" as in beer, not free as in "I can get in and fork this web server library to suit my purposes." Most people have no more sense of whether or not their free-as-in-hackable module or plugin or OS is watching them or recording telemetry for their own good or not. And most them don't care, either. They just want it to work.
  • In the past, it certainly drove surveillance. Now it's the cloud driving surveillance (especially since Windows 10 is always tied into one.) Google tracks the pages you view, Facebook does the same plus uploads conversations on your phone to the cloud, the Google Home and Amazon Echo record constantly, etc. Surveillance might happen in closed source non-cloud-based apps, but those are a drop in the ocean at this point.
    • Sadly, you are right. Most of nowadays privacy violations are actually voluntary (although perhaps unaware) cessions. You don't have any control on what you do on other machine like when performing virtually any action on a website. Making sure that your own system is on your side is certainly important, but it seems that the main battle is being able to somehow restrict the current wild-west like online reality. Users should knowledgeably agree (i.e., not being forced to accept a legal gibberish which nobo
      • I'd go as far as to say giving the user the option is too much. Just make the data collection illegal outright. The average user is too stupid not to give away their information for access to the most inane of platforms and unfortunately herd immunity is a thing in digital privacy as much as it is in vaccines. If 95% of people are too dim to be trusted with securing their own privacy they will give it up, then the remaining 5% who aren't are stuck with it because it is more cost effective to find ways to
        • Just make the data collection illegal outright.

          This will never happen. Personal information is way too valuable and lots of users don't mind to give away some of their privacy to get free stuff.

          • This will never happen.

            I don't disagree, if the world were capable of being the way it should be it wouldn't be such a shithole to begin with.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I think water is wet.

    With respect to both Stallman and Slashdot, he's been leading this crusade for over three decades with little change to his message. How is an interview where he reiterates his main arguments against non-free software still news?

  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @01:33PM (#55571155)
    Now I think he's just right, and almost all the time.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Maybe he is a nutjob. But he's also right almost all of the time. Those two things aren't mutually exclusive.

    • by jwymanm ( 627857 )
      He seems like one of the few sane voices left. Dying breed in a mess of newcomers that are just addicted consumers and not creators anymore.
    • No - he's still a nutjob. Many of the best surveillance tools are in fact open source.

      In fact one of the first times I've ever run into a keylogger running on a server was hacked version of bash running on Solaris (but it could have been any OS running bash) back in the early 90s.

      • The difference is you can get a copy of the source of those utilities and compile them yourself to avoid the hacked versions you mentioned. You can't do that with proprietary software which comes hacked, ie engineered to do that by design.
      • In fact one of the first times I've ever run into a keylogger running on a server was hacked version of bash running on Solaris (but it could have been any OS running bash) back in the early 90s.

        Did that developer share his bash modifications, so that you could maintain the keylogger?

        Or were you unable to, due to it being proprietary?

    • He can be both.
    • No reason why he can't be both!

  • Has crap functions.
    Few take the time to research what they are loading, even when offered the choice will load the "Bing search bar" when installing software.
    Many lean on "trusted" sources used to be Godfather of software, then became Cnet or Download dot com, then became Google or the IStore.
    These entities take only the time needed to profit from offering these softwares, and only remove things that are grievous and give them bad press (when brought to their attention by others).

    Laziness and Greed on both

  • by shuz ( 706678 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @02:02PM (#55571359) Homepage Journal

    Free/Open Software is an ideal of the STEM community. It is great and I think it is better. However the entire global software user base is not of the STEM mindset. Many companies want to have a business model of selling software licenses. Some sell both licenses and support. Stallman has long preferred the idea that we as a society share information the is easy to copy. He supports a reasonable compensation related to creative works. But puts more emphasis on compensation through continued support of that creative work. He cites situations where people use non-free/open software, support ends for that software and people are then often forced to either discontinue use, increase vulnerability or loss of productivity risks, and/or purchase a new license of what is essentially the same software that has extra non-security related enhancements. For the latter argument it is made that users end up paying not just for the enhancements, but also for the original product as well as a built in support retainer in many cases.

    It is my belief that the problem Mr. Stallman really wants to fix is this last business model. For every person in the world to have full control over all the information they are given is a great idea. Reality is that the Human condition of greed, or improving ones self by disadvantaging another, prevents FOSS. It, indeed then, would be enough to mandate software and information not be double charged. That either an ongoing support license for use or a support license retainer built into an original product followed by cheaper enhancements with a further retainer built in be possible. Many companies already do this. It isn't FOSS, it isn't giving the user base full control over information. That isn't possible due to greed. In the same way certain governments such as Marxist Communism really isn't possible.

    But, to defend greed just a bit, a sense of bettering ones self does drive many people to do things that are not comfortable, that are above average, that give them a sense of fulfillment in their lives. For those of us that embrace FOSS we are free to continue our scientific sharing of ideas. We should be thankful that those who oppose or seek to abuse FOSS must follow the same rules that protect non-free closed software.

  • by jabberw0k ( 62554 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @02:04PM (#55571369) Homepage Journal
    is how many geeks who should know better, see nothing wrong with so-called "smart" so-called "telephones" -- which are the antithesis of what we computer hobbyists were trying to build for all those decades. The answer is to stop giving Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and such companies any of your time or money, and to stop being an enabler in the abusive relationships those companies have with your friends and co-workers.
    • It's not that nothing's wrong. It's that all the attempts to fix the problem have been half-assed at best, so there is no real alternative.

    • The astonishing thing is how many geeks who should know better, see nothing wrong with so-called "smart" so-called "telephones" -- which are the antithesis of what we computer hobbyists were trying to build for all those decades.

      The problem in a nutshell.The geek thinks the world is full of computer hobbyists. Google. Apple. Microsoft and the rest know that the word is full of people with other interests and values. Think of the perfect storm: The Windows 95 PC with dial-up AOL at a flat monthly rate.

  • Personal experience (email exchanges) have convinced me that Stallman is a nice guy, but his priorities are warped around ideas. As an idealist, I sympathize, but...

    The problem is NOT the tools or even who wrote the tools. Not even the financial models underlying the tools, though one of my crazy ideas involves an alternate financial model for more democratic control over software. (Ancient joke time: Lots of detailed suggestions available upon polite (and sincere) request.)

    The problem is that the decisions

  • even if all your software on your client device is free software, the issue is the software that actually runs the things that matter is on the server side, where companies and governments run it in private. That is where the most concerning of the privacy-defeating activities happen, and it is beyond the ability of the GPL to fix this problem.

  • Free software (Linux) drives most mass deployments of software (as used for surveillance) because the marginal cost of the software is so small.

  • I feel we need a whole new category of licences, ones that do discriminate against different types of usage.

    It should not be permitted to USE free software to take away the freedom gained from free software.

    Also, there should be a licence that doesn't permit distribution alongside proprietary software, linking or no, but thats a different story.

    In the bigger picture the free and open software movement is rotting, any system can be gamed, and thats what has happened, we havent evolved and we need to.

    Its prob

  • ... keeping the population under control and the corrupt in power is the reason for surveillance, surveillance is not some new thing. That was the elites entire agenda since forever.

    In his 1970 book Between Two Ages: America's Role in the Technetronic Era, Brzezinski wrote the following.

    "The technetronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous sur

  • But Richard Stallman is just nauseating. He's the Michael Moore of Open Source Software - so radically left as to be obnoxious and turn people away.
  • by Shotgun ( 30919 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @04:36PM (#55572749)

    I bought a surround surroundbar from Vizio for my TV. It has an app to allow you to control it from your phone or tablet. It wanted permission to report it's location with the explanation that it would help it to find "wireless networks". Why a glorified remote control would need to find networks is a problem, but reporting home about where I'm at is out of the question. I just refused to install it and used the remote.

  • Android is the perfect example. It tells users what permissions apps require, and that doesn't matter one bit to most people. Most people don't want control, they want convenience. 99.99% of people (probably more) use apps which request permissions to pretty much their entire phone: location, accounts, phone book, etc. Apps like WhatsApp or Facebook, and many where the permissions aren't even warranted (such as many games). 'Free' software, the way Richard Stallman thinks about it, does nothing to help. Th
    • It isn't even just about convenience. Users don't want to take the time to learn or understand software. Rather than use it as a tool they control, they want the software to do all the thinking for them. They want to push one, maybe two buttons, and have the software figure out what was intended and just do everything automatically. The moment you give them the control they really should have, they complain that "it's scary," "it's too complicated," or "it isn't intuitive."
  • One thing's for sure about Stallman, he continues to flog the dead horse long after it has not only died but decomposed. He is the living embodiment of "To a man with a hammer" syndrome. Is Stallman's theory that every end-user should review the source code of every bit of code they have on their computer prior to executing it? Because other than that I don't see how his fantasy that we only run code whose operations we understand could be achieved. To call that fantasy unrealistic would be a major underst

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