Bonum Certa Men Certa

Apple is Part of the Proprietary Thought Police

Apple as Big Brother



Summary: Apple demonstrates one of the biggest dangers of proprietary software which tells the user what to do, rather than the other way around

DISSENT is vital to democracy. It is the means by which opposition can express itself, ideally without being intimidated, silenced, or even punished. Freedom of expression is necessary to ensure that people defend their basic rights and maintain their freedoms. This is why proprietary software vendors -- those which act as gatekeepers on our own computer hardware -- are often a barrier to democracy. They are enemies of free thought.



Last year we learned from Amazon's remote deletion of books that proprietary software can control people's reading lists and also the sharing of ideas. Amazon in general is hostile towards desktop GNU/Linux and as Greg Laden has just put it:

There is a Kindle reader application for the PC (and the Mac and the iPod touch). But not Linux. Which makes us sad because without Linux, your Kindle wouldn't even turn on.

But despite this deeply insulting unforgivable slight by Steve Bozo or whatever his name is, diligent supergeeks have solved this problem temporarily. The problem is, as usual, the Intertubes are full of people who know diddley squat but don't seem to understand that, so you will find ample instructions to make the Kindle for PC work on your Linux computer, and you will have very little success.


Amazon does several other things to discriminate against GNU/Linux, especially after it hired many executives from Microsoft. And for what it's worth, IBM is no angel either. As Justin Ryan from Linux Journal puts it:

Fueling the fire was the inclusion in said letter of a list of patents — including two covered by IBM's 2005 Non-Assertion Pledge. The increasingly common fury was not slow in arriving.

So what's really going on? Very little. If one looks at the supposed "threat" letter — the full text — the real story becomes clear. The letter in question is actually one of four, part of an exchange between TurboHercules SAS (the company) and IBM, initiated by TurboHercules last fall.

The suits at the newly-formed TurboHercules SAS wrote to IBM last July, setting out what they planned to offer, and requesting IBM's blessing for their venture. That wasn't all they asked for, however — the letter also requested that IBM develop a special commercial license to allow TurboHercules' customers to run legal copies of z/OS. (IBM does not license z/OS for use on non-IBM hardware, similar to Apple's licensing of OS X.)


The similarity between IBM's licence and Apple's licence is worth noticing. Both are hardware companies and they limit what can run on the hardware or what hardware their software can run on. This is an attack on people's freedom even as buyers, IBM's bad attitude towards software patents aside. But Apple's attack on people's computer freedom is still expanding to an attack on free speech, which in turn is like an attack on democracy.

According to this article from Wired Magazine, Apple is doing it again.

Editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore may be good enough to win this year’s Pulitzer Prize, but he’s evidently too biting to get past the auditors who run Apple’s iPhone app store, who ruled that lampooning public figures violated its terms of service.


This received a huge deal of unwanted attention [1, 2, 3] even though Apple has been behaving like this for years. Slashdot says that only backlash from the public led to a reversal from Apple. But still, Apple should be ashamed of itself. Groklaw tried to defend Apple on previous occasions when it did this (arguing that Apple tried to shield itself from lawsuits), but Apple is walking on a thin rope if it takes this role of censor who determines what content is "acceptable" and what content is "forbidden" and thus blocked altogether. The solution is for Apple not to be the middleman and to just let people install whatever they want on the device they paid for. Then, there's no liability to worry about.

"What really worries me is that the courts might choose a muddled half-measure—by approving an interpretation of “indecent” that permits the doctor program or a statement of the decency rules, but prohibits some of the books that any child can browse through in the public library. Over the years, as the Internet replaces the public library, some of our freedom of speech will be lost."

--Richard Stallman, 1996



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