Is lack of software freedom a valid reason for refusal?

Paul Boddie paul at
Thu Sep 28 16:43:37 UTC 2017

On Thursday 28. September 2017 17.45.03 Carsten Agger wrote:
> Now, I wouldn't have a big problem with that - if only they had a good
> old-fashioned meter that will accept coins. Or even a credit card.

Even some kind of SMS payment would be reasonably acceptable, but I guess the 
money is all in "apps" these days. (Actually, there is apparently money in 
sending SMS messages, but that's another story.)

> But no, you *must* download a proprietary app, different ones for
> different parts of town, and I think there's two annoyances here:
> * It's unacceptable that you're actually required to carry a smartphone
> (Android or iOS only) to do something completely commonplace
> * It's unaceptable that you're required to install and use non-free
> software to do it..

The challenge for us is to figure out how to formulate such demands for fair, 
accessible and usable infrastructure. It has been a struggle to get the 
message across in other areas.


> Exactly. And even though requiring a smartphone is not strictly a
> software freedom issue (you might be able to use one with free software
> only), I do think it's a question of how we want our cities to be in the
> digital era. Do we want them to be system-friendly, requiring people to
> cater for the whims of software developers, or people friendly? "People
> friendly" would be to always allow common infrastructure to work without
> people carrying specific electronic gadgets.

A friend of mine mentioned having her public transport ticket checked, which 
was in her case accessible via a specific "app" (of course), and when she told 
the inspectors that it was taking a while to come up on screen, the remark was 
made that maybe she should "get a newer phone". I can think of several 
responses, some very impolite, others wondering whether ticket inspectors make 
so much money that they can regard having the latest gadgets as some kind of 
civic duty.

One problem is that "apps" are tempting for people offering public services 
because the hardware involved is somewhat generic, meaning that municipalities 
(and their corporate entities) can avoid procuring things for specific 
purposes. In Oslo, they spent substantial amounts eliminating paper tickets 
with a smartcard system where (1) the readers didn't work, (2) the barriers 
couldn't be used because of fire regulations, (3) the roll-out was so slow 
that the first batch of cards had apparently degraded and were unreliable or 
unusable, (4) connectivity is required to validate tickets, and (5) they have 
to issue cards for short-term users like tourists or somehow make the "app" 
work for them.

With such a background of inept procurement (or demonstrably corrupt, in some 
cases in the public transport bureaucracy), having an "app" seems like the 
ultimate answer. But the correct answer is to provide people with the means to 
access the services, not to burden them with something that they think 
everyone should have anyway.


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