negative campaigning?

J.B. Nicholson jbn at
Thu Jul 27 01:52:08 UTC 2017

Daniel Pocock wrote:
> This was raised by Jonas in the thread about proprietary software, but
> it is a completely different topic, so I'm starting this thread about
> it: "we also don't do negative campaigning overall. We tell people they
> should use Free Software; we don't tell them what software they should
> not be using."

Trying to manage other people's feelings, or framing issues in terms of 
"negative" (and presumably "positive") language is a wasteful distraction 
that doesn't address substantive issues we can solve with software freedom.

Each of us is responsible for our own feelings, not other people's 
feelings. We're responsible for bringing to people's understanding how 
computers work and the ethical ramifications for choosing software the 
computer owner can't run, inspect, share, and modify (including 
non-technical users who need these services even if it means not doing this 
work themselves).

Free software delivers these freedoms, non-free (proprietary, 
user-subjugating) software does not by design (in both cases).

I have to wonder: if FSFE is seriously getting caught up in framing debates 
like this, is FSFE an open source advocacy group or a free software 
advocacy group? The tension between the two philosophies arose because open 
source was designed to get away from software freedom while insincerely 
pitching a development methodology that resembles what is done to make free 
software. Open source eschews software freedom and reliably gives into 
proprietary software (as points 
out, "I am surprised you were able to make the program work so well without 
using our development model, but you did. How can I get a copy?"). I'd 
expect an open source proponent to raise feelings maintenance into the 
discussion as though it were relevant and wise, knowing that the time spent 
on this non-issue is time not spent helping people understand what software 
freedom is and why software freedom matters for its own sake.

> The reality is, many sites and software vendors deceive users with a
> promise of security.  E.g. when a user accesses Gmail, they see the
> padlock icon in their browser, so doesn't that mean Gmail is secure?  If
> Gmail is secure and free software is secure, the user may ask why make
> the effort to change to free software?

We can explain that this muddles multiple separate issues together. Gmail 
runs on free software for Google (Google wrote their own software, as far 
as I know, so their software freedom is present). But the service requires 
the user run non-free software (Gmail Javascript) to access Gmail via the web.

The connection between the user and Google is encrypted ("secure" in the 
parlance) but this "secure connection" won't address that Google spies on 
its users, Google is a known US government spying "partner" (three cheers 
for Ed Snowden!), that any email could be conveyed to others via insecure 
means, and that email (as I write this) is most likely in plaintext. We use 
GNU Privacy Guard to address these issues by cryptographically signing and 
encrypting email. We can't use proprietary software to do this job instead 
because proprietary encryption is always untrustworthy, and proprietary 
software could log keystrokes, capture screenshots, and do other things to 
spy on us. But right now cryptographically signed & encrypted email is 
quite unpopular.

> It would be really interesting to hear perspectives people have about
> how to introduce threats without appearing to be negative.  For example,
> what narrative do we need to use to give proprietary software the same
> urgency as a burning kitchen or contaminated water?

You give them the facts, you denounce the attempt at distraction from 
"being negative" and you proceed with intelligent, adult, fact-based 
assertions and clearly conveying consequences. Nobody solves ugly problems 
like those you mention by prioritizing 'avoiding negative discussion'.

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