GNU developer Richard Stallman offered a critical observation on the state of operating systems in the 21st century during a piece he wrote for The Guardian. Stallman’s assertions is that most OS (apparently excluding open sources) are just versions of malware intended to harm users. He explicitly calls out Windows, MacOS, and even includes Amazon’s Kindle e-reader as proprietary shackling overlords. According to Stallman, “What kinds of programs constitute malware? Operating systems, first of all. Windows snoops on users, shackles users and, on mobiles, censors apps; it also has a universal back door that allows Microsoft to remotely impose software changes. Microsoft sabotages Windows users by showing security holes to the NSA before fixing them.”
Stallman offers similar criticism for both MacOS and even the ‘nonfree components’ of Android. In regards to the Kindle, he notes that the e-reader reports on users reading behaviors. He believes a Kindle report is generated by the tracking of pages being read, monitoring user-generated notes and underlining, and that the Kindle has an “Orwellian” back door for erasing books. Beyond desktop operating systems and e-Readers, Stallman also believes iPhones and Androids are the equivalents of Big Brother-like tracking devices. Stallman rounds out his argument by levying criticisms against, “nonfree apps”, smartTV’s, Barbie Dolls and software found in cars.
“Microsoft sabotages Windows users by showing security holes to the NSA before fixing them”
At fist glance, Stallman may appear hypersensitive to privacy. He writes about his internet engagement and the various steps and processes he goes through to view web content without being ‘snooped’ or tracked.
“I am careful in how I use the Internet. I generally do not connect to web sites from my own machine, aside from a few sites I have some special relationship with. I usually fetch web pages from other sites by sending mail to a program (see git://git.gnu.org/womb/hacks.git) that fetches them, much like wget, and then mails them back to me. Then I look at them using a web browser, unless it is easy to see the text in the HTML page directly. I usually try lynx first, then a graphical browser if the page needs it (using konqueror, which won’t fetch from other sites in such a situation).
I occasionally also browse using IceCat via Tor. I think that is enough to prevent my browsing from being connected with me, since I don’t identify myself to the sites I visit. I never pay for anything on the Web. Anything on the net that requires payment, I don’t do.”
Unfortunately, it looks like Stallman believes in a majority of computer users that don’t exist. The argument of whether or not computer users have been ‘trained’ or shackled is moot at this point. The reality is more people would gladly choose to give up ‘some’ of their freedoms or personal privacy for the convenience of services, products, devices or communication. What Windows, MacOS, Android and even Amazon offer seems like a better value proposition than the internet acrobatics Stallman would have user initiate, to get to the things that matter the most to them. Perhaps, when these shackling operating systems sway the value of convenience over perceived privacy violations; that’ll be the point when Stallman’s advocacy for internet freedom resonates with individuals. Until then, people will continue to use Windows to access Google to search about apps for their new iPhone it seems.