July 27, 2020
At this exact moment on Earth, nature’s symphony is accompanied by the persistent hum of billions of tiny machines we have embedded into reality. These machines are dictated by the slightest variance in electrical impulses and power the world economy, yet only a small subset of us are privileged enough to ponder the implications of such invisible architecture. Fewer still have the magical combination of ability, power, and luck required to influence the design and implementation of these systems which will govern all of our lives. That is why as software developers, we have an urgent responsibility to build strictly and solely systems which respect the rights of its users, to educate our peers in other disciplines about the systems and their common pitfalls, and to demand public ownership of essential infrastructure.
You are likely not aware that the software you interact with is imbued with ulterior motives. How can a bunch of words and buttons on a screen disrespect you? Thanks to the cunning legal teams behind major commercial software companies, the apps you run on your phone, tablet, and computer are allowed to perform egregious violations of your privacy while you watch your friends’ social broadcasts. And in the United States, thanks to a defanged regulatory body and increasing oligarchic control of the legislature, the companies which siphon the most data about your personal habits grow the fastest - thus incentivizing all companies to adopt this strategy or die. The practice of collecting, processing, and analyzing users’ behavior to create digital shadows upon which advertising campaigns can modeled gives way to the absurdly high stock valuations which currently prop up our economy. By commodifying individuality, Big Tech has laid the groundwork for a marketplace of souls. How much are you worth?
Thankfully, a free software movement exists to provide shelter from these exploitative platforms. Free software bestows “four freedoms” onto its users:
- (freedom 0) the freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose
- (freedom 1) the freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
- (freedom 2) the freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
- (freedom 3) the freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
When software is licensed according to these ideals, users can interrogate the electrons transporting their personal data, decide whether the functionality the software offers is worth the extraction, and sidestep the data → information → knowledge pipeline feeding into the surveillance software sludge factory.