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Benjamin Kerensa: Stallman: On Privacy, Spyware and Promoting Ubuntu Community Flavors

Published Mar 27 2013 via RSS

stallman 300x300 Stallman: On Privacy, Spyware and Promoting Ubuntu Community Flavors

Flickr: Gisleh

I occasionally talk with Dr. Richard Stallman via e-mail about a variety of Free and Open Source Software related topics and I wanted to revisit a discussion on a earlier topic since I recently heard he was asking Open Source organizers in Latin America not to promote Ubuntu at their events (Which I disliked). Notably I disagree with Stallman’s position that the Amazon lens or any other current lens (including the ones landing in 13.04) are spyware but I do feel the lens still presents a privacy issue because it deprives users of transparency, choice and control over information about themselves by default.

The following are some questions I had for Dr. Richard Stallman and his answers which he consented to me sharing on my blog:


Me: So I ask…. Do you have a problem with promotion of Xubuntu,
Kubuntu, Lubuntu or Gnome Ubuntu? If so why?

RMS: If it were possible in practice to promote one and not the others, I
would treat them as separate distros.  I don’t know whether Xubuntu,
Kubuntu, Lubuntu or Gnome Ubuntu contain spyware.  I suppose they
contain nonfree software, but I don’t know.

However, in practice I don’t think most people would retain the
difference between them.  Thus, promoting one is in effect promoting

Me: Do you really feel the Amazon scope is spyware still even if its users
are well aware of the feature prior to them using it and given
plentiful opportunity not to use it by disabling the feature with the
click of a mouse?

RMS: Yes. I am sure most of them are not aware of it.
However, the user’s awareness of spyware does not make it cease
to be spyware.

          The possibility of turning it off doesn’t alter that it is spyware.
Me:  If you still think this is spyware how does this feature differ
from say a web browser which allows a user-agent string to be seen in
server logs or other internet software which share packets of personal data?

RMS: The user-agent string does create a privacy problem, but this took
people by surprise.  When that feature was added, nobody realized that
it created a privacy problem, and perhaps it did not originally do so.
Nobody realized that it would help identify users, and maybe originally
it wasn’t used for that.

In our browser IceCat we will send a user-agent string designed to
give no useful information.

However, the user-agent string is a small thing compared with sending
data about people’s specific computing activities.  Meanwhile,
nowadays we know how much surveillance is done on the Internet, so
people have a responsibility to consider how their actions affect

Me:  Why not campaign against any internet software that sends a packet of

RMS: Do you think we should?


In closing I will probably respond to Stallman’s answer which was a question by suggesting that I believe we should always have an approach of developing software that ensures the user has transparency, choice and control over all personal information to include computing activities such as searching in a dash or even more innocent things like statistical history of how many times certain applications are accessed.

It’s sometimes hard to believe that many of our libraries are doing more to ensure no individual users keystrokes, web browsing and other data is ever shared or retained while some developers are outright ignoring user choice.

Do you think Stallman’s right? Do you have a more balanced opinion? Leave a comment!

The post Stallman: On Privacy, Spyware and Promoting Ubuntu Community Flavors appeared first on Benjamin Kerensa dot Com.

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