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09.17.20

The Quandary of ‘Ethical’ Sponsors and One’s Ability to Criticise Them (Otherwise It’s a Potential Bribe in Exchange for Censorship of Critics)

Posted in Finance, Free/Libre Software, FSF, Google at 11:35 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: When Free software advocacy groups are indebted to companies that greatly harm people’s freedom (including privacy) we have to ask ourselves questions regarding morality and ethics because money isn’t inherently evil, it depends who or where it comes from (on what implicit conditions)

THE term “Sponsors” (or “Patrons”) is supposed to sound inherently different from “Bosses” or even “Masters” (apparently the latter is now a politically-sensitive and potentially offensive term that must never be used, except in the context of slavery). Aren’t those just euphemisms?

“Is Google money reconcilable in a Free software advocacy group?”Over the past month or so we’ve published dozens of articles on this subject alone, at times taking note of FSFE sponsors and FSF sponsors. Google used to be a top FSF sponsor for a number of years and Google is still by far the biggest sponsor of the FSFE.

Is Google money reconcilable in a Free software advocacy group? Here is what the founder of the FSF, Richard Stallman, told me 6 years ago:


These were the FSF’s sponsors the year I conducted the above interview:

FSF patrons 2014

So, it’s not hard to see that Stallman was willing to criticise his top sponsor. Or at least his organisation’s top source of funding (for that year, previous years, and the following couple of years).

German EuroBased on some research, it was only in 2017 that Google stopped sponsoring the FSF (completely), either because the FSF rejected the money or Google chose not to give any. So it doesn’t seem likely that the turnaround moment was something Stallman said or did; contrast this with the FSFE and notice which years had asterisks in them (Google was always the top sponsor since 2013, inclusive, to the point of accounting for the lion’s share of revenues):

2012:

FSFE and Google 2012

2013:

FSFE and Google 2013

2014:

FSFE and Google 2014

2015:

FSFE and Google 2015

2016:

FSFE and Google 2016

2017:

FSFE and Google 2017

2018:

FSFE and Google 2018

2019:

FSFE and Google 2019

Present:

fFSFE and Google

Google’s money goes notoriously far, even privacy advocates like the EFF.

Debian (through SPI) was, especially in recent years, picking up cheques not only from Google (very big cheques) but also from Microsoft, for 4 consecutive years in fact. Does that mean that a certain Code of Conduct can be misused to punish Google and Microsoft critics? It’s definitely not impossible or implausible. Some people receive a salary out of that money. They don’t wish to put that money at risk. From what we can gather, the expulsion (first demotion) of Daniel Pocock was at least indirectly a result of what he said and did at the FSFE (candidly speaking to his constituents) and his criticism of Google, which he had previously worked with for years (under the GSoC umbrella). If we allow companies like these to ‘donate’ (it’s not a charity, they want something in return) about 0.0001% (millionth) of their annual revenue to institutions where that money is about 20% of the total revenue (several people’s salaries), how are we to prevent the likes of the FSF and FSFE from becoming a Linux Foundation-like failure (betraying or neglecting their own goals in pursuit of financial self-justification/gratification)?

People won’t donate for long or even provide moral support if they feel like the Linux Foundation is a GitHub/Microsoft outsourcer and the FSFE is like a Google lobby/front group looking for individuals to add/lend money towards this group’s objectives. This raises serious legitimate questions about morality of sponsorships in general, especially from those so large that they diminish the impact of individual contributors, rendering them more or less disposable.

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