Our Freedom

The GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL) is a free software license. It is widely regarded as the strongest copyleft license you can get. Copyleft is a concept developed by Richard Stallman (the founder of the free software movement and the GNU Project) as a concept as part of the GNU General Public License (GPL). The original license for Emacs (The first part of GNU, a text editor that is extremely powerful, it literally comes with a news reader and tetris pre-installed and has it's own programming language) was called the “Emacs Commune,” which basically said all changes must go to Richard himself so he could integrate them into the main program. This got annoying after Emacs got popular outside of his department at MIT, however, so he invented Copyleft and the GNU GPL v1. Basically, it doesn't matter what you do when you change it, but as soon as you distribute your version (eg. post it online), that version is automatically licensed under the GNU GPL. Basically, regular free software insures user freedom for users, copyleft insures user freedom for users of both your program and all spin-offs. AGPL is basically GPL but every time software is being used on a network (like a server) and somebody abscesses that network, it is considered distribution. This was created to prevent the problem of Service as a Software Substitute (“Cloud Computing”), which Google is guilty of a lot (like Google Translate, which they have proved is capable of working offline). I recently saw on Reddit that Google has banned the AGPL from being used inside its company. They said AGPL was too “restrictive.” This was frightening. The first reason was something that Edward Snowden had said. The gist of it was power. Power imbalance. Now, this makes sense. If they [Google] retain copyright in the form of proprietary licenses, they don't feel restricted, but the users [citizens of the world] are restricted. Google feels restricted using copyleft licenses because they don't have the freedom to take away freedom. Everybody is equal, and that is unalienable. Google doesn't like that. Google would be forced to let people make offline versions of Translate if it was AGPL licensed. But the freedom of users is more important than the freedom of people in power to restrict the freedom of users. As Thomas Jefferson once put it:

In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.

January 11–18, 2012. This was the week that an experiment was conducted on Facebook users. Facebook's researchers modified more than 100k user's New Feeds to make people feel emotions. The result? Facebook can and has (in the experiment) made people sad at will through modification of the News Feed. This is a clear violation of the rules of human experimentation. You have to get explicit permission, not just passive permission (“By entering this building, you will be part of an experiment...”) to conduct an experiment on humans, especially one that mass-scale modifies the brain remotely. Many researchers and journalists complained. Yet, Facebook conducted another (unrelated) experiment to determine if they can increase voter turnout by doing this like modifying the News Feed. They could. Now, this has many implications. However, I'm not going to discuss this. I will talk about a time when Google did the same thing. If you didn't know, doubleclick.net is an ad and tracker website owned by Google. On the Electronic Frontier Foundation's website, they posted an urgent update. Their extension, Privacy Badger, had a vulnerability. Basically, Privacy Badger detects trackers automatically, but apparently this had a vulnerability, discovered by Google researchers. But here is an excerpt from the blog post that worried me:

One attack could go something like this: a Privacy Badger user visits a malicious webpage. The attacker then uses a script to cause the user’s Privacy Badger to learn to block a unique combination of domains like fp-1-example.com and fp-24-example.com. If the attacker can embed code on other websites, they can read back this fingerprint to track the user on those websites.

A little before I read that post, I happened to be browsing through Privacy Badger settings. I went and filtered through all subdomains owned by doubleclick.net. Some had suspicious names like 23.doubleclick.net. Just like the blog post said. Sure enough, after I updated, these domains were gone. This probably means that Google secretly tested these vulnerabilities on users. Now, normally, this would be bad because they intentionally exploited a vulnerability without consent, but it won't be a violation of scientific ethics. But they didn't tell us. It didn't say that they tested it IRL in the paper. That's the problem. Lack of transparency. If only it were free software, then I could look into the source code to know for sure.

If only everything were free software.

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

This quote aptly describes the complete transformation of the Animal Farm. Animal Farm is a book about a group of animals rebelling against their tyrannical leader and farmer of the Manor Farm, only to realize that the new animals leading the farm might not be so great after all. Because they gave the power to a bunch of pretenders. (“If you have your lower animals to contend with,” he said, “we have our lower classes!” was said by Animal Farm's enemy to the new leaders at the end of the book. That's called corruption.) This is an allegory of the October Revolution which gave Lenin and the Bolshevik Communists power. Watch any short explainer video, and they will tell you that Lenin was trying to be a good guy but keeps failing, then Stalin became a total jerk, abused his power as secretary, and unexpectedly started a rein of terror. Sound familiar? OK, probably not, but read the first paragraph of EPIC GAMES, INC. v. GOOGLE LLC; GOOGLE IRELAND LIMITED; GOOGLE COMMERCE LIMITED; GOOGLE ASIA PACIFIC PTE. LIMITED; and GOOGLE PAYMENT CORP.

In 1998, Google was founded as an exciting young company with a unique motto: “Don’t Be Evil”. Google’s Code of Conduct explained that this admonishment was about “how we serve our users” and “much more than that . . . it’s also about doing the right thing more generally”.1 Twenty-two years later, Google has relegated its motto to nearly an afterthought, and is using its size to do evil upon competitors, innovators, customers, and users in a slew of markets it has grown to monopolize.

Animal Farm was an allegory of the USSR. A brief history of the October Revolution: Lenin wanted everybody to be happy and started a Communist revolution, Lenin gave Stalin the job of secretary, Stalin abused his power to only hire his supporters, when Lenin died Trotsky was supposed to replace him because he was like a second in command and very smart and did a lot of stuff for the Party, Lenin's last wish was for Stalin to not be leader, Stalin made himself leader and started using Lenin as a political weapon, even though he was a total jerk. Trotsky was banished and Stalin made lies about him being evil even though he was the mastermind of the Party.

A brief history of Animal Farm, Old Major told everybody about how humans were tyrants and they needed to overthrow them, the pigs got to work and convinced everybody that they needed to rebel, when that happened two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, led the farm forward, then Napoleon got a bunch of dogs and chased away Snowball, then made up a bunch of lies about Snowball being a traitor even though he was probably the most important person on the farm. Then Napoleon became a jerk (at the end of the book, Napoleon had dinner with the humans next door to the farm, even though humans were SUPPOSED to be enemies, and the humans said something along the lines of, “Good job! Your animals are working in even crueler conditions than ours!”) and people didn't care because a spokesperson (Squealer) came out and said Our farm is better now and everybody believed him for some reason.

Just like Larry Page, co-founder of Google, saw an evil corporation who's leader went to TED. He said that his search engine ranked based on money payed – a literal all-ads search engine – and they should get used to it because it's the best option and was good at ranking apparently. Page, who created an awesome ranking algorithm for Google, publicly spoke out about not just buying search rankings, but advertising in any search engine in general. This was because it was convenient for them to do at the time. They even wrote in a paper:

Currently, the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users. For example, in our prototype search engine one of the top results for cellular phone is “The Effect of Cellular Phone Use Upon Driver Attention”, a study which explains in great detail the distractions and risk associated with conversing on a cell phone while driving. This search result came up first because of its high importance as judged by the PageRank algorithm, an approximation of citation importance on the web [Page, 98]. It is clear that a search engine which was taking money for showing cellular phone ads would have difficulty justifying the page that our system returned to its paying advertisers. For this type of reason and historical experience with other media [Bagdikian 83], we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers.

Fast forward a few years, and Google is no longer a research project. They need to make money. They immediately started serving ads, and their excuse was that they were not evil. In Animal Farm and the Soviet Union, this theme is heard a lot. “We aren't capitalists, so we are right.” just like “We're trying to make the world a better place” somehow exempts them from ordinary rules. Tech companies restrict your freedom, give away your data, avoid taxes, ruthlessly crush competition. Larry Page himself thought that competition isn't needed, and we should all live in a Communist regime. (Ok, he didn't say Communist, but saying you despise competition and calling a monopoly “collaboration” is pretty suspicious) Sound familiar? Cue Animal Farm.

We shouldn't accept the twisting of words, and exploitation of visions remove us from real life. Windows handcuffs us to a specific set of programs. So does Apple. Google claims to not censor search results, with no way of auditing them because they AREN'T FREE SOFTWARE. They say that they want to unleash the free flow of information, when in reality they are inhibiting it. Huawei had to give some phone owners a refund because it was practically impossible to live life normally without Google apps preinstalled. What an injustice! Animal Farm is a book about promises of freedom, returned only with talk. Big Tech are companies with idealistic stories, but today are cruel, ruthless proprietary dictators. Don't conform. Don't fall prey to Stockholm Syndrome. Use free software.