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12.06.11

CarrierIQ Exposes the Flaws of “Best Tool for the Job” Pragmatism

Posted in Apple, Free/Libre Software, FSF, FUD, Hardware, Intellectual Monopoly, Law, Microsoft, Patents, Samsung, Tivoization at 2:52 pm by Guest Editorial Team

The Best Tool For Freedom is a Free Tool

Moblen at OSCON 2007

Two friends have a good chat about free software at OSCON.

The CarrierIQ issue, even if it is part of an organized campaign to smear and ruin Android [2], is showing people the dangers of using non free software. Even one piece of non free software can betray users, so mostly free, “pragmatic” systems can be just as bad as regular non free systems. The free software community should capitalize on this awareness to change people’s attitudes towards their devices so that they will reject non free software in the future. Software freedom must be complete for users to have real conrtol and privacy.

Richard Stallman wrote an extensive review of Android back in September. It lists all of the parts of available phones that can be used maliciously against users, which surprisingly include the radio control firmware. The conclusion was unequivocal, “Android is a major step towards an ethical, user-controlled, free-software portable phone, but there is a long way to go. … While any computing system might have bugs, these devices might be bugs.”

When the CarrierIQ scandal broke, Mr. Stallman was not surprised. His comment was,

The root cause of this problem is that the users don’t control the software on these phones. So if they didn’t put in this surveillance package [Carrier IQ], they would put in some other. The users’ only protection against malicious features (surveillance, intentional restrictions, and back doors) is to insist on free software.

Anyone in the Open Source community who’s surprised should think hard about what the Free Software Society has been telling them. About four years ago at a “Web 2.0″ meeting, Eben Moglen urged the Tim O’Reilly and the Open Source community to quit, “wasting time promoting commercial products.” O’Reilly was sad that Moglen did not want to talk about protecting people’s data on other people’s computers in “the cloud,” but CarrierIQ makes it plain that those rights and protections are meaningless if the user is stripped of privacy by malware in their pocket. It might have been useful ten years ago to hide scary talk about freedom from big companies like IBM. It worked, thanks, but talk about “best tool for the job” and “pragmatic” mixes of free and non free software should now be considered counter productive and the results dangerous.

There are community alternatives to carrier issued Android. Stallman mentions Replicant, a 100% free software replacement for Android. There is also a less careful distribution called CyanogenMod that is focused on performance and includes non free software from Google and perhaps device drivers. Jeff Hoogland, the founder of Bodhi GNU/Linux, is working on Debian for cell phones and we can be sure many others are as well. In the mean time, if you must have a smart phone, it might as well be Android because there is no chance a phone from Apple or Microsoft will be liberated, but don’t expect it to be a Freedom Box the community really wants [2 and don't trust it until it's really free.

Sadly, US law is mostly a hindrance. Senator Al Franklin had some very pointed questions about possible violations of law for the company and a lawsuit has been launched against the guilty parties - Apple, HTC, Samsung, Motorola, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Carrier IQ. That's good but it will be difficult to prove what actually happened, and the free software community can do better. Like Vista and Windows 7, CarrierIQ establishes encrypted communications to hide the data transmitted. It would be better to have free software on your cell phone, so the FSF has petitioned the Librarian of Congress for a DMCA Exemption Without that, it may be against US law for people to replace the software on their phones or even to delete CarrierIQ malware.

The lack of freedom in cell phones is not a natural state but is unlikely to end without changes and enforcement of US law. Android has emerged as the top cell phone OS because it is free software and creates a productive commons for the odd hundred companies that must cooperate to make a cell phoneThe obnoxious US patent system has allowed Microsoft and Apple to practice judicial extortion that should have been blocked by US anti-trust and racketeering laws[1, 2,3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]. Spectrum licensing itself is a technically obsolete and harmful practice but the FCC could demand adherence to technical standards, demand the publication of technical standards required to operate phones, and forbid practices such as phone locking as the price carriers pay for spectrum as it transitions to open spectrum.

We are in this hole because a long running propaganda campaign by non free software owners has played down ethical issues while convincing people that they are helpless. Billions of dollars in propaganda spending still drown out the basic truth of the situation and non free software use remains prevalent even among people who have every reason to fear spying by the rich and powerful. CarrierIQ gives us a good chance to fix that.

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4 Comments

  1. Michael said,

    December 6, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Gravatar

    FUD:

    The CarrierIQ issue, even if it is part of an organized campaign to smear and ruin Android [2], is showing people the dangers of using non free software.

    The CarrierIQ scandal, which has nothing to do with any organized campaign to smear Android, is showing that even if you use what is commonly seen as being “open”, it might not be. Yeah, Android is often referred to as the “open” option – but now we are finding the “open” option is not really so “open” after all (not that there were not those of us who did not know this). And the “closed” option, iOS, seems the safer option.

    Now this need not be the case in all examples… but it sure seems to the case here!

    Even one piece of non free software can betray users, so mostly free, “pragmatic” systems can be just as bad as regular non free systems.

    But can the be as good? :)

    When the CarrierIQ scandal broke, Mr. Stallman was not surprised.

    Stallman is a repulsive man with no real sense of morals. He wants to push his desires on the rest of us and insists on dishonestly calling that “freedom”.

    FUD:

    Sadly, US law is mostly a hindrance. Senator Al Franklin had some very pointed questions about possible violations of law for the company and a lawsuit has been launched against the guilty parties – Apple, HTC, Samsung, Motorola, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Carrier IQ. That’s good but it will be difficult to prove what actually happened, and the free software community can do better.

    The law is a “hindrance” because the accusations are hard to prove? What? And if the free software community can do better than *do it*. Stop whining and make this “better” phone. People will flock to a better device… Apple proved this when they released the iPhone. Heck, even cheaper knockoffs of the iPhone are doing very well. If you can innovate something better, as Apple did, you can change an industry – so have at it! Instead of whining about Apple’s innovations being somehow not “fair” (in some way you can never quite say), out-innovate them and make something better.

    I cannot speak for others, but I know I would love to see it. And where I have seen the open source community build excellent tools it brings me joy.

    FUD:

    Without that, it may be against US law for people to replace the software on their phones or even to delete CarrierIQ malware.

    May be? Based on what? People “jail break” their phones all the time.

    FUD:

    The lack of freedom in cell phones is not a natural state but is unlikely to end without changes and enforcement of US law. Android has emerged as the top cell phone OS because it is free software and creates a productive commons for the odd hundred companies that must cooperate to make a cell phone.

    It is the “top cell phone OS” in the same way Windows is the top desktop OS or McDonalds is the top restaurant in the world.

    But your point of there being a risk with closed source software: of course. No doubt. But those risks are *one* element of a decision. Why sacrifice, as a rule, productivity and profitability for the sake of reducing a specific risk? Those risks should be *balanced*.

  2. saulgoode said,

    December 6, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Gravatar

    It would be better to have free software on your cell phone, so the FSF has petitioned the Librarian of Congress for a DMCA Exemption Without that, it may be against US law for people to replace the software on their phones or even to delete CarrierIQ malware.

    The EFF successfully petitioned for the legality of replacing software on cell phones back in July of 2010. My understanding is that the EFF’s current petition is asking that these same DMCA exemptions be extended to other computing devices (tablets, notebooks, PCs, etc).

    Michael Reply:

    Thank you for good info with a good link.

  3. mcinsand said,

    December 6, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Gravatar

    >>Sadly, US law is mostly a hindrance.

    More accurately, US law has been on vacation for the past two decades. Despite good starts such as the DG vs. Digidyne and the browser bundling cases, the computer technology market is dominated by cross-sectional tying/bundling. The Barnes & Nobel case against MS is encouraging, but there have been some definite missed opportunities along the way. Psystar royally shafted themselves by diddling with the code; if they’d left the code untouched, they could have had a great case.

    As with patents, the tech world seems to be ruled by practices that would get an antitrust investigation PDQ out here in the regular world, and we need to restore some lines between markets to restore a healthy ecosystem. The tying that has become the norm has stifled innovation to give us the inferiocracy that we now have with Apple and MS, where market share is a matter of suppression, rather than competition… where shiny passes for innovation, rather than actual improvements in functionality.

    To restore a healthy, competitive environment, we need to actually start enforcing our laws. Courts ruled that tying OS to hardware is illegal, and we need to restore that wall, from desktops to laptops to cellphones, especially since phones are now more computer than traditional phone. ‘Jailbreaking’ needs to be recognized as a consumer’s right, as well as the ability to purchase an OS-free device separately from the OS.

    Not only do hardware and software need to be separated, but software also needs to be kept in discrete markets. This would not only help to restore competition, but it would also help with security to ensure a modular, diverse environment. This really needs to be a matter of global security, with some of the cyberwarfare efforts going on. Browsers, office suites, e-mail… all need to be kept as discrete offerings.

    Google looks to be on the right track. Although the cries of ‘fragmentation’ FUD are flying, and although some lemmings actually think that Android copied from anything else, rather than the other way around, there have been some encouraging signs. I just hope that they don’t stop.

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