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Miscellaneous Threats to User Freedom

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User Freedom Threats[edit]

Since the inception of the four original essential software freedoms provided by Freedom Software [archive], other issues have emerged such as:

The Whonix ™ project does not currently have a policy prohibiting discussion of any applications with these traits.

Beyond Licensing[edit]

It is important to examine the objectives of the entities backing up a software project even if the code is apparently released under an open license. The impact on users' freedom in the future is at stake as a captive market is a winner takes all scenario. Examples:

  • Mono (Microsoft's .NET implementation for Linux) was released under dubious language concerning patent assertion, allowing Microsoft to arbitrarily enforce them if advantageous. Had there been high adoption of Mono, it would have given Microsoft enormous leverage over the language's ecosystem. The libre community did not take the bait and shunned the framework. Even though the patent situation changed recently, the well had been poisoned.[4] The SCO patent trolling used by Microsoft as an attempt to kill off Linux in the 2000s, was not forgotten.
  • GCC vs Clang-LLVM: LLVM was initially heavily funded by Apple in retaliation for GCC re-licensing under GPLv3. The permissive licensing, while technically libre, allows companies to close up forks or mandate non-free plugins, locking users in on hardware platforms which would usher a new dark age for libre software development and porting along with the security and trust issues that that would also cause. Industry players couldn't pull off these shenanigans for the longest time because re-inventing another compiler with the same feature-set and architecture support as GCC was cost prohibitive. The widely cited consensus is that the competition has had a healthy outcome for GCC, leading to improved error codes, performance and features like plugin support - albeit carefully, to prevent closed plugins from piggy-backing on the compiler. However another aspect is that compiler specific quirks act as a "network effect" where if one component of a project only works with LLVM, the rest of the project follows with no interest from the developers to fix bugs or work on compatibility with GCC, for example Libreoffice (on Windows) is switching to Clang because the the Skia renderer will only compile with it.[5] Over time, this could drain resources from the copyleft GCC as corporations and distros conclude it is not cost effective to contribute to a compiler with shrinking market share.

  • Chromium greatly amplifies Google's influence and ability to impose their custom standards and protocols, web standards and freedom be damned.[6] They repeatedly snub and bypass the W3C standard body especially when improvements to user privacy are proposed.[7] The features they design makes performance notably worse in competing browsers.[8] As currently planned, when released, new API limitations will prevent current and even possible future rewrites of adblockers. No attempt to address these concerns have been made by the Chromium devs.[9][10] Every Firefox install gives Mozilla a bit more leverage and ad money from Google. The less people use Firefox, the less website creators will care to invest into developing websites for compatibility, thus killing it off indirectly. If Mozilla's revenue dies and they close shop, Tor Browser goes with it, destroying a key component of the privacy ecosystem. The Chromium engine as is now, is not usable by privacy projects to give equivalent protections as Firefox nor are they willing to change their design to accommodate such initiatives.

See Also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Tivoization is the creation of a system that incorporates software under the terms of a copyleft software license (like the GPL), but uses hardware restrictions or digital rights management to prevent users from running modified versions of the software on that hardware. Richard Stallman coined the term in reference to TiVo's use of GNU GPL licensed software on the TiVo brand digital video recorders (DVR), which actively blocks users from running modified software on its hardware by design.

  2. Antifeatures are flags applied to applications to warn of issues that may be undesirable from the user's perspective. Frequently it is behavior that benefits the developer, but that the end user of the software would prefer not to be there.

  3. Digital rights management (DRM) tools or technological protection measures (TPM) are a set of access control technologies for restricting the use of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works. DRM technologies try to control the use, modification, and distribution of copyrighted works (such as software and multimedia content), as well as systems within devices that enforce these policies.

  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mono_%28software%29#Mono_and_Microsoft's_patents [archive]
  5. https://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=LibreOffice-Needs-Windows-Clang [archive]
  6. http://robert.ocallahan.org/2014/08/choose-firefox-now-or-later-you-wont.html [archive]
  7. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-24/google-blocks-privacy-push-at-the-group-that-sets-web-standards [archive]
  8. https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2018/12/the-web-now-belongs-to-google-and-that-should-worry-us-all/ [archive]
  9. https://mspoweruser.com/google-may-make-adblocking-impossible-on-edge-and-chrome/ [archive]
  10. https://bugs.chromium.org/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=896897&desc=2#c23 [archive]


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