Public Money Public Code: a good policy for FSFE and other non-profits?

Paul Boddie paul at
Fri Jun 15 11:30:08 UTC 2018

On Friday 15. June 2018 11.21.52 Erik Albers wrote:
> totally agree here. And as a staffer that is also hired for doing a good
> outreach I see two problems here:
> a) the work-time I need to invest to "[...] maintain a public inventory on
> the wiki listing the non-free software and services in use, including
> details of which people/teams are using them, the extent to which FSFE
> depends on them, a list of any perceived obstacles within FSFE for
> replacing/abolishing each of them, and for each of them a link to a
> community-maintained page or discussion with more details and
> alternatives."
> I am sorry, but I really think my work time is better invested in promoting
> FSFE and Free Software instead of overanalysing every single step or
> supervise my colleagues.

I don't interpret the text as being as demanding as needing to document "every 
single step". I interpret it as referring to continuous usage of non-free 
software and services, not whether (from Alessandro's example) someone used a 
proprietary service to talk to some politician on a single occasion.

(Although it is actually interesting to people if politicians and others 
insist on being contacted using proprietary services. I have had the 
experience of applying for employment positions and being asked for my Skype 
details, of which I have none, of course. The insistence of organisations - in 
one case, a semi-public one getting substantial taxpayer funding - on 
proprietary, non-interoperable technologies is exactly what we should be 

> b) the negative approach in the proposal aka "hall of shame". I second, it
> would mostly help internal frictions and give unnecessary arguments into
> the hands of our opponents ("look, even the FSFE is not able to operate
> without proprietary software" [link] or "the FSFE is a not reliable in
> their request to use Free Software because they do not do this themselves"
> etc).

So this actually answers a question I asked in the beginning: "Is it because 
admitting such dependencies is embarrassing?" Of course it would be 
regrettable if people were to make an issue of it, but there are also the 
matters of recognising any such problem and striving to do something about it.

And there is a difference between "FSFE uses proprietary software but doesn't 
care" and "FSFE uses proprietary software but actively seeks to eliminate it", 
the latter obviously making the organisation appear more honest, more genuine 
and even easier for others in a similar position to relate to.

> If at all, we should maintain a public inventory to list all the Free
> Software we are using to run our services, that we self-develop and what
> we achieve with them. In contrast to Daniel's proposal, this could help
> our own reputation and the reputation of Free Software. And it would show
> the FSFE to lead by example (what we actually do).

Yes, this would be interesting and helpful. I see that the need to document 
data handling procedures has probably set this kind of thing in motion.

> However, I still fear this list will create internal frictions about the
> purity of some software.

Maybe increased transparency brings its own problems, but it being something 
that the FSFE tends to demand of others, and given that a perceived lack of 
transparency seems to be affecting confidence in the organisation, it becomes 
a matter of choosing to live with certain problems and managing them in a way 
that most people will find acceptable.

> So, I propose you trust us that we use Free Software always and that this
> is minimum 95%, including our phones, landlines, printers etc.

Well, this would conflate a bunch of different factors, which is why I noted 
that there are practical limitations to deploying software that should not be 
considered here. No reasonable person expects you to get the in-circuit 
programmers out and to break open phones, printers, and so on, to reprogram 
devices for which there won't be any Free Software to deploy, anyway.

> And then we concentrate on our work not our software in use.

I don't feel that these are necessarily always different things.

> btw: I also cannot follow the argument in Daniel's blog post, that "tax
> deductions given to our supporters" means we are supported by public money.
> But well, this is another story.

It does effectively mean that revenue that would have been raised by the state 
has instead appeared in the accounts of another organisation. In certain 
countries, such deductions are advertised almost as being like contribution 
matching by the state, so Daniel is hardly the first person to portray it in 
this way. For example:

One can, of course, note that since these public donations are directed by 
individuals then the state should not really dictate conditions applying to 
these donations. Then again, the state does impose various conditions when 
recognising the charitable status of organisations and whether they are 
eligible for such deductions.


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