Share this post

freedom services

The idea of integrating online services, especially the sort that are (poorly, IMHO) referred to as "cloud computing", is met with resistance by some. The reasons they offer are generally compelling, namely they are concerned about a loss in Freedom. Here we have spent all these years building freedom into our software and along come these online services as an end-run around that, they say.

I actually agree with them on that point: most online services today are not freedom enhancers but freedom eroders. This was equally true of the overwhelming majority of software produced in the 80s and 90s and even much of it that is produced today. Some who have seen the doors close on certain business models framed around proprietary software have tried to dodge this by creating online services instead. Still others have seen the potential of online services and in their excitement and hurry have not considered the implications to the rights and freedoms of those who will use and perhaps even come to rely on their service.

I do believe that there is answer for this, however: Freedom Services. Just as with Free software and its commitments to use, modification and redistribution we need a set of commitments for online services to meet. Then we need to create those services and get people using them.

For the last couple of years, I've been rolling around in my head the question of what those commitments would look like. As we work on exposing online services in our Free software products more and more this becomes a rather more pressing question. Here are my thoughts as they currently stand on what those commitments should be for a service to be considered "Free as in Freedom":

  1. Specification: A full specification of the service's complete API must be freely available to all for reference. The specification must also be unencumbered so that anyone else may implement and extend it if they so choose without restriction.
  2. Implementation: A reference implementation of the full specification must be made available under a Free software license so that others may study, use and extend it freely.
  3. Privacy: A commitment must be made to all users of the service that privacy related issues, such as use or sharing of the user's information, is openly and clearly documented and that any privacy infringing action the service provider partakes in is opt-in by the user. This includes any actions taken by the service outside the scope of the Specification.
  4. Data Integrity: A commitment must be made to all users of the service that the data they create is theirs. This means the user must have the ability to easily have their data exported at their request in a useful format to a location of the user's choosing (e.g. a local file or even another service) as well as have the ability to remove any and all information generated by the user of the service from the online service at their request. Should the service shut down for any reason, the user must have a reasonable opportunity to retrieve their data.

Is this even possible? identi.ca comes close, though there is no data export function. opendesktop.org comes close as well, though there is a missing Free software implementation of the specification. So we have gaps to fill and many services to erect beyond that.

A registry of services that match some or all of the above commitments could be quite useful to those of us who care and would like to educate others about the issues as well. It sounds like a job for the FSF or FSFE to me! :)

What would you add or subtract from the commitments listed above? What services would you most like to see completely opened up?

Share this post