The father of free software philosophy spoke to RT on evil developers, spying social networks, the almost-legitimacy of Anonymous hacks and the condition under which he would take a proprietary program and a million dollars.
Stallman is the man behind the concept that every computer program must be free for users to study and modify as they want. This is the only way to ensure that by using the software users do not compromise their human rights, he says.
“Free software literally gives you freedom in the area of computing. It means that you can control your computing. It means that the users individually and collectively have control over their computing. And in particular it means they can protect themselves from the malicious features that are likely to be in proprietary software,” he told RT.
“This doesn’t automatically give you freedom in some other area of life. To get that you have to fight for it. But human rights support each other. In an age when a lot of what we do, we do with computers, if we don’t have freedom in our computing, that makes it harder for us to defend or fight for freedom in other areas. You lose one set of rights – and it’s harder for you to keep the others.”
There are many ways how people can be stripped of their freedom through the software they use. One of the latest examples is the scandal with Carrier IQ’s software, which is being accused of logging every keystroke on devices, which run it.
“This is an example of malicious features in non-free software. Those mobile phones are being run by non-free software, so it’s no surprise that they have malicious features in them. The most commonly used non-free programs do,” Stallman sadly pointed out.
Another example is Facebook’s data-mining activities, which includes massive spying on people browsing the internet.
“Facebook does massive surveillance. If there is a ‘like’ button in a page, Facebook knows who visited that page. And it can get IP address of the computer visiting the page even if the person is not a Facebook user. So you visit several pages that have ‘like’ button and Facebook knows that you visited all of those, even if it doesn’t really know who you are,” he said.
But the public awareness of the danger is rising, and they start resisting it. For instance, operations of the Anonymous hacker group are basically an online version of protest demos, Stallman says.
“The Anonymous protests for the most part work by having a lot of people send a lot of commands to a website, that it can’t handle so many requests. This is equivalent of a crowd of people going to the door of a building and having a protest on the street. It’s basically legitimate. And when people object to this, let’s look at who they are and what they do. Usually they are people who are doing much worse things,” he believes.
Another vivid example is the rise of pirate parties in Europe, which have started winning seats in elected bodies there.
“I more-or-less agree with their positions and I’m glad to see that these issues are becoming election issues. I don’t necessarily endorse pirate parties because to do that I would have to know what all the other parties are and these are not the only issues I think are important. For instance, putting a limit on global heating is extremely important. Many pirate parties don’t take a position on that. So I might choose to support a green party instead,” he said.
At the same time Stallman points out that many people endorse piracy for absolutely wrong reasons. They want to have a right to use proprietary software free of charge, while they should not do it at all.
“Why is it bad to use an unauthorized copy of a proprietary program? Because it’s proprietary! So an unauthorized copy is almost as nasty as an authorized copy of the same program. They are both nasty because they are proprietary. The users don’t have control over them. If they pay developer – that makes it worse, because they are rewarding this delinquency. That’s why the authorized copy is worse. But they are both bad because they are both proprietary software. If you want freedom, you have to get rid of them both, because they both control you,” he explained.
“I don’t use that software. If you offered me an authorized copy and you wanted to pay me a million dollars to take it, I still wouldn’t take it, unless I could throw it away immediately. Yeah – if I could take the million dollars and throw away the program, then I would say yes,” Stallman added.
The visionary says the shrinking of software development industry, should that be caused by wider introduction of free software, would be absolutely irrelevant in the face of the benefit would bring.
“Who cares? What good is a so-called industry that’s creating tools to subjugate people? I won’t use the non-free software at all! I dedicate my effort to getting away from it! So if they stop making it – that would be great! I wish they would. I hope for the day when they won’t make non-free software anymore,” he said.
Certainly, such a turn of events may damage innovative industries, but Stallman says the direction where software development heads now harms it more anyway.
“With software patents the US has become a dangerous place for software development, including innovative software development, because when a program is innovative, that means it has some new ideas in it. But it also has lots of well-known ideas in it. A large program combines thousands of ideas. So if you have some new ideas and you want to use them, in order to use them you have to combine them with a lot of other ideas that are well-known. And if you are not allowed to do that because those other ideas are patented, you can’t use your new idea,” he explained.
For answers to your questions asked via Twitter and Facebook, watch the full video version of the interview.
Also don’t miss RT’s Spotlight program on December 17, in which Richard Stallman elaborated on his convictions and activism.