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Stallman: Proprietary Software Is Akin To Malware

He said most OSes are nothing more than vectors to track users.

Richard Stallman isn't known for pulling punches; instead, he excels at throwing them, typically at companies that create proprietary programs.

That's why it should be no surprise that Stallman, the developer of the GNU OS and outspoken critic for an open and free software ecosystem, has claimed that major OSes from Microsoft, Apple and Google are nothing more than paid malware.

Stallman made his claim in an op-ed piece this weekend in The Guardian, saying that the majority of major tech firms have lost the ethical standards of the 1980s that put the focus of software development on something that could server the end user.

"How far things have sunk," wrote Stallman. "Developers today shamelessly mistreat users; when caught, they claim that fine print in EULAs (end user license agreements) makes it ethical. (That might, at most, make it lawful, which is different.) So many cases of proprietary malware have been reported, that we must consider any proprietary program suspect and dangerous. In the 21st century, proprietary software is computing for suckers."

In Microsoft's case, Stallman said that while Windows isn't a virus -- in which the sole reason for its existence is to cause as much damage to a system as possible -- it is a way in which the company can snoop on its users, limit what a user can and cannot do and, in the case of its mobile platforms, can actually censor third-party applications.

Apple and Google are just as guilty and, in the latter's case, even though Android is free, it still engages in many of the same harmful practices including deleting and installing apps remotely, said Stallman.

Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, said that free mobile apps and streaming services are the worst offenders of accepted malware "since they are designed to shackle users against saving a copy of the data that they receive, as well as making users identify themselves so their viewing and listening habits can be tracked," he wrote.

However, companies could be offering their services without the harmful practices that infringe on privacy and freedom, said Stallman. But because the public has widely already accepted their business practices, companies like Microsoft and Apple have no incentive to change.

While it may be hard to turn back, or to embrace a future where open source platforms like Linux are king, Stallman did point to three ways in which we can change how major platforms treat user privacy:

Individually, by rejecting proprietary software and web services
that snoop or track.

Collectively, by organizing to develop free/libre replacement systems and web services that don't track who uses them.

Democratically, by legislation to criminalise various sorts of malware practices. This presupposes democracy, and democracy requires defeating treaties such as the TPP and TTIP that give companies the power to suppress democracy.

About the Author

Chris Paoli is the site producer for Redmondmag.com and MCPmag.com.

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