Richard Stallman in Madrid: Free as in Freedom
Yesterday night I attended for the first time to a Richard Stallman‘s conference. For those that don’t know him, we could say that he is the father of the and a dedicated freedom advocate, among other things.
Speaking a correct Spanish (although with a bit strange accent), and with a good dosis of humour, Richard spoke about “The users and Freedom” at Rafael del Pino foundation.
Although RMS is capable of generating controversy among open source and free software (it’s not the same) advocates, he has strong and clear beliefs about freedom and also lives according to them (among other things, he mentioned that he only uses GNewSense and not any other GNU/Linux distros, because that one is 100% free)
I will try to summarize below some of the main ideas that he exposed:
Firstly he explained which are the 4 kinds of freedom of free software, and explained why there is a risk in using software that doesn’t respect those 4 principles. To make it short, the risk is on the concentration of power in a few companies (or governments) by having control over their users/citizens information or their devices.
At this point he mentioned not only Microsoft’s case, but he also gave more examples of other companies that apply the same ways to make money even if that means to violate ethical principles and to restrict their user’s/customer’s freedom. I must admit that, to some extent, most of the software companies fall into this category. Even though he stated that he is not opposed to making money with software, he said that it shouldn’t be done in any way, forgetting about ethics.
Next he spoke about free knowledge. Richard commented that there is certain knowledge that has to be free, like the one that is used for education, reference books, encyclopedias (he mentioned the case of Wikipedia to illustrate that it is possible to do it in a short period of time), etc. Apart from that, he commented that there are other kind of works of art that express the author’s feelings or opinions for which the same kinds of freedom can’t be applied. The only freedom that still has to exist in this case is the freedom to share them whith whoever we want and using whichever mean we choose (as it was before the explosion of the Internet). Unfortunately, for organizations such as SGAE or the discographic industry, this means that they will have to reinvent their business model, as has occured at other times with different technological transformations.
Finally, he also commented about freedom and the “surveillance” systems. In this respect, maybe there is still not a generalized consensus about which are the limits for privacy and which of those freedoms can be given up in order to benefit from other services like contextual services, contactless payments (NFC), etc. Of course that Richard’s opinion in this respect is also controversial and absolutely coherent with his principles: he tries to limit as much as possible the usage of any kind of device that can be used for tracking or for violating user’s privacy. He also made clear that this was not because he has big secrets to hide (his life is mostly public) but he believes that this also has a big potential risk given that new tracking/location/etc. technologies are more powerful every day.
To sum up, I think that having people like RMS is very positive for society (without him we wouldn’t have GNU/Linux!!) and I think that his crusade to extend freedom is very important and should be spread even more (that is the goal of this post) because there is a constant risk of power abuse by the misuse of new information technologies.
For those interested in learning more about the Free Software philosophy, here you have a link to Richard Stallman’s essay: “Free software, free society”.