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03.29.11

Microsoft Helps Repressive Regimes, Whereas GNU/Linux Makes Those Regimes Powerless

Posted in EFF, GNU/Linux, Microsoft at 7:02 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Machine gun

Summary: Microsoft is gunning down dissidence (for oppressive tyrants only) by deliberately leaving people who use Microsoft software exposed to surveillance and other abuses

THE subject of Free software as a tool of autonomy goes many years back. For a computer user to be in control of the software rather than the servant of this software, there are characteristics which need to be present in the code. The FSF gives one good definition of these characteristics, although there may be others. Richard Poynder explains how “Citizenship and Software” relate to one another in an atmosphere where software is increasingly politicised:

Lawrence Lessig came to understand the power of software to construct and shape our world when he was (briefly) “special master” during the Microsoft antitrust case. As he later put it to me, “[Y]ou can code software however you want, to produce whatever kind of product you want. And that capability is unique with software: you can’t, for instance, say that an automobile will be something that is a transmission and a radio wrapped in one. But you can do exactly that with software, because software is so plastic.”

As such, he added, the Microsoft case was just “a particular example of a more general point about how you need to understand the way in which technology and policy interact.”

Yet, as more and more of our lives are organised and controlled by computers, and the role that software plays in society becomes increasingly central, most people still assume that the virtual world that opens up before them when they switch on the computer, and the choices they are offered onscreen, is how things are and ought to be — not a consequence of the way in which the underlying software has been coded.

People who use Microsoft software are completely controlled by the political inclinations of Microsoft and those governments which Microsoft collaborates with (basically just about any government, for the sake of profit). The recent stories from Russia [1, 2, 3] were a shocking reminder of it and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports that “Microsoft Shuts off HTTPS in Hotmail for Over a Dozen Countries”. As André Rebentisch put it, “Hotmail does not offer https for authoritarian nations” and here are the nations in short:

According to an EFF deeplink Hotmail apparently disabled the https default option for its users who set their location to the following nations: Bahrain, Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan,

Brad explains why “Political Activists Need Linux” — a subject we addressed here many times before.

Over and over again I have stressed the advice of computer security experts: if you must use Windows, do NOT use Internet Explorer. And I’ll go one step further: if you have any reason to believe you may be targeted for attack — either because of your political beliefs, or your business activities — then stop using Windows.

There is also an interpretation from Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols. Here we have yet another example of Microsoft harming computer users. Won’t people learn from Egypt about how governments identify and arrest the opposition following surveillance?

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