Is it acceptable to use proprietary software (platforms) to promote software freedom?

Erik Albers eal at
Thu Jul 6 15:28:43 UTC 2017

Hi all,

On 21.06.2017 12:22, Erik Albers wrote:
> Now I would be interested what you think? Do you think that - although the use
> of proprietary platforms is ethically not supportable - the chances of
> convincing new people to use and further Free Software are worth the punishment?
> Or do you think that our message should not occur on platforms like Facebook
> or Twitter at all, because it contradicts our efforts in getting people to use
> decentralized services, run with Free Software and therefore potentially harm
> us in the long run?

first of all, thank you very very much for this peaceful and argument-driven
discussion even though we have different views on a politically important
decision. Please let me try to summarize a bit the discussion and finally give
some new input.

Although not every message had a clear statement in favor or against using
proprietary software (platforms) to promote software freedom, I think I
counted 8 persons in this thread in favor and 3 against.

I think the most prominent arguments that argue back and forth are:

  The integrity of the FSFE is at stake the more we use non-free software
  even if we do it to promote Free Software 	VS
  in order to reach out to the people and to grow, we have to be where they
  are and reaching out to the people is part of our mission.


  We shall better invest our time into real-world-activities or into (help)
  hacking free alternatives 	VS
  social media is helpful in outreach and sharing our message with "the world"

And there have been brought up concerns about privacy as well as the wish for
data and metrics.

I like to make a point on metrics: yes, our activities should be based on data
and metrics and fortunately every day we have more of it. But I like to bring
up that numbers about the social or the media impact are always interpretable
and kind of "soft-factors", no matter if we talk about online-activities or

I make this point because I often hear that "it tells you nothing to see that
you have [x number] of shares/dents/likes/toots etc" on a social media
platform. Yes, that is true. Well, it is a number that you can see and compare
but you have no idea about the real impact you made. This impact we can only

However, basically the same happens in "the real world": For example, I have
all numbers of the promotion material we handed out at the last Chaos
Communication Congress. I can see we handed out 1000 noCloud-stickers (all we
had). That sounds a lot and a success. But do we know what people do with it?
Maybe more than half of it threw it away? Or they put it into their bottom
drawer where they forget about it for the next decades? Maybe not. But even if
we assume that every single person of these 1000 stickers puts it on their
laptop, do we know if this makes a difference? Do we have an idea if this
brings just one more Fellow to the FSFE or if this convinces just one more
person to get a Free Software-user? Me not and we all can only assume. And
even if numbers are huge, the impact could be low.

Then I see we handed out 44 Gnupg-Flyer in English. During 4 days, that sounds
not a lot. But again, we simply do not know the impact. Maybe half of those
people who picked them up now use GnuPG for their mail-encryption, get
interested in Free Software and now or in some years will become important
Free Software advocates? Again, about the impact we had with this, we can only
assume. And even if numbers are low, the impact could be big.

So why metrics at all? Fortunately, we can at least try to make some
connections. For example when people sign up as a supporter of the FSFE and
write into the referrer "booth at CCC", we do at least know that we did a good
job in being there. Still, we do most probably not know what was it in
particular that convinced this person?
Same if we get a rise in page-visits after such an event. On first sight it
seems that we did a great job in being there. But we do not know what is it in
particular that drives more visitors on our page: the talk that we have given
at the event, the PR material given out or maybe just the nice booth personnel?
Or, who knows, maybe by chance at the same weekend there was a prominent
person we are not aware of but who was giving a public performance and
mentioning our name or handing out stickers and the rise of visitors is
because of that and not because of our booth?

I think you get the point. Metrics in the real world are pretty hard to
interpret. However, like it or not, metrics in the digital sphere and on
(proprietary) social media platforms seem easier to access and to make
connections. For example when our president shares our new merchandise product
and it got 500 shares and sold out in 24h. Or when someone did share our
nocloud-sticker with a link to our order-page on reddit [1] and we got in 48h
nearly as much orders as in the rest of the year, then we can clearly see an
impact we made (or someone else made) in 5 minutes.

Please, do not get me wrong. This shall not favor online activity above
offline-activity. I am a big supporter of offline-activities and I assume them
to be very important for our message, community and cooperation. I mainly
wanted to make a point about the complexity of numbers, data, impact,
assumptions and so on to avoid too simple assumptions.

ps: sorry for the long email.



No one shall ever be forced to use non-free software
Erik Albers | Communication & Community Coordinator | FSFE
OpenPGP Key-ID: 0x8639DC81 on

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