Bonum Certa Men Certa

Services and Users TRApped in Telescreen-Running Apps

New article by Alexandre Oliva (FSF Board, Linux-libre etc.)

Summary: TRApp, term that lends its name to this article, is short for "Telescreen-Running App". It sounds just like "trap". Any similarity is not purely coincidental.

I've noticed a worrisome pattern, in Brazil, wherein companies and even governments entice users to install apps on portable telescreening devices, handheld versions of the telescreens in George Orwell's 1984, also known as smart mobile telephones, pocket electronic ankle tag, or Stalin's dream. They advertise benefits to customers over the same services previously delivered preferentially through web sites and browsers, when these alternatives aren't removed entirely.



As Big Bad Wolf disguised as grandma would respond, "my TRApps are so big the better to see you, dear, and the tighter to hold you." That's surveillance capitalism at work. But do they have any teeth?






First, allow me to detail my observations. It's not just multiple utilities, private businesses and governments advertising they now have apps on both major (nonfree) mobile TRApp stores, that offer similar services to those already available on a web site, but now without the alleged hassle of authenticating every time. It's not just that, while you hold on the phone waiting for a human attendant, recorded messages are played insisting for you to try the TRApp.



What catches my attention is when online merchants offer significant discounts, store credit or free shipping, but only if you make the purchase in the TRApp, rather than their web shop. That gas station chains offer discounts when you pay for your fuel using their TRApp rather than even cash or bank transfer. When banks want you to use their TRApps so bad that they won't just stop adding features to the web site, as if it was legacy abandonware, but will discontinue features that used to be available on the web site, for no reason other than to force you into their TRApps.



Various government agencies now issue virtual documents, such as id card, driver's and car license, voter id, proof of military service and of vaccination, proof of purchases, the list goes on and on... but though they look essentially the same as their paper equivalents, and several of them contain even QR codes for validation, some of them are only valid when displayed by the official TRApp. Taking and carrying a digital picture of the paper document won't do, even when a paper copy of the document would!



Most businesses and government agencies had to adopt online customer and citizen attention after the COVID-19 pandemic started. Many now offer chatbots to get the interaction started, but several insist you use their own TRApp for that. Others require you, for no reason, to have a phone number and an account with a third-party messaging TRApp to get their service. I'd have complained about that to the consumer protection office, but I didn't because I learned they were only holding audiences with Zoom during the pandemics. Oh, the irony!



Not long ago, the federal government launched gov.br, a unified portal for government services to citizens. Though there is a web site under that name, there are also TRApps on both major TRApp stores, and many of the services are only available to users TRApped in the duopoly of freedom-depriving mobile operating systems. I'm told they don't work on devices that have been unlocked (rooted or jail-broken), i.e., they demand them to be under someone else's control.






Why would businesses insist on TRApps, to the point of seemingly sacrificing their profits, when web interactions would do? They won't disclose their ulterior motives, so we can only speculate. Could it be that most of the target audience is presumed or known to carry portable telescreening devices, and web browsers for those dominant (double meaning intended) platforms suck? Could it be that TRApp provide higher user engagement than web sites? Could it be that developers of TRApps have become cheaper or easier to find than web developers? Could it be that suppliers of TRApps and mobile operating systems are driving this trend, and that they are in bed with Big Data? ("What great Big Data, grandma!") Could it be that, like Pinocchio's nose, the more they lie to us, the bigger their collection of data about us grows?






Imposing freedom-depriving software has long been used as a means to control users' computing and, ultimately, to control the users themselves. It used to be the case that nonfree software running locally was less dangerous to users, freedom-wise, than software running on somebody else's computer, under somebody else's control, a computing malpractice presented as powered by heavenly magical mist to users with clouded judgment. The reason for this difference was that you could keep the locally-running software from sharing your data or getting new commands from the mothership by unplugging your computer from the network (do not try this at home, Winston, not even with your portable telescreen!), whereas you had to give your data to the remote program without a chance to know what's done with it: such computing processes are covered by a thick mist. You don't even get binary programs to reverse engineer, reimplement, or run at will, remaining at the mercy of the service provider.



Ironically, this difference does not apply to most TRApps, that are little more than a front-end, a tentacle controlled by remote brains. They bring into the local computer the lack of user control typical of misty computing, while escaping the browser sandboxing that limited, even if just a little, the amount of abuse the remote programs could impose on their victims.



Despite elaborate permission systems offered by major mobile operating systems, TRApps often ask for and get permissions over seemingly legitimate purposes, but one can hardly ever tell whether they abuse the granted permissions without the freedom to study the source code. If they're found to abuse the granted permissions, one can hardly ever fix that without the freedom to adapt them so that, on the user's computer, with the user's data plan or network connection, they serve the user rather than some third party who controls them remotely.



Consumers are entitled to know what is in products they acquire, even if as a requirement to receive services, and to use their own property as they see fit. Businesses should not abuse consumers, not even by reframing or turning them into products. Requiring us to give up our freedom and privacy to use (or be used by) their service is abusive, unacceptable business practice.



Now, it's not everybody that has the skills to audit or modify code, so consumers also need the freedom to share every such program with someone they trust to study it, adapt it, and improve it for them. Summing it up, consumers need software to be free software.






The lack of these freedoms is an even more egregious offense when it comes to software used to interact with the government. Nonfree software constrains behavior, not only of the computer, but also of the user. "The system won't allow it" is often given as a reason, or rather excuse, to refuse, without legal backing, citizens's reasonable requests. Code becomes law, as Lawrence Lessig wrote, but democratic law is supposed to be public and transparent, available for the people's scrutiny, and adopted through transparent democratic processes, whereas rules imposed through secret nonfree code lack the transparency and legitimacy required of democratic powers: the secrecy of the source code implies the rules are opaque to the public, and came to be through opaque and undemocratic processes, that can seldom be challenged and fixed. Democratic governments must not impose such illegitimate rules on anyone, let alone on their own citizens.






There is yet another very undesirable consequence of the push from WWW standards-based interactions to TRApps: it reinforces and strengthens the duopoly of nonfree mobile operating systems and their TRApp stores. Both big players ("What great big players, grandma!") engineer their systems to control the users, to make sure the suppliers have more control over the devices than their buyers and presumed owners. This may be good for those who lay the TRApps, but it's very dangerous and harmful to the paying customers they wish to capture.



It would surely be in the best interest of free societies to enable and foment the introduction of other mobile operating systems that respected users and enabled them to control their digital lives. Depending on TRApps that lock users to either preexisting competitor, and on cooperation from their carefull curated but incurably anti-competitive TRApp stores are major impediments to such desirable developments. Oligopolies are bad enough for consumers, but walking down a path that inescapably and deliberately locks us to a duopoly is far more serious!






“Wow, grandma, what a great big problem that is!” “Yes, dear,” answers the actual grandmother, “a great big problem with great big, sharp and ugly teeth. Watch out, it bites! We should all make a big stink about TRApps, dear, and insist on being able to get equivalent service without them!“






Copyright 2022-2023 Alexandre Oliva
Copyright 2023 FSFLA



Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this entire document worldwide without royalty, provided the copyright notice, the document's official URL, and this permission notice are preserved.



https://www.fsfla.org/texto/TRApps

Recent Techrights' Posts

In Malawi, Windows Down to 10%, GNU/Linux Growing
it's not a small country
[Meme] Featuritis
Newer is not always better
 
"Planets" Cannot Replace Social Control Media, They're Very Much Akin to It (Censorship Hubs, Gatekeepers)
Don't be subjected to gaslighting; make your own OPML file
Topics That Truly Irritate and Consistently Infuriate the Microsofters (Whenever We Cover These)
Censoring uncomfortable information is a difficult activity that has its limits, even in Reddit
Honduras: Vista 11 Down, GNU/Linux Up
Valve sees GNU/Linux as bigger than Apple's MacOS
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
IRC Proceedings: Thursday, June 13, 2024
IRC logs for Thursday, June 13, 2024
LibrePlanet 2024 and the Lost Video/Audio of Talks
After the event was over someone informed us that due to technical issues they had lost (or failed to acquire) recordings of the talks
Choosing Between Options to Outsource to Evades the Best Solution (Self-Hosting)
Most users don't need this sort of complexity
IBM Layoffs at Kyndryl
This can soon spill over to Red Hat
Turkmenistan: GNU/Linux Leaps Past 5% This Month?
This is how statCounter sees it
Watch This Space
what matters most is not the volume or quantity of publications but their underlying depth and quality
Short Downtimes, Planned Maintenance
Hypervisor maintenance is planned
Links 13/06/2024: Ongoing Sharp Increases in Deaths, Mediterranean Diet Linked to 23% Lower Risk of Death in Women
Links for the day
Gemini Links 13/06/2024: Linuxing of the Dell Laptop and Deep Dive into the World of the OpenEarth Foundation
Links for the day
New Highs for Android in Haiti (Nearly 80%), Microsoft Windows at Only 4%
that's Android at another new high and very close to 80% (it now seems inevitable)
[Meme] How Stefano Maffulli (and Microsoft's Own OSI Insiders) Make Money
Milking what's left of the OSI by attacking its very mission - something that more people now recognise
Mobs Don't Get the Job Done (Mob Leaders Have Lost Credibility/Visibility, Job, or Both)
their demands weren't met
Montenegro: GNU/Linux "Proper" at Over 6%
Windows is down to record lows
Links 13/06/2024: Overpopulation Woes, Best Buy Lays Off More Employees
Links for the day
Nationwide Eventually Did Listen
Miles better than their original nonresponse
The Corruption of Open Source Initiative (OSI), a Front Group of Microsoft and GAFAM, Openwashing Proprietary Things and Even Plagiarism, GPL Violations
Stefano Maffulli (and Microsoft's staff that works with him) basically profits from anti-FOSS
"AI" Tech Bubble
How much "hype quotient" does this whole "hey hi" (AI) thing have left in it?
Links 13/06/2024: Science, Politics, and Gemini
Links for the day
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
IRC Proceedings: Wednesday, June 12, 2024
IRC logs for Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Gemini Links 12/06/2024: The Rodent Revolution and Adding Twisty Puzzles
Links for the day
Links 12/06/2024: Ukraine War Updates and Many Patents Being Subjected to Squashing Bounties
Links for the day
Ireland Last to Report Election Results
Daniel Pocock's involvement in Australian politics goes back to his university days
Never Sleeps, Never Slumbers
We're going to try to improve not just in quantity but also in quality
[Meme] The Purpose of Life is to Find a Desk
dogs have desks
EPO Has Gotten So Bad That Workers Need to Ask to be Allocated a Desk (at Work)
Wow!!!! An “allocated workplace”!!
Tux Machines Parties Going Well Do Far
Cross-posted from Tux Machines
In Many Countries, Both Large and Small, Vista 11 is Losing Market Share (Despite New PCs Coming Preloaded With It)
One need not even consider large nations in isolation
By "Going Public" the Raspberry Pi Ensures It'll No Longer Serve the Public
It'll be owned and controlled by whatever people wish to control it
Dave Wreski Also Plays the Bot Game (Chatbot) at LinuxSecurity to Fake 'Articles' About "Linux"
How much longer can they fool search engines (SEO) and readers?
[Meme] Indisputable Success
MICROSOFT buys shares of MICROSOFT
Links 12/06/2024: 'Hey Hi' (AI) Bubble Imploding Already, Danish Media Threatens to Sue OpenAI
Links for the day
Links 11/06/2024: Floods in Germany and Brazil, Political Violence
Links for the day
Gemini Links 12/06/2024: Sketching Plants, OpenBSD Pubnix
Links for the day
"2025 the year of Linux on the Desktop"
Charlie Stross quote
In Bahrain, Historically Low on GNU/Linux Adoption, Things Change for the Better
They have some people who understand Free software
Daniel Pocock Received Twice as Many Votes as Andreas Tille (Debian Project Leader After 2024 Election)
From the media yesterday...
Debian is Built by Hundreds of Volunteers and 524 Irish People Voted for Daniel Pocock
524 in that area went to the polling station to vote Daniel Pocock (Ind)
[Meme] RMS is 'Too Old', Says Company Run by a Person 5 Years His Junior (Ginni Rometty) and 10 Years His Junior (Arvind Krishna)
Never again?
[Meme] Women in Computer Science
Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace etc.
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
IRC Proceedings: Tuesday, June 11, 2024
IRC logs for Tuesday, June 11, 2024
Togo: GNU/Linux Growing Fast This Year, Now Measured at 6%
Sending Bill Gates with a suitcase to bribe African officials isn't enough anymore
Free Software Projects Need to Chase Away Men Who Attack Women Rather Than The Women Who Complain
A just society holds people accountable rather than covers up such blunders
Improving the Image of Women in Free Software by Hiring and Promoting the Proficient Ones
Million's shaman background isn't the problem, or even the superstitious ghost-chasing. The problem is that she has absolutely no background in Free software.
They Say Cash is King
People who value their freedom will pay with cash any time they can
'Team Microsoft' Wants to Leverage Our Popularity as a Weapon Against Us
In the past 2 days we published 64 articles and served over a million HTTP/S requests