Many of us know that governments can threaten the human rights of software users through censorship and surveillance of the Internet. Many do not realize that the software they run on their home or work computers can be an even worse threat. Thinking of software as "just a tool", they suppose that it obeys them, when in fact it often obeys others instead.

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Starchild's picture
Created by Starchild 10 years 6 days ago – Made popular 10 years 6 days ago
Category: Philosophy   Tags:
sepreece's picture


10 years 6 days 10 hours 34 min ago



As usual, there's a lot of truth in what Stallman says, but filtered through a particular worldview and presented to sell that worldview.

Just using free software won't guarantee your freedom from malware or your ability to get to your data, it's just a step in that direction.

Some non-proprietary software is also out to get you. Unless you personally review all the software you run, the compiler that built it, the firmware it runs on, and the logic design of the hardware underneath, you're always trusting somebody. Your choice of free versus proprietary software just moves that trust around.

That is, running free software doesn't guarantee that your computer isn't reporting the websites you visit to someone, it just guarantees that it's possible to look (to some depth) to see. Since the vast majority of people won't do so, that guarantee is not the panacea that Stallman suggests.

This is not to say, of course, that there isn't value to using free software; just that Stallman overstates some of the implications of the choice and, perhaps, the importance of the choice.

Starchild's picture


10 years 5 days 18 hours 37 min ago


Necessity v. Sufficiency and the Issue of Trust

I think you're attacking a strawman. Nowhere in the article I see RMS suggesting Free Software is the "panacea" as you put it or that it "guarantees" anything. What he says is if you want to safeguard your freedom you "need" Free Software. That's perfectly accurate. That is to say Free Software is a "necessary" condition of having freedom without asserting that it's "sufficient". Obviously it takes much more than Free Software to having a free computing environment let alone organizing a free society.

As regards the issue of "trust" I believe your assertion that Free Software just moves the source of trust around is true but misleading. Your assertion implies that since at the end the user has to trust someone other than herself the issue of having Free Software is less important than the Free Software advocates claim. I will have to disagree with that position.

To me the source of the trust makes all the difference in the world. The question is not whether to decide in a false dilemma between trust and no trust. We HAVE to trust in order to function in day to day life whether we like it or not. Nobody can be 100% self sufficient, that's just a physical impossibility. Rather we have to organize society in a such a way that the source of our trust is worthy of the name, that is it arises out of rational relations, transparency and a system of checks and balances designed to make sure the potential for harm is as minimized as possible.

The source of trust in the Free Software world is the community, the scientific and technical community to be more precise. It is transparent and based on the scientific tradition of peer review hence the trust relation is rational, and since it's based on mutual respect and solidarity it's also ethically sane.

By contrast, the source of trust in the proprietary software world is usually private corporations serving private interests. Given the fact that there's no transparency or peer review involved in the process the trust relation in the case of proprietary software is irrational, and since it's based on a domination-subordination power relation it's also unethical.

The situation as it pertains to the issue of trust is somewhat akin to two societies with different mechanisms for news dispatch and verification. One is a classic authoritarian dictatorship where news and indeed Truth is what the government spokesman says. It is the truth because they say so, and you have to trust them no matter how irrational or unethical that is. The other is a society in which some sort of democratic pluralism, a decentralized watchdog mechanism, is in place. Now the more decentralized, the more independent and the more transparent the news outlets, the more trustworthy is the aggregate.

Nobody in his right mind could equate the two societies on the premise that the only real difference is the change in the direction of trust while neglecting the importance of the quality and verifiability of the source of trust.

sepreece's picture


10 years 5 days 12 hours 48 min ago


"By contrast, the source of

"By contrast, the source of trust in the proprietary software world is usually private corporations serving private interests. Given the fact that there's no transparency or peer review involved in the process the trust relation in the case of proprietary software is irrational, and since it's based on a domination-subordination power relation it's also unethical."

I would summarize my response as "There's no reason to distrust a corporation just because it's a corporation." Corporations have history and assets, can be sued for damages, and have both fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders and legal responsibilities under government regulations. Individuals and collectives often don't have those things.

For most people, the transparent processes of the FLOSS community are for-all-practical-purposes just as opaque as the processes of commercial software vendors. In either case, the buyer/user has to make a decision who to trust (and, as I noted, there are also issues of trust in buying the underlying hardware that are even more opaque than the software issues). It's important for people to consider carefully who to trust and to evaluate how much they rely on that trust; suggesting that commercial software is always the wrong choice imposes a bias on those considerations that is probably inappropriate.

Note that I didn't say Stallman was completely wrong, just that he was oversimplifying.

aboutblank's picture


10 years 3 days 23 hours 2 min ago


The User's Liberty and Social Solidarity

I can't complain about most of your comment but I feel you're missing the point that RMS intends to make. The point he makes when he speaks about free software is that **the user should have the right to control the software running on their machines AND the user should have the right to cooperate in a community**. This means that users should have the right to run and tinker with the software. This also means that users should have the right to share modified or unmodified computer software with their community.

Without the right to control the software running on their machines, users choose to lose the right to control their machine. The user does not have control of their machine if they are subject to software proprietor; the user has to get the proprietor's permission for a change to be made. It really doesn't matter if the user doesn't understand anything about computer code or is lacking in time or energy to tinker with computer code. If the user has the right to tinker with the code, they will also have the liberty to find a programmer that is able to do these things.

Without the right to share computer software, society is restricted to help each other. Society should have the right to share software because computer software is a tool (it does something useful). It is terrible to society if they are deprived of the right to do this because society loses the right to do something that is supposed to be good. Sharing computer software is just like sharing any other possession such as toys, hammers, lawnmowers or salad bowls. The difference between computer software and physical tools is that computer software has an unlimited supply - you don't run out of copies of computer software.

kiba's picture


10 years 3 days 7 hours 27 min ago


What does social solidaritry

What does social solidaritry mean?

aboutblank's picture


10 years 2 days 58 min 34 sec ago



Wikip says it refers to the ties in a society that bind people to each other. In the context of free software, this would be all the people interested in using, improving and sharing knowledge of a free program.