11.22.12

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Techrights IRC Software, Free (Libre) Software, and Software Perspective

Posted in Site News at 6:02 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Our adherence to Free and Open Source software is not enough for triumph in the long fight for digital rights, fair competition, etc.

As a little bit of background, when I had turned 21 and started my Ph.D. I found myself surrounded by archaic digital systems which impeded access to valuable human knowledge. They were designed this way. I also found navigation therein cumbersome enough to reduce or eliminate reuse of knowledge. I am familiar with all the principal arguments for Open Access, so I do share everything that I create, be it software or text or graphics.

Paywalls and registration are barriers because they limit the audience based on financial status and eliminate anonymous reading, respectively. It is quite unjust and it is no coincidence. Profit and control (power over the reader) take priority over what scientists typically want, which is maximal dissemination of their work. This contributes to influence.

Ever since I began getting active, a lot of systems have gotten more malicious in the sense that they increase tracking, put people’s data outside their own control (Fog Computing), and even take software — including binaries — away from the users. This make such systems ripe for abuse and we constantly see reports of abuses, ranging from spying, selling of personal data, and addition of malicious features through software updates one cannot decline (programs are stored on servers). This affects everyone who uses the Web, e.g. to pay bills, so often enough no choice on the matter is even given. We are losing a fight for control over our computing.

Increasingly, paying or non-paying customers become the product, whereas real clients become those who want to control us (nosy oppressive governments, marketing companies that want to sell us stuff we neither need nor naturally want, and financial firms which assess risk based on our private lives, e.g. health condition).

Free software is not enough to fight away this trend, but it sure can help. These are the sorts of issues that fall under the umbrella of tech or digital rights. We, ‘mere mortals’, are losing power as corporations (superorganisms) gain power. They have architecture-wise instated a system and perfected instruments like patents (enforced by the system) to further limit people’s ability to compete. To give an example, Novell signed a patent deal by which it uses its patents to claim ‘safe’ ownership of software that many people created for free, rendering these people ‘infingers’. That was just seriously outrageous. It needed to be countered and Novell is no more.

Techrights uses various bits of Free software to serve web pages. Our IRC channls have become more than the typical type of thing. Free software improves the experience in the sense that it adds live updates.

Twitfolk for identi.ca, once developed here in the UK (at a company with a few people I know), helps syndicate blogs in real time.

Tony Manco from Canada wrote a bot which helps manage our IRC channels and Toby, who lives near Tony, improved it to further suit our needs.

There is also offline software. For the past four and a half years, for example, we have used the same Python program to produce thousands of IRC logs. My wife and I plan to add some more features to it and then release that as Free software. It’s work in progress.

It is fun to write about Free software and especially fun releasing new software at the same time. Everything in the site is done using Free software. Most posts are written in Android, too (since a couple of months ago).

Some people still ask, what are the site’s goals? Well, in general, given enough time the scope would have included privacy, net neutrality, copyright etc. (part of our tech rights, which help preserve or advance human rights) but we just post timely links about those subjects (daily links) without further commentary, while primarily focusing on patents, competition barriers, and sometimes censorship if it relates to proprietary software rather than politics. Techrights was never entirely focused on Free software, not because it’s not important but because it’s part of a broader picture which includes open data, access, networks, etc. Competition (if fair) and collaboration drive innovation; protectionism like patents is a barrier. Actually, we increasingly find that — particularly in the smartphones market — companies collude, which is another form or typical phenomenon where competition is being subverted. It does not deal with the licences of software (FOSS or proprietary) although GPLv3 helps address some issues. Linux is not enough and Free software is not enough either. Companies that use both, e.g. IBM, are part of the problem and Google goes down a similar route because it hired patent lawyers who push in this direction. We have explained how the interests of lawyers often supersede those of developers whom they claim to ‘protect’.

Techrights in colour

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