I was wrong about Google and Facebook: there’s nothing wrong with them (so say we all)

It’s always difficult admitting you’re wrong. But sometimes you have to in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. So, today, I admit that I was wrong about Google, Facebook, & surveillance capitalism in general being toxic for our human rights and democracy … it simply cannot be true given how they are endorsed by some of the most well-respected organisations in the world.

@aral You're super annoying with all this talk about surveillance capitalism.

Thank you.
@aral Well in the software industry there are a lot of men behind curtains. And yes I do mean men specifically. But you see you're not supposed to pay attention to them or what they're up to. They could, and actually are, exfiltrating all manner of stuff, but you're only supposed to care about how fast the Android screen swipes, or having notches or the sparkling city that is Microsoft Github.

I expect that the entente cordiale with Google will not last for much longer. They're on a path towards dropping the linux kernel and replacing it with the Fuchsia microkernel. If initial reports of accurate a world in which Fuchsia is the most popular operating system will make today's problems look like a picnic.

@bob @aral

But guys... don't forget our hope!

Teach people to #program and self-host, and you will break the chains these empires are built upon.

@Shamar @aral There are many problems with the technology industry and at every level of the stack. That includes the human element too. We can only work incrementally towards improving things in the direction that we'd prefer to see.

Fortunately the dystopia that we have now is a strong motivator for change. The growth of the fediverse is another sign that people want something different and less evil.

But things also move slowly. Real criticism of Google and Facebook within mainstream outlets has only happened within the last couple of years, and a lot of organizations have yet to catch up. I bet there are still many people in the "everything Google does is fabulous" camp.

@bob @aral could you refer to some of those reports? i'd love to read up

@aral this gitlab thread for your fastmail PR is wild and a perfect example of almost everything i hate about the OSS "community"

@aral all its missing is a woman asking some detailed and thoughtful questions about something and having like 3 dudes respond by explaining what the project is at a basic level and it'd be perfect

@aral Great article, thanks for sharing and keep fighting !

@aral Thank you for asking the hard, awkward questions. Even when it hurts. That takes courage. As a paying member of @fsf I have requested a reply on your article, hopefully they will.

Holy shit @aral...

Do you want to Out-Stallman Stallman? :-D

Nice piece, very well written.


I hadn't thought of the "legitimizing" psychological effect of choosing to add (or not add) a given service to a software menu.

That's a scary slope, indeed.

(temporary) praise for DuckDuckGo 

@RussSharek @aral want to know the power of defaults?

I used to use #Google, like everyone else.

My #PuppyLinux came with #Palemoon, with :duckduckgo: #DuckDuckGo as the default search-engine. I read up about its pro-privacy stance, and haven't stopped using it since.

(Okay, okay, I hear about all the problems with DDG and all now—but haven't got round to switching yet. Defaults at work again?)

(temporary) praise for DuckDuckGo 


What problem have you heard with DDG?


(temporary) praise for DuckDuckGo 

@RussSharek @aral similar ideological issues. Latest was using Apple Maps (nonfree) and removing bangs for some websites (censorship).

@aral you know, I don't know if I could get quite as angry about these things as you are, but I sure as hell want somebody as angry as you designing my ad blocker. Gonna buy me a copy of Better Blocker for iOS ASAP. :)

@aral I have serious criticisms of Google and Facebook myself. However, I don't agree with your criticism of Conservancy/Copyleft Conf. Conservancy has actually lost a lot of money over the years because it has stuck to its principles when sponsors preferred that it do something different (eg drop copyleft enforcement). That's one reason they started doing community fundraising drives, because they wouldn't have had the money to keep going otherwise *because* they stuck to their principles.

@aral I certainly agree with criticisms of surveillance capitalist organizations. However there is another problem: the commons is frequently exploited by large corporations that take and take and take from FOSS and don't give back.

If a company is willing to give some money to support free software orgs, no strings attached other than their name appearing on the site, I think that's something we should encourage *more* of. Many companies are taking and not giving, and that sucks.

@aral I do agree that much FOSS *software* is working too hard to bend over backwards for proprietary software integration where decentralized tech integration should be preferred and prioritized however.

@cwebber @aral

I have long advocated a middle-ground here:

**Whenever you compromise your values, APOLOGIZE for it**

Instead of insisting on absolute purity, we can accept that real-world trade-offs happen. But don't present it as normal business, ASK to be excused and explain the situation.

In this case, SFC etc. should have some qualifier every place they reference the Google or Microsoft sponsorships. Something like an *acknowledgement* that this is a compromise and link to a statement.

@wolftune @cwebber @aral

They can't say that.

It's like saying: sorry, we are organizing a conference on #copyleft with the worst enemy of copyleft out there, but hey this is not #marketing, this is serious stuff and you can trust we will be serious about exploring all the ways we can change copyleft to maximize #FreeSoftware, even if they don't want we to.

@Shamar @cwebber @aral

They can totally say something like: "We acknowledge that many practices of these companies go against the goals of Copyleft, and we recognize the concerns people have about the conflicts in our accepting their support as sponsors of our conference." and link to a longer statement about why they still felt the compromise was still the right decision.

I'm not asking anyone to deny anything. It's totally feasible to *admit* and *explain* when we make compromises.

@wolftune @cwebber @aral

If @conservancy money were from #Russia, #China or #NSA or even #CambridgeAnalytica, they could do that.

But if you want #freedom to talk about something, you don't get money from people whose interests you could hurt.

#CopyleftConf will be like a conference about #tobacco regulations sponsored by #Malboro or one about #gun regulation sponsored by #Rifle.

#Google is there to #lobby against the conference.


You're nicely expressing the critique here. Conflicts-of-interest are serious.

I'm not myself arguing that the compromise in this case is the right decision. But both now and generally, I argue for a social norm where we expect apologies for *all* compromises of values. We can still disagree about which compromises are right or justified etc. Some compromises are just bad. But there needs to be room for compromise in general. Absolute purism is a dead-end

@cwebber @aral @conservancy

@wolftune @cwebber @aral @conservancy

> But there needs to be room for
> compromise in general.
> Absolute purism is a dead-end.

I think that we agree on this.

Still, there should be a link between trust and intellectual honesty: if I don't state what I'm giving back for real, the social norm should still be to distrust me.

Otherwise we move from good sense to common sense to just reach indifference.

@rick_777 @wolftune @cwebber @aral @conservancy

Controlling what people can think is the point of being the filter people use to access the noosphere.

It's like if you had #Google glasses always on already so that it can directly influence what you see.

I'm #AdsAdverse, but #Ads are the least dangerous aspect of Google exactly because they are annoying: people percieve their effects.

I myself trusted Google a lot.


@rick_777 @wolftune @cwebber @aral @conservancy

Years ago I even sent them a resume, and I know a couple of people there who are pretty good people.

But till the beginning of this year, with a seasoned #Google engineer removing my Copyright statements from Harvey without removing my code, ejected me out of my filter bubble.

I realized who they really are and understood what they are doing with #BigData and #AI.


@rick_777 @wolftune @cwebber @aral @conservancy

Google's cultural #hegemony is a real threat to #Freedom, beyond #FreeSoftware.

Able of world wide scale #BrainWashing.

And while you might have the skill to see they are really so dangerous (and controlled by the most powerful military nation of the planet), I guess your first reaction reading these lines will be "hum... ok... Shamar is paranoid"

Guess why? ;-)


I sincerely doubt someone will call you paranoid unless they've been living under a rock.

@wolftune @cwebber @aral @conservancy

@wolftune @Shamar @cwebber This assumes that we take it at face value that Google, etc., are benevolent entities that would keep sponsoring these conferences/orgs even if they criticised them. That’s definitely how they want to be seen but my experience says otherwise. When (sponsor) Google had to follow my keynote at NextM, their representative was fuming and told the organisers to change the line up for the next event…

@wolftune @Shamar @cwebber … New America fired Barry Lynn when his Open Markets criticised (New America sponsor) Google on antitrust grounds.

More personally, Linda and I resigned from the Code Club board when we were told not to criticise (sponsor) Google:

It’s all well and good to assume that these companies are benevolent and that their.m money comes without strings but it’s just not true.

@aral @cwebber @Shamar @wolftune I'd forgotten about the Code Club thing. That's a good example of how sponsorship isn't just "free cash" but the sponsor is buying influence over what can or can't be discussed within the community.

@bob @cwebber @wolftune

I didn't know about that at all.
Very interesting @aral !

However dictators don't need to ask.
Some people are keen to serve them for free.

@Shamar @aral @wolftune @cwebber Right. It's not that the sponsor directly orders this or that to happen. It's that once your event depends critically upon the sponsor then anything critical of them becomes something to be removed, or at least not talked about.

The massive centralization around Google and Facebook and their influence not just on software developers and web standards but the whole of society is something worth discussing and criticizing.

@Shamar @wolftune @cwebber @aral Please see and I also advise to study how US-based charities work, as they aren't simply nonprofits. They are less corruptible even when sponsored by for-profits or having these as patrons.

@adfeno @wolftune @cwebber @aral

Sorry, but I don't see the casual relation between the fiscal regime of @conservancy and the effect of #Google (and #Microsoft) sponsorship at #CopyleftConf.

Do you mean they are completely naive and in good faith?

It's what I want to believe too, but they are severely challenging my suspension of disbelief.
In any case, here we are, as annoying schoolmates that correct the teacher, to remind them that Google presence will hurt and limit the discussion.

@adfeno @Shamar @wolftune @cwebber I advise you to study how institutional corruption works. Think: Why do lung cancer charities not have tobacco companies as sponsors? Why do organisations that exist to promote healthy diets not have McDonald’s or Coca Cola as sponsors? Why does Greenpeace not have Exxon Mobil as a sponsor?

@wolftune @aral @cwebber what value is an apology that doesn't come with a behaviour change, though? If you issue the same apology every year, and never change anything... it's meaningless

@lupine @aral @cwebber

An apology *is* a change. I strongly reject the rhetoric that statements are meaningless. Is this whole conversation meaningless, the complaints meaningless?

I want love to live in a world where everyone feels obligated to make public acknowledgements of any ethical or political compromises. That would make a huge difference.

Even when politicians are liars, the pretense that honesty matters has consequences. The current attack on that pretense is seriously harmful.

@wolftune @cwebber @aral "what we are doing is wrong and we are going to keep doing it" is entirely uninteresting and gains nobody any brownie points

@lupine @aral @cwebber

"what we are doing is wrong and we are going to keep doing it" is a TERRIBLE apology and everyone knows it.

An apology is not just "this is wrong", it's a *justification* / explanation / acknowledgement. The norm I advocate requires an *explanation* of why the compromise is continuing (if it is).

Would you be up for steel-manning my views instead of straw-manning?

@cwebber @aral Aral's implicit point here (and explicitly... everywhere else) is that to consider this money as being "no strings attached" is a fallacy. The idea that these companies do a lot of taking and not enough giving presupposes that the giving they do isn't part-and-parcel with the taking in the first place (which, again, is Aral's overarching point here).

It seems shallowly utilitarian (if the calculus is even right) to say that multinational corporations with a parasitic business model are doing something good when they throw their weight around in free software.

@foggy @aral @cwebber A brilliant peace of writing. Tongue in cheek and insanely clever. Your heading scared me for a minute.

@foggy @aral @cwebber I mean; it's one thing to say that and another to buy, use _and_ promote products by them and still rail against them. If they can fund F/LOSS to the degree it produces them their products AND work towards more humane methods of business then I'm for it.

@jalcine @cwebber @aral

Every example I can think of in which a large corporation is heavily involved in an open standard which manages to gain meaningful traction ends in some major iteration of that technology being a massive corporate funnel for them (Android is the prime example of this: it’s like if you had to buy Coca Cola every time you bought a drinking glass). So what’s the hope here? That these projects will be able to use this corporate money as a launchpad? It’s never happened.

One could argue we’ve gotten a lot of developer tools this way, and while I think that’s true, their impact on the average non-developer in their everyday life is nothing compared to the massive international negative impact of the company’s business (I’d happily give up my knowledge of React if you told me it would be harder for the Myanmar government to spread propaganda).

I think we are very inclined to talk ideologically or in abstract about massive corporations funding FOSS projects and conferences, but one need only look at reality to see this has been going on for decades and things like privacy and openness have very much not made progress (privacy has almost certainly gotten worse at an accelerated rate).

There is a status quo being maintained. The humane methods haven’t fallen out of any of the corporate money being thrown around over the years. It seems unlikely to me that this would change when things are as bad as ever.

If anything, the absurdity of Google or Facebook being involved in any way whatsoever with privacy conferences should be, at a bare minimum, leading to boycotts (but now I’m being unrealistic about the demographic of people in tech.)

@cwebber @aral

Except that #Google business model is in direct contrast with #copyleft!

The only thing they cannot afford is a world where people modify and self-host software because they need to control the software to get the data.

Google is not giving back: it's calming down the discussion so that people won't start discussing better ways to grant people the right to self-host whole applications not just single programs and licenses that make this possible.

@cwebber @aral

Yeah, but then you fork the project and move on. Look at Bacula and Bareos for example. Bacula went "freemium" with their FOSS code and an angry userbase forked it and made it much better. Both projects still exist side-by-side with the freer project gaining steam.

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