Proprietary software, TOS and other thoughts
Today, I write about my recent thoughts about proprietary software, as well as the terms of service (TOS) for various services online. I also discuss my thoughts on internet advertisements.
Lately, over the past month, I’ve had a lot of thoughts about software and services which I use online. From Google Drive for backing up my main desktop computer to my Android phone which I use to play a mobile game Summoners War, to YouTube which I watch the new videos of content creators, they have all started to form a sense of doubt in my mind that something’s not right.
Now, maybe (just maybe) all of this sparked by reading a lot of content from Richard Stallman’s personal website, but it also stemmed from a constant question that I’ve been asked by one of my computer science friends:
If you don’t like ads, why do you not use an ad-blocker?
I’ll get to this question later on in this blog post.
Thoughts on proprietary software
So, there’s this thing called proprietary software (also known as non-free software) which basically means that the copyright and source code of a piece of software is owned by the person that created the software. For example, Microsoft Word is created by Microsoft and is not open source.
Now, I personally think that proprietary software is sometimes okay. There are some … odd quirks that I can get along with, but ideally don’t really like. Basically, I agree with the following quote by Stallman:
[Some proprietary programs] give the program’s developer power over the users, power that no one should have.
Now, I don’t have any major examples of proprietary software that I necessarily don’t like, however given a world where privacy is basically at risk, allowing random developers to have power over me without me knowing is a little unnerving. Emphasis on the without me knowing, because if I had read the terms of service of most software and services that I use, then I’d probably know.
Anyway, back to the topic of proprietary software. What I’m trying to say is that Minecraft is fine (Non-free, but it’s still a good game) in my eyes. It states its EULA (Which I read because it was a big thing back when they released the revised version) and I think the things in its EULA are pretty fair1. Just because I don’t agree with proprietary software doesn’t mean that I disagree with all proprietary software.
So, how do I plan to fix this? Luckily, I use NixOS and there are settings that allow you to disable installing non-free software2 (Surprisingly, this is enabled by default!). I moved all non-free software that NixOS would install into a section in my configuration.nix file that can toggle whether I’ll allow non-free software on my operating system by editing a single line. This change can be viewed in this commit
Terms of services
Lately, the terms of service caught my attention. The terms of service of what you ask? A lot of things.
- Google “you can choose your settings so that your name and photo do not appear in an ad.” 3
- GitHub “GitHub has the right to suspend or terminate your access to all or any part of the Website at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately.” 4
I mean, come on. Despite the fact that these are unlikely, Google’s statement above is absolutely, utterly absurd - the fact that a setting like that EXISTS is completely immoral. GitHub’s statement is just as ridiculous - they have the power to just straight up delete your account (including all repositories and code) for literally no reason. Yet, despite these terms of service, I still use their products. Had I known this from the start, I probably wouldn’t use them.
Firstly, how did I find this information out? I present to you, tosdr.org, the website that summaries the terms of service for various internet services.
Secondly, what do I plan to do about this? Well, basically, I plan to just purge a lot of services. To do this, it starts with getting a copy of what I have, and making my first ever physical backup (Which I’ve started by purchasing a sneaky little device called an “External HDD”). If I’ve got a backup of all of my stuff, then surely, nothing can go wrong. After backing up my stuff, I plan to try and cut down on whatever services I do use.
Hopefully, at the end of it all, I’ll have personally read all of the Terms of Service of the services that I do use (and, if I do not agree with their TOS, I’ll not use them), but when that will be, I do not know.
So, back to the first question at the top of this blog post. Yes, I do not use an ad-blocker. Yet, I absolutely detest advertisements online. Here’s my analogy:
Imagine you’re out shopping. You walk to your local supermarket to buy some bread and you see some billboard for say, some film or something. With this advert:
- The advert is on the side of the road
- The advert is not necessarily about anything you care about
- The advert goes away when you walk past it5
Compare this to internet adverts:
- Adverts are everywhere. I’m talking to the side of whatever you’re searching for, or a pop up that appears right in front of the thing you’re reading
- Adverts are specifically targeted towards you, using information sold by other companies about your browsing history or whatever
- Adverts can’t “be dismissed” or “go away” when you want them to
Basically, online adverts are garbage. YouTube is worse in every possible way (multiple adverts per video?). But the point is, I shouldn’t have to install an ad-blocker if I want to dismiss adverts
Of course, all of this ties in as well with those personalised adverts and cookies which store your information for adverts and privacy policies which don’t respect your privacy at all and terms of services which share your information for personalised adverts … the cycle doesn’t really end.
I’m trying to move away from proprietary software. I’ve since uninstalled gitkraken and typora and I’m planning on getting rid of Google Chrome (perhaps for chromium, or even better, solely qutebrowser).
I’m also planning to read the terms of service of the internet services that I use and plan to stop using (or severely limit my usage of) those internet services where I do not fully agree with their terms of services.
With respect to adverts, I plan to limit my usage of websites that use adverts (I’m looking at you YouTube).
I could go on for ages on what I think about Minecraft’s EULA and thus what I think about the Spigot Minecraft server API, but I’ll leave that for another time. ↩
There’s a whole thing about non-free, but redistributable firmware, but most people ignore firmware in the context of free software. ↩
Technically, the advert stays there, but you can’t see it if you walk past it. ↩