There is an interesting article The Tangled Web We Have Woven by Eben Moglen in the current issue of Communications of the ACM. Eben Moglen makes some good and serious points about our privacy and about future of democracy in the era of internet services. I also suggest watching the talk of Eben Moglen and Bdale Garbee about FreedomBox at this year’s FOSDEM.
We’ve got free software but we still miss something. Look around you. How about miscellaneous devices you use? My routers, phones, TV, video player, e-book reader and printer all run on proprietary software. If you work with computers at your job, can you say you’ve got a free software job? I can’t. There is clearly a problem.
The first part of the problem is hardware. Many of the proprietary devices are perfectly capable of running custom free software and they even run on Linux kernel. But the vendors prevent us from running our own software on the devices. And we have to fight with secret device specifications and proprietary device drivers all the time. It seems we can’t go on without free hardware.
Don’t presume things can’t change. Major hardware and software vendors got sufficiently scared by the One Laptop per Child project and they started to produce and sell previously unavailable cheap netbooks. So we can persuade them to start doing something else. And if they don’t listen to us, maybe there are ways to help us ourselves despite some previous efforts were not exceptionally successful.
The second part of the problem is publicity. People are typically completely unaware of consequences of using popular services such as web search, web mail, shared storage, social networking or internet telephony when they run on centrally controlled proprietary platforms. If people don’t know and don’t care then they can’t resist and little can get better.
So people at The Free Software Foundation do probably the right thing when they focus on free hardware certification and common publicity now. We all should try to participate in our ways and focus on explaining all the things to the general public. Again, it’s not impossible and I can confirm (some) people listen to serious arguments.
The aforementioned article pointed me to the FreedomBox project. After thinking about it a bit I like it. If it succeeds it may help a lot. I think we’ll appreciate it under all circumstances (not only here if the next elections in our country will be the last free ones). It may help bringing things like software freedom, private data storage, communication and device operation, or emergency networking to every home and pocket.