Gigablast OSS search engine

Paul Hänsch paul at
Mon Sep 19 14:36:23 UTC 2016

On Fri, Sep 16, 2016 at 10:52:21AM +0200, Paul van der Vlis wrote:
> An interesting question: If a website publishes the source code of the
> software they are using, how do you know they are not using something
> what's modified?

You don't and there is no practical way for you to receive proof.

Which is why I am always very _very_ reluctant to recommend a web service as
Free Software when it is apparent from the design, that it is supposed to be
run by someone else.

Take web services with a social network component for an example. Comment,
rating and especially recommendation features fall in this category. When
those are not federated then users who run their own instance of the service
suffer a disadvantage, featurewise, compared to users who join a large
centralised instance. There is an incentive, in order to reap the full
advantages of the service, to use a server run by one particular party, rather
than run your own server.

Users who submit to this cannot know, whether the service they are using
behaves as can be expected from the published source code, or wheter they may
be using a modified instance, which may not be Free Software at all and which
may secretly be censoring content, tracking and reporting what users believe
to be private communication, act less reliable than expected, in short, exerts
all the disadvantages of proprietary software.

Note that many of those disadvantages can be effected by the server operator
even _when_ running the Free Software service unmodified.

So if a software by its desing builds an incentive to draw multiple
communities towards one single service, then it also builds an incentive for
users to give up freedom. If you as a user submit to this incentive, I
would not really consider that to be usage of Free Software.

Personally I think that the Free Software definition must be reinterpreted
with regards to internet services. The classic interpretation, which focuses
on the distribution of source code, does not suffice to extend the full spirit
of this definition to users of Free Software on the network.
We must start to apply our checklist to the service a program provides, not
just the program itself.

Paul Hänsch                     █▉            Webmaster, System-Hacker
Jabber: paul at    ▉▉     Free Software Foundation Europe
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