05.13.21

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Andrew Lee of Private Internet Access/London Trust Media Increasingly Owns and Controls Freenode (Updatedx2)

Posted in Free/Libre Software at 1:56 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

There are also links to the GNOME Foundation

Andrew Lee's GNOME interview

Andrew Lee of PIA

Andrew Lee Crunchbase

Andrew Lee PIA

Summary: The details about Freenode ownership and control (VPN millionaire) are explained in a resignation letter urging users to move to another network

We recently wrote about issues at Freenode. It was about censorship for the most part. Well, according to this resignation letter, reproduced below in full, Freenode is partly or entirely owned by PIA, or the same folks who abandoned Linux Journal. Based on the wording in the letter, we can guess that there are gag orders of some kind, likely some legal action, and it does not say if this is a privacy or a censorship issue (or both). I was recently told they were censoring some users because of their Debian derivatives being created, but I’ve kept things sufficiently vague to avoid mentioning the names of individuals. The letter below does mention some people, even by full name:

Dear freenode users and projects, 

I joined freenode staff a bit more than 10 years ago, after having used 
the network for already roughly 5 years by that time. 
During this time, I enjoyed supporting our communities in various roles;
I met some of you through first level support, 
through my work for the groups team or due infra work. 

I still think that freenode as a network is a great idea,
and offers projects and groups of any size a possibility to collaborate,
coordinate or just chat freely and for free. 

Since these early times, freenode changed form a couple of times. 
The whole work was, however, always done by unpaid volunteers 
that grew into close friends over time. 
All the servers we have and all the paid services we use 
were sponsored by either companies or friends and allies.
We never wanted to be, never were and never will be a business. 

A couple of years ago, christel, now former head of freenode staff
sold `freenode ltd` (a holding company) to a third party, 
Andrew Lee[1], under terms that have not been disclosed to the staff body.
This was done, from what we were informed, to organize our freenode 
#live conferences, that required a legal body.
We were repeatedly promised, by both christel and Andrew Lee, 
that neither the holding nor Andrew Lee would have any operational impact 
on freenode the IRC network. We gladly forwarded this to our users,
who were understandably concerned as well.

In the past few weeks, this has changed[2], and the existance of a legal threat
to freenode has become apparent. We cannot know the substance of this legal
threat as it contains some kind of gag order
preventing its broader discussion within staff.
The democratically elected heads of their respective teams, 
development, infrastructure, projects and communities
were removed by force[3] and have been informed that they are not 
entitled to act in their respective capacity.
As a result, Mr Lee wants and partially has operational control
over the freenode IRC network now. 
This goes against my personal values, beliefs and rules,
this goes against what we have been doing for the past 10 years, 
this goes against our promises to our users and communities. 

Therefore I, along with my colleagues, 
resigned from my volunteer position as a freenode staffer. 
I had all my access removed, so that I could not hand
it or any data over to a third party, even if I wanted 
or if I were forced to.


Where will we be going from here? 

We are founding a new network with the same goals and ambitions: libera.chat.
It is backed by a swedish non-profit which lets us hold the name,
domain and various other assets to avoid a hostile corporate takeover.
It allows us to continue to operate the network  as unpaid, neutral volunteers.
It allows us to ensure that your personal data does not end up as an 
asset to some company that could consider monetizing it.

You can connect to the new network at `irc.libera.chat`, 
ssl port 6697 (and the usual clearnet port).

We're really sorry that it had to come to this.
When we told you that freenode ltd. and Andrew Lee / PIA / LTM / ...
won't have any impact on freenode, 
we always communicated based on what we knew and what we were promised. 

I'm aware that such a move is hard, especially for established communities. 
We will do our very best to support you if you plan to join us on libera.

I hope to see the lot of you on the other side, 
feel free to contact me on the new network if you have any questions. 

A big thank you to my former freenode colleagues, all our users, 
projects and communities that acompanied us for more than a decade.
Thank you very much, keep rocking and making the 
free / open source software and peer directed communities great. 

Christian  (Commonly known as Fuchs)

Footnotes

[1]: https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/10308021/officers
[2]: A blogpost has been removed without explanation: (via the wayback machine)

https://web.archive.org/web/20210423231439/https://freenode.net/news/freenode-reorg

[3]: The teams and their democratically elected heads got removed without explanation:

https://web.archive.org/web/20210423231451/https://freenode.net/people

These growing concerns go some time/while back. I heard about the ownership change a long time ago and now it is becoming more publicly known.

Update: Just to clarify (maybe not obvious based on the above letter), it is a “the owner of PIA is suing freenode for control of freenode” issue, according to our source, who said “you probably want to cover this…”

I myself have used IRC since the very first day I got a modem and Internet connection (we used DALnet back then) and Techrights has been on Freenode for 13 years. There’s a lot at stake here. Freenode is the home for discussions if not decision-making of many Free software projects, including GNU and the FSF. It’s not a bunch of gamers. Being able to control (or manipulate, either by spying or censorship) communications is something that Facebook and Twitter have taught us a lot about.

Update #2: the letter was updated to say: “Welcome, dear reader. You might have stumbled over this file as it was linked in some articles. Please note that this was a draft that I didn’t release yet, thus at the current point of time I am not resigned from freenode yet, and further content might be added depending on how the situation develops. Thanks and have a nice $time_of_day”

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