Fairphone should officially sell FP3 with a Free Software Only option

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.org.uk
Sun Mar 7 18:11:51 UTC 2021

On Sunday, 7 March 2021 17:26:40 CET Carsten Agger wrote:
> I just bought a new Fairphone 3, and the experience inspired me to write
> the following on their official forum. I think I was called to do this
> mainly because I really like th project and think it's a shame they
> focus so little on free software, now they've apparently got so many
> other things right.

I remarked on a lack of emphasis from Fairphone on Free Software a few times 
before and then felt a bit bad doing so. After all, how can people criticise 
an organisation working for fairer labour practices, responsible sourcing of 
raw materials, and who generally try to take responsibility for the ecological 
impact of their own products?

Then again, thinking back to some discussions we had on this list a few years 
ago where there were discussions about the societal impact of surveillance 
capitalism and proprietary social media platforms, Fairphone acts as a good 
illustration of how people can encourage positive change by making people 
consider others in supposedly distant and unconnected places whose lives are 
not necessarily made better by "technological progress".

(It also illustrates the need for a coherent and broad approach by initiatives 
trying to achieve positive change, but more on that in a moment.)

Now, I seem to remember the usual excuses about why services like Facebook and 
Twitter were acceptable venues for Free Software advocates. Indeed, the Free 
Software Foundation recently brought some of these out themselves:


The "we need to reach out" excuse ignores that by "reaching out", people are 
dignifying proprietary platforms that are routinely used for (and even 
optimised for) a catalogue of nasty things like bullying, harassment, 
propaganda, and so on. From a single-issue perspective, they also marginalise 
Free Software and genuinely open alternatives for communication, thus making 
arguments for free and open technologies and platforms even harder to make.

But even on an individual level, the excuses that such proprietary platforms 
"work for me", that they "help me keep in touch with my friends/family", along 
with the insistence that "I don't see anything like propaganda" or "I just 
ignore it", these all pretend that anything that isn't part of someone's own 
personal experience cannot therefore be happening at all. Stories about, say, 
Facebook facilitating atrocities [1] or profiting from unethical, antisocial 
and abhorrent behaviour [2] are readily met with puzzlement and denial.

The architects of these platforms presumably make great claims about those 
platforms "bringing people together" - these being their own excuses for why 
they should continue to operate without further regulation - and yet it is 
precisely this kind of customisation of individual experience, of making the 
individual unaware of what else might be going on - either in shaping their 
own experience or of what others might experience - that gives these platforms 
popular support and permission to pursue business as usual. It is "bringing 
people together" so that they may be driven apart.

Just as Fairphone aims to show that while one group may benefit from 
something, another may suffer because of it, we might point out that while 
those enjoying the amusements of proprietary social media do so at no apparent 
cost to themselves, they do so at quite significant cost to others. And as we 
have seen, the cost eventually tends to be incurred by our own societies in a 
broader sense, too, with democratic institutions and processes undermined to 
facilitate nationalism, corruption and social division.

This is where Fairphone and fellow travellers need to consider the broader 
picture around their own endeavour. It is worthy that those who are generally 
worse off than the average consumer of the world's wealthier nations get to 
have their own conditions improved, that they are fairly treated in their role 
in facilitating a commercial relationship. I think most reasonable people 
would go along with that.

But if proprietary software and proprietary (anti)social media platforms are 
an integral part of delivering a supposedly fair device, then the time will 
come when consumers, steered towards more selfishness by manipulative and 
malicious interests through those platforms, will no longer see any ethical 
necessity in buying anything that seeks to be "fair". They will just buy the 
absolute cheapest stuff on Amazon, congratulate themselves on the "great deal" 
they just made, and parrot the latest dismissive rhetoric about anything 
trying to make the world a fairer and better place.

I think it is great that you have tried to make people aware of an issue that 
should have been addressed from the very start of their endeavour, but perhaps 
the consequences are more apparent to them now than they once were.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/03/revealed-facebook-hate-speech-exploded-in-myanmar-during-rohingya-crisis

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/feb/15/facebook-anti-vaccination-advertising-targeting-controversy

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