Forcing students to use nonfree network services and software as a topic of a future campaign

Paul Boddie paul at
Mon Dec 2 17:19:33 UTC 2019

On Friday 29. November 2019 23.02.39 Nico Rikken wrote:
> Privacy: schools migrating their infrastructure to cloud SaaS
> companies, with questionable licenses.

I managed to see this more closely again at a former, then current, now former 
employer: employees and students get the opportunity to sign up for various 
cloud services, agreeing to the terms at their own peril. Naturally, if 
someone signs up for a Microsoft cloud service and then publishes, say, an 
event where the sign-up link is via that service, the consequence is that 
other people are then forced to use that service and to have a relationship 
with Microsoft.

Alongside privacy, this also has a cost for the institution in terms of 
needing to integrate such services with identity management systems and other 
institutional services. Arguably, such expenditure would be better directed 
towards Free Software solutions.

> Independence: what good is it learning skills if you learn them on
> proprietary software. Sure it might an industry standard (e.g. Adobe
> Creative suite), but your skills now depend partly on the policy of the
> software vendor.

Back in the 1990s when I was still using proprietary platforms, one of which 
being significant in the UK primary and secondary education sectors, there was 
always much made of "industry standard" products which also happened to be 
proprietary, with it being said that children/students shouldn't waste their 
time on products that aimed at the educational market (either explicitly as 
educational products or being more generally useful products that happened to 
be written for platforms popular in education). Children/students were 
apparently supposed to learn what was used in "business".

The observations that people made rather often in response were that skills 
should be independent of products and that "education is not training". 
Naturally, the latter observation applies less to vocational institutions, but 
I think that even courses that seek to train individuals should have a breadth 
of more than a single product so that those individuals acquire a degree of 
versatility in their vocation.

It also did not help advocates of "industry standard software" that in some 
areas DOS/Windows programs lagged behind various competing products in the 
early 1990s and would have given little benefit to those learning them upon 
finally completing their education and meeting the "real world" or "industry". 
Indeed, with product evolution being dictated by vendors and with a continual 
need for training being cultivated by vendors, there is a strong argument for 
a broad exposure to concepts, techniques and for students to be confident and 

> Reuse: educational institutions should help education. And having
> material that can be shared freely, advances education as a whole.
> Improvement: students can actively contribute to learning materials, to
> improve it for next generations of students.

I obviously agree with these points, in contrast to the depressing trend of 
educational institutions being cultivated as "innovation" machines seeking to 
minimise sharing so that they may monetise their activities.

Of course, there is a broader matter involved here: that of being forced to 
use specific and proprietary products to conduct activities that are a natural 
part of functioning as a private individual. Why should people need to have a 
Google account to access materials within an institution? Why should they need 
to download an "app" to interact with public agencies or services (or private 
entities providing what are effectively public services)?

Indeed, why should anyone even need to sign up for an "app" store, operated by 
a corporation funnelling data and money offshore, to interact with a private 
business if that person and that business reside in the same location? One 
might have thought that a business requiring an individual to enter into a 
non-transient relationship with another business in order to complete a 
transaction would actually be illegal under competition law.

Maybe such issues would be a good subject for a campaign, even if it might be 
too substantial a topic for the FSFE by itself.


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