Balance relationships with companies (Re: Who talks at conference for Free Software?)

Paul Boddie paul at
Mon Jul 1 10:12:58 UTC 2019

On Friday 28. June 2019 14.55.20 Bernhard E. Reiter wrote:
> Companies and other organisations are taking part in Free Software
> communities, other may oppose them. Many companies consists of different
> branches. Some are more inclined towards Free Software others are not.
> Same with people working there.

We hear this a lot. It usually gets said when a company does something harmful 
and gets criticised, and when the people working for such companies want it 
both ways: the nice salary *and* to be able to work on things that interest 
them within Free Software without any nasty observations about how that salary 
was funded or the sort of organisation those people are working for.


> When searching for Facebook on our Public Money? Public Code! Brochure
> .pdf I'll only find "Facebook" being mentioned in Fernanda Weiden's short
> biography as her current workplace. Fernanda has done a lot for Free
> Software and FSFE even before she had worked for Facebook, so this is about
> a person foremost.

I am sure Fernanda has done a lot for Free Software, although I am not 
familiar with the details. (I believe that Fernanda is also a FSFE General 
Assembly member along with various other people whose reputations are 
similarly established. This reminds me of the still-unresolved matter of 
organisational democracy that was helpfully shunted over to the rogue mailing 
list only to disappear.)

> (Facebook, just like the companies IBM, Microsoft and Google contribute
> quite significant amount code as Free Software and interact with the
> communities. Applaudable even if they do bad things in other areas.)

So, does Facebook deserve any kind of promotional consideration in a FSFE 
brochure? Would it be OK if Mark Zuckerberg wrote a piece for such a brochure? 
Where do we draw the line if people think that a particular company is not 
inherently acceptable?

Should people be OK with harmful organisations as long as they throw code over 
the wall or parcel out gifts to Free Software developers occasionally? Is it 
acceptable for communities to be bought or bribed by corporate generosity that 
often comes at the expense of those communities and wider society?

> Seriously, I think that if we did not include who people are working for,
> someone would criticise us for not "disclosing" this potential conflict of
> interest. >:) Now readers can make up their minds from the article.
> This is good practice with the more serious scientific journals as well.

Of course it is good practice to acknowledge affiliations. My point was that 
some affiliations are problematic regardless of whether they are acknowledged 
or not.

This does make me think of other campaigns and activities pursued by the FSFE. 
Although one can argue that certain things have been prioritised purely 
because of enthusiasm from various members and supporters of the organisation, 
I find it difficult to separate some of this enthusiasm from other concerns 
that might have something to do with personal affiliations.

> > I decided not to continue supporting the FSFE financially.
> Sad to see you stop donating.
> Thanks for the support to far!
> We hope to win you back some day!
> (Our supporters and donors allow us to do more work and stay independent
> of single company donors!)

Thank you for your sentiments! Unfortunately, with the FSFE appearing less 
than convincing as an effective organisation operating in the interests of 
Free Software, I can only repeat my final remark from before...

> I wonder what measures are being taken to remedy this unfortunate situation
> and to regain the trust and confidence that has seemingly been lost.


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