People often do not know or consider questioning the things around them, especially if they are things they use every day. They don't really think about what it means to be a good citizen. Well, people do, but only to the extent that it doesn't compromise on their so-called liberty. However, what is important is for everyone to consider the ethical implications of what they buy, and often, what they consume (which is not the case with software, as we do not consume software but rather use it). Software is one such example of this.
The Free Software Movement
This is a movement that strives to create a world where there is only free software, where nobody has to use what is called non-free software. Free software follows four key principles:
- Freedom 0: anyone must be able to run the program for any purpose.
- Freedom 1: anyone must have the freedom to study the program and change it.
- Freedom 2: anyone must be able to distribute copies of the program.
- Freedom 3: anyone must be able to distribute modified copies of the program.
These four freedoms are essential, according to the Free Software Foundation. According to them, software that does not meet these criteria, or non-free software, is considered unethical. Why is that?
The first reason is because software can be used to control. There goes a saying: either you control the software, or the software controls you. When you run non-free software on your machine, you have no say in how this software changed, or how this software works. Therefore, this software becomes an instrument of abuse, controlling users and making them passively obey the will of the people who develop it. For instance, consider new Windows updates. They are forced on you by Windows, and you have no say in what your software does. Although it may seem as if your software obeys you, it really obeys Microsoft, and only obeys you when Microsoft wants it to. Such a thing should not exist in a free society.
The second reason is related with privacy and security. When your software is non-free, it is very likely that it is collecting information about you without your knowledge or consent, and it is also much more possible that there are bugs in the software that cannot be fixed by the community, due to its non-free nature. Free software can be patched by the community, so in general it is very secure and private. When people are not private, democracy does not work. Democracy doesn't work when people know that their decisions are being watched, and when whistle-blowers and journalists cannot hold people in power accountable.
Another reason to use free software is because it's simply practical to in many cases. Free software has evolved to a point where much of the time it is simply superior to its non-free counterparts. Of course, this doesn't happen all the time, but one example would be libreboot, the free BIOS replacement that boots faster than almost all other computer BIOS. Another example would be chatting protocols, in which the only reason people don't use the free alternative is that their peers use it.
"How is it freedom if you don't have the freedom to install proprietary software?"
The concept is simple. Giving people the freedom to infringe on their own or others' freedoms is bad if you want to maximize freedom. Some people say the same with fsf approved distros and wonder why they don't give you the freedom to install proprietary software, if they are so free. The reason why is because they don't want you to infringe on your own rights.
If you are in favor of a free society, you should probably care about this. Oh, and slave labor, animal rights, and the environment. But that's an article for another time.