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.


Good on you for admitting you're wrong and leading the way for true privacy and security in the world, I'm glad more and more people are waking up and seeing that there is nothing actually wrong with any of the main players and their business practises and any suggestion to the contrary is deep state levels of consipiracy and must be shut down so that we don't all panic as that would be very bad for freedom.

I thoroughly enjoyed this post and hope to see more like it.

@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.

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@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.


if they feel their decision is the right call, why should they have to apologise?
Maybe instead just note that they are happy to compromise on their core issue and thus should not be trusted to defend this core issue?

@Shamar @cwebber @aral

@oshwm @Shamar @cwebber @aral

There is *nothing* about apologizing that implies an action is *necessarily* the wrong decision. There are TONS of cases in life in which the right decision involves a compromise *and* an apology, which means an explanation, a justification, and an acknowledgement of the problems and harms the compromise involves.

You have no basis to assume that anyone compromising is "happy" to compromise. That's a condescending way to think.

@wolftune @oshwm @cwebber

This is a good point too, bmand maybe that this is what @conservancy will do, actually.

They would be careful to recognise the issues about #SurveillanceCapitalism (sure that few would find the apology on #Google search) maybe with a direct response to @aral, but they won't, under any circumstance acknowledge that Google presence at #CopyleftConf would inhibit free speech there... they simply cannot.


I can be quite pessimistic, but I don't think this is so hopeless a case. People can and should acknowledge conflicts-of-interest.

@conservancy could very well admit that Google presence and sponsorship **does** present a conflict-of-interest.

Although *avoiding* conflicts-of-interest is *preferred*, the next-best step to reducing their influence is to *acknowledge* them…

@oshwm @cwebber @conservancy @aral

@wolftune @conservancy @oshwm @cwebber @aral

I don't know.
In abstract, I would agree.
But really: we are talking about Google.

They would influence the CopyleftConf even from the outside! Imagine what they can do inside!

It's really the single things they cannot afford: a strong copyleft with a wide reach that force them to free their services.

Think if someone propose to adopt the #HackingLicense as #GPLv4!
Must be Unthinkable!

@Shamar @conservancy @oshwm @cwebber @aral

Right, Google has influence here no matter what… so what is the harm of taking their money and having them "sponsor"? They don't get actual inside decision-making, but they *do* get conflict-of-interest positioning and the PR of being associated. And it's precisely *those* things that can be at least *partly* mediated by public apology, especially one that is right there tied to the sponsor listing.

@wolftune @oshwm @cwebber @aral

> what's the harm of having them as sponsor?

Do you mean that #Google is not much good at #marketing optimization? :-D

I'm not in the #Ads business, but it's naive to think they would spend money on certain Ads if there is no reason to: it's their job to optimise these things!

It's naive to believe that @conservancy won't be "influenced" by Google's money for the speakers' selection, for example.


When you are compromising to such an extent on your Core Issue, your very reason for being then surely you would be better off cancelling the event with as much publicity as possible and stating that you cannot raise the funds to stage the event in an honest way.

@Shamar @cwebber @aral

@oshwm @wolftune @cwebber @aral

This is not going to happen.

The #fediverse doesn’t have such powe.

Even if the whole Fediverse boosted that #FreeSoftware cannot get #Google money and preserve #freedom, that would not go mainstram.

OTOH @conservancy cancelling #CopyleftConf because THEY recognise Google would inhibit #FreeSpeech would shake Free Software from the fundaments.

It's naive to hope for this.

@Shamar @oshwm @wolftune @cwebber @bob @conservancy Yeah, not going to happen. Richard told me he isn’t going to pull FSF sponsorship from the event or criticise them for it either as he doesn’t want to anger them (Conservancy).


Mr Stallman doesn't appear to have as strongly held views as he would like everyone to think.


@Shamar @wolftune @cwebber @bob @conservancy


Folks should bear in mind that RMS is mostly playing a necessary role when in public.

And I'm not just talking about Saint iGNUcius.

@cwebber @Shamar @conservancy @aral @wolftune @oshwm

@oshwm @aral @wolftune @cwebber @bob @conservancy

Tbh I think it's not a matter of #money, for #RMS.

In a way he might even agree with Google on the kinds of upper bounds to put on #copyleft.

He doesn't think everyone can program and should be taught to, so he doesn't really work for the core #freedom of #FreeSoftware (study and modify) to be for everybody, but for engineers (and #Google is full of engineers!)


Your description of RMS is quite off by my view (and I've heard him speak multiple times, had several conversations personally and read all his work).

RMS doesn't have the absurd idea that software-freedom should be *exclusive* to programmers or that all people *must* be programmers, but he absolutely wants everyone to have the capacity to use those freedoms if they wish or to find friends or hire programmers etc.

RMS wants freedom for engineers and not all? No, that's plain wrong.


I'm sorry if I came out excessively harsh.

I don't think RMS is an elitist that want to sell as freedom the power for programmers.

He is simply the son of his country and epoch.

But the point is that what you and RMS (in total good faith!) consider "absurd", I see as inevitable.

#Programming is exactly like writing: a precondition to #citizenship.

Pascal, HTML, Python were explorations of this idea that computing should be simple enough to be a method of expression..


...early explorations that were abandoned too early.

Projects like Scratch, IMHO, are somewhat off this goal: they seem more a pursuit for cheap labor than tools to distribute a deep understanding of Informatics (but I might be wrong on this, it's just my impression as a father of a user).

But if you care about #freedom today you wouldn't say that "not everybody should be able to write because nt everyone has a talent for it".
(to paraphrase RMS).


Yet 5000 years ago, mass alphabetization would have been considered "absurd" by Egyptians given the effort required to learn how to write.

Fortunately we can all write today, and if I told you: "don't teach your kids to write, they will find someone they trust to write and read for them" you would find THAT absurd.

So to me, #RMS is plain wrong on this.

He is "moderate" but in good faith.
Yet he is (slighly) missing the point of #FreeSoftware (that #Google got plenty).

@Shamar Clarification: RMS and I do not hold the same views (I *only* referred earlier to his views). But I believe we share your view that programming *should* be taught far and wide. Free software enables anyone because tweaking an existing program is much more trivial than writing a whole new one.

Check out video at — that is not a perspective of someone who thinks programming is only for some people.

RMS promotes general code literacy; you're attacking a straw RMS.


I'm not attacking him, and I'm happy if he agree with me on this!

But those words were from an interview he gave (and I saw similar arguments before, and I used to agree until I realised the implications):
(Search for "talent" in that page)


OTOH, you are not the first to qualify as "absurd" the idea that everyone should be able to write software.

Again, I'm not attacking you in any way: I simply don't agree.

#FreeSoftware enable those who know.
Which is great!

Without Stallman there wouldn't be #Debian and without Debian I wouldn't know #Linux (and I wouldn't be a programmer either).
RMS and GNU made me possible! ;-)

But we need to move on: not just enable, but #innovate towards #simplicity and #teach.

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