The Web needn't be Free

6th January 2018

The Free Software community has said since the 80s that Free Software must give us the freedoms to study, modify, and redistribute. This means the software respects our rights as tech users.

However, I feel that studying is not just a freedom, but a necessity, in the form of auditing. Using Free Software that hasn't been audited is somewhat pointless:

We don't need just the Freedom to audit software, we need to actually do it. And before we use the software.

That of course is what organisations like Debian and F-Droid are for. They provide audited repositories of Free Software. This allows us to run only audited Free Software on our computers, phones etc.

The Web

But think about how the web works. The architecture of the web makes it impractical for the software in a web-page to be audited before use. It wouldn't be a web if there was some sort of human proxy in front, auditing everything that goes through.

It's meaningless to discuss whether or not the code in a website is Free Software if it hasn't been audited, firstly because you can't know if it's truly Free Software and secondly because you haven't made use of the most fundamental Freedom.

Richard Stallman's article called "The JavaScript Trap" is wrong. His work in Free Software is outstanding and he is a hero and a legend, however, he has made a mis-judgement here. Advocating Software Freedom for un-auditable networked services does not make sense.

The browser

The web browser's job is to provide a window through to a service, provided by someone else's computer (the server). And the browser loans processing resources to that service, in a controlled and secure way.

A good web browser has the following properties:

Do not use Google Chrome, Edge, Internet Explorer, Safari or Opera. These are all proprietary software which means they do not respect your rights as a computer user. Firefox and Chromium are both good Free Software web browsers. You can find more Free Software web-browsers in your choice software repository, or on The Free Software Directory.

The real question

Rather than trying to make the web Free Software (which is absurd), we need to see the web as a gateway for accessing publications and services.

Sometimes, a web-service may do something that could be done using software. Using web-services can be great, however it obviously doesn't give you the same kind of control as if you did the job using software. Hence the real question to be asked is whether a given task is best done with a service or with software.

I have written many articles on the ethics of technology on this blog and my old blog. If you would like to know how to use Free Software maybe read here.