Techbytes 2012

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Summary: The second part of our interview with Richard Stallman covers social networks and Web browsers

FURTHER to this interview with Richard Stallman (about UEFI) I spoke to him about another area of technology which is less to do with software and more to do with civil rights. Here is the transcript.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Obviously, quite famously, the FSF has made a statement about Facebook and my question was, what is your take on Google Plus? I know you’ve stated that in your Web site very briefly. And also, are there any centralised platforms that you actually deem benign?

Richard StallmanDr. Richard Stallman: Well, the first question is, well, the FSF doesn’t talk about Facebook too much. It’s a different issue from the Free software issue. So, I’m concerned with other issues of freedom besides that of Free versus proprietary software. So, I disapprove of Facebook because it collects a lot of personal information and I don’t think it’s good for anything to do that.

When I give a speech, at the beginning I ask people, “please don’t put a photos of me in Facebook.” And now I explain why. When you put a photo with people in it in Facebook, Facebooks asks people — asks users — to enter the names of those people. In other words, that photo gives Facebook an opportunity to do ad surveillance of those people. Those [can't make out the word] the victim of having a photo put in Facebook. So, I would suggest that if you are friends with somebody that you treat that someone well by not putting photos of that person in Faceebook. And and in any case, I ask people not to put photos of me in Facebook. Now, there are many other bad things Facebook does. See for a list of quite a few.

But what about Google Plus? Well, from what I know, which is not everything, Google Plus does some of these bad things but not all. One bad thing that they both do is require people to give their real names. Now, Google Plus says that in some cases we’re wiling to publish a pseudonym but they demand to know the person’s real name. Well, I think that’s enough reason not to use it. I urge you not to use such communication systems which demand to know who you really are. Because if they do that, they’re basically one more eye of Big Brother.


I don’t go around trying to keep track of these things. Twitter might be okay. You got to be careful how you use it. First of all, it is possible to use Twitter without running non-Free software. It wasn’t easy to make an account, but apparently it could be done through their mobile version of the site. The problem was, the regular Twitter site tries to make you run non-Free JavaScript programs. And you will notice that if you have installed the LibreJS extension of Firefox, that’s a GNU package whose purpose is to enable you to avoid running non-Free JavaScript programs and also to make it easy to complain to the Webmasters about the non-Free JavaScript programs. But it is possible to work around that, as actually sending and viewing tweets, it’s not so hard to avoid using non-Free software. So, and Twitter doesn’t require people to give their real names and if you make an effort you can avoid sending in your geographical location or anything like that, which of course is a really dumb thing to do as certain protesters, dissidents in the US have discovered. So, maybe that’s enough to make it okay. Now, Twitter the company, is doing something else that’s bad — something that Facebook (and I think Twitter is doing this, I know Facebook and Google do it) and this is the “Like” button. In Facebook’s case it’s called the “Like” button. And you find this in lots of pages, where if you visit one of those pages that means Facebook is getting information about your browsing even if you’re not a Facebook user. And Google has “1+” button and they do the same thing. And I think Twitter also has such kind of button that you would find in various pages. We are going to release a browser modified to block all those.

I think in practice one of the issues is many of the browsers these days have actually got some surveillance built in and one of the usual excuses these days is security, so they try to prevent phishing scams and things like such that are absolute; I think since Internet Explorer version 7 and Google Chrome and other browsers by default they will track the users and leave a trail, or at least provide the corporate maker of the browser, with a list with pages you visit, so the other releases…

Those are non-Free programs. Internet Explorer is non-Free and Google Chrome is non-Free. Not only that, Google Chrome has a universal back door, which is another way of saying auto-update; basically it means that Google can forcibly impose software changes and the user can’t say no. This is the same thing that Microsoft has in Windows, so Microsoft can also impose software changes. Any malicious feature that’s not in the program today could be remotely installed tomorrow. So, once a program has a universal back door, you must consider it not merely malware but universal malware.

More insights from Stallman are to be published in the coming days.

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Keywords: Facebook Google MSIE Chrome GNU FSF


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