What Free Software Says About Today’s Crises
byon January 14, 2020
I always have a little special appreciation for free software that’s easy to recommend to folks who don’t think or care much about software freedom yet. There are a lot of projects like that, and the one I’ve been talking about the most lately is OsmAnd, a mapping and navigation app using OpenStreetMap data. Whenever I hear people say “I wish Google Maps did X,” OsmAnd almost always does the job with a more discoverable interface. After they’re set up and happy, it’s easy to talk about how OsmAnd doesn’t track your location the same way Google Maps does.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years asking myself whether it’s important to work on free software, or if I should even care about free software, given how pressing so many other problems feel. Climate change, authoritarian governments, antisemitism and white nationalism—these are the problems that are destroying people’s lives by the thousands, today and every day. How is free software even relevant to those problems?
Edward Snowden discussed free software at LibrePlanet 2016 with Conservancy Supporter Daniel Kahn Gillmor. “[The credits of Citizen Four] thank a number of FOSS projects including Debian, Tails, Tor, GnuPG… because what happened in 2013 would not have been possible without free software.” CC BY-SA
I still don’t always have a solid answer to that question. But as I think it through, one thing I keep coming back to is Edward Snowden’s keynote at LibrePlanet a few years ago. His call to action in that talk was to continue working on free software, because the values of free software, like autonomy and privacy, are values most people share. While a lot of people may choose to compromise some of those values to accomplish other things today, proprietary software companies are constantly changing their rules and asking for more. It’s always important and valuable for free software to show and offer an alternative. The most experimental development can help expand the scope of what’s possible, while the smallest documentation patch makes that all accessible to a wider audience.
When the Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap projects began, I’m not sure too many people envisioned that you would have easy access to all that data from a computer in your pocket. But now when people start expressing alarm about how much location data different apps on their phone are getting, and how that data might be used to track protestors, free software has something to say about that, and an alternative to offer in OsmAnd.
When Apple removes an app from their App Store that Hong Kong protestors were using to avoid dangerous areas, free software has something to say about that, and an alternative to offer in F-Droid.
When Facebook says they’ll allow politicians to lie in ads, and Twitter refuses to remove their hatemongering tweets, free software has something to say about that, and an alternative to offer in Mastodon.
Everything Conservancy does aims to make these alternatives more real to more people. Fiscal sponsorship helps fund all kinds of development, from the wildly experimental to the most nuanced polish. License enforcement ensures that people actually have the autonomy over their software and devices that the GPL promises them. Our advocacy and outreach work tells more people about our vision for technology, and how they can join us.
We’re coming up on the final days of our annual fundraiser, with just about $10,000 left to be matched. If you haven’t already, there’s no better time to join us as a Supporter to help us sustain this work. If you are already with us, an extra contribution would go a long way to help ensure we start 2020 strong. I can’t promise I know how every individual task we do addresses the world’s most pressing problems—but I also don’t know what challenges tomorrow will bring. I only know that building a strong foundation now will make sure we’re in the best place to address them when they arise in the future.
Talking with More People about Free Software: Interview with Leslie Hawthorn
byon January 13, 2020
We asked Leslie Hawthorn, one of the excellent humans who are supporting our annual fundraiser, why she’s putting up matching funds. We’ve already raised almost $94,000 and have just about $19,000 left to raise in the next few days in order to meet this year’s ambitious match challenge. Donations help us support and protect free software alternatives and grow a bold software freedom movement where everyone is welcome.
Leslie’s official bio only scratches at the surface of all the reasons she’s had an impressive impact on free software. An internationally known developer relations strategist and community management expert, Leslie Hawthorn has spent the past decade creating, cultivating, and enabling open source communities. She’s best known for creating Google Code-In, the world’s first initiative to involve pre-university students in open source software development, launching Google’s #2 developer blog, and receiving an O’Reilly Open Source Award in 2010. Her career has provided her with the opportunity to develop, hone, and share open source business expertise spanning enterprise to NGOs, including senior roles at Red Hat, Google, the Open Source Initiative, and Elastic.
Q. How does software freedom fit in with the other causes you support?
A. I am a big believer in citizen sovereignty over their own data and personal privacy. Without software freedom, we would not have access to audit how code works and to verify how our data may be captured by various entities.
Q. What kinds of activities do you think will help us get more new people interested in free software?
A. I think we’re in an excellent place to get more folks excited about free software right now! After the various data abuses that have come to light through The Cambridge Analytica scandal, etc., I think that many more people are thinking deeply about their relationship with technology. Imagine if we could let everyone who has never thought about programming know that there are people who do program or work with software projects, who care deeply about their privacy and rights as individuals, and who are there to help them understand the interplay between technology and their everyday experience. One of my dearest friends is a teacher for middle school students who are recent immigrants to the United States; she recently gave me a ring to ask me about all this free software stuff I work on because it now made much more sense to her why these topics are important and what impact they have on her life—she doesn’t even use her computer daily. Exciting times!
Q. Do you talk to family and friends about free software? If so, where do you usually start?
A. Obviously, yes I do. I usually talk a little bit about what I do for work and how it relates to the experience of folks who use technology—that’s everyone!—and do not work in the tech industry. For example, I have asked my loved ones to contact me using Signal so we can have truly private conversations. Most people don’t want to hear a lot more, and that’s OK. If folks do want to learn more about free software, I talk to them about what interests them.
Q. What motivated you to step up as a matcher for Conservancy this year?
A. I deeply value the work done by Conservancy for free software projects, and their fine advocacy work for software freedom. As a big personal fan of the North Bay Python, Outreachy, and Teaching Open Source communities, I am grateful to Conservancy for their support of these initiatives. I am a proud matcher this year to help the Conservancy to assist these communities, and the other 40+ free software projects and communities who call Conservancy their fiscal agent home.
Participate in the match and have your donation doubled through the generosity of folks like Leslie today!
Public Support Makes All the Difference for GPL Compliance
byon January 9, 2020
In starting the new year, I am reminded of what we accomplished last year, but also of what we urgently need to get done this year. What I do at Conservancy is relatively unique, not just within Conservancy, but within software freedom non-profits as a whole. My primary focus is ensuring that organizations comply with the GPL so that people like you can continue to enjoy the freedom that the GPL and other copyleft licenses guarantee. Although it's a small part of what we do at Conservancy percentage-wise (partly due to funding constraints), GPL compliance and enforcement is crucial to the future of software freedom.
Your donations so far have allowed us to check numerous companies' source releases this year, each time getting us a bit closer to the goal of fully compliant releases of the GPLed software they use. While this is certainly important, it is frankly the bare minimum that we need to do in order to prevent the GPL from being treated as a permissive license that companies simply use to proprietarize all the code they use. We don't want to see your freedom taken away, and we need to keeping fighting to avoid that future.
We are at a turning point for software freedom. As our lives rely more and more on software embedded in the ever-expanding set of devices we use, it is more and more critical that we control the software they run. Companies need to see that not only is it straight-forward to comply with copyleft licenses, but that copyleft compliance is in fact a feature that their customers are specifically looking for (most companies do not comply with the GPL - we need both carrots and sticks to fix this). We have a project underway that we hope will solidify this in companies' minds, and with continued funding we plan to build and release substantial parts of it this year.
Persistent GPL enforcement has begun to change the software and hardware industry norms in our favour. However, we are at risk of losing all we have accomplished so far unless we are able to both continue our work in the fields that we are familiar with, but also, and even more importantly, to recognize and respond to new threats to our freedom as our digital world changes, demanding new software freedom licensing strategies and enforcement methods.
We often call on the community to help us with compliance work, but it is no exaggeration when I tell you that our ability to ensure your software freedom is a direct result of donations from individuals. The deadline for having your contributions to Conservancy doubled is next week and we have a ways to go to make our match challenge, so if you'd like to increase your donation or get your friends to support us, don't delay! You can find the full match details and donation info here.
Wine Wednesday: Donate to help Conservancy and win a special potable prize!
byon January 7, 2020
Our highest donor on Wednesday wins a bottle of wine... signed by the Wine developers. Put your donation bid in now!
Photo by Karen Sandler, available under a CC.BY.SA license
For our Conservancy supporters who are legally allowed to drink, we have a fun challenge. One of our projects is named Wine (Wine Is Not an Emulator), and they help developers compile Windows applications for Unix-like (including free software) environments. Wine is invaluable for folks who must run one or two non-free things for work or some other collaboration but would prefer not to run a whole proprietary operating system.
ANYWAY. They have also given us a bottle of wine (the beverage) to give away. The bottle has been signed by Wine's lead developers at the 2019 WineConf. Our Executive Director, Karen Sandler spoke there about Wine and Conservancy. Check her out with the Wine folks below!
Tomorrow's highest donation (on Wednesday, aka TODAY), wins the wine. Donations must be at least $50 and you must be of legal drinking age where you live. You must be able to receive wine in the mail or be willing to help us arrange to get it to you via our global network of software freedom advocates and pals. Staff is also happy to try to deliver the wine in person at any of the free software events we're attending this year. All donations must be received by 11:59pm AoE.
Photo by Francois Gouget
Thanks for participating in Wine Wednesday! Your donations on Wednesday (and through the 15th) will be doubled by our generous matching donors. Put your donation bid in now!
 Little known fact: it turns out that most Wine developers prefer beer!