Not What but Who

29th January 2018

There is very much a fad at the moment for blaming big tech companies for the problems technology causes. I see this in the media and I hear it in how people talk about technology.

But being a Technologically Advanced human (as this blog encourages you to be) requires us to take responsibility for our own technology, rather than expecting profit-driven entities such as Apple, Microsoft or Google to guide us.

Let's look at some things that software companies might be blamed for.

Is it unethical to publish or sell proprietary software?

Proprietary software, which deprives users the ability to study, modify or redistribute it, does not respect our rights as computer users.

Most people use mostly proprietary software on most of their computers.

Is it unethical to publish or sell proprietary software?

It seems to me, it's not unethical to publish or sell proprietary software. If a person or company writes some software, they have the right to publish it in any way they wish, or to not publish it at all. I wouldn't like there to be laws to control exactly how software may or may-not be distributed. That would feel like an impingement on our rights to share our work.

Free Software is software that respects our rights to use, modify and redistribute it. It's down to us to make sure that the software we're using respects our rights, is fit for purpose and safe. You can do this easily by getting your software from an audited software repository, such as:

Is it unethical to sell a computer that's handicapped to only run specific software?

Some devices are designed to stop you changing the operating system or other software on them. Is this unethical?

Often yes, because this is a deliberate attack on our rights to choose our software.

It's not so bad for hardware that's designed to do a specific task. For example a wireless adaptor. This is a device that does a specific job, so the person buying it might not expect to be able to run arbitrary software on it. Furthermore if it misbehaves it can create harmful radio interference, so it's understandable why it might be locked-down.

However, for something such as a desktop, laptop, phone or tablet, it shouldn't be handicapped to only run certain software. It's good to boycott hardware vendors that try to do this. Apple is the worst culprit, some other phone and laptop brands do it too. The funniest example is Chromebooks; powerful laptops that are handicapped to try to make you use Google services for everything. Luckily you can "jailbreak" many chromebooks quite easily.

Is it unethical to write bad software, or software that doesn't do what the user wants?

It's not unethical to write bad software, or software that doesn't do what the user wants. It's the user's responsibility to choose software that suits their purpose and does what they want. As a user, you can do this by:

Is it unethical to provide cloud services?

Cloud services do computing for the user, rather than empowering us to do it ourselves.

It's not unethical to provide cloud services. However, outsourcing our computing makes us dependant and is therefore unbecoming behaviour for a Technologically Advanced Human.

It's wise to use software where possible, and then fall back to services if necessary. For example, one can use a software navigation system such as OSMand to provide Satellite Navigation, however, effectively calculating public transport routes requires coordinated information aggregation that can only be provided by a service such as Google Maps.

Conclusion

The biggest problems in tech are not this company doing this bad thing or that company doing that bad thing. Rather, it's people's lack of understanding about their rights and responsibilities as tech users.

The question we need to ask isn't "What's wrong with tech?" it's "Who's responsible for tech?".

Check out gnu.org or this guide I wrote to get started using software that respects your rights.