It's all about the framing: connections between free software, rape culture and labour rights

16 December 2013, 13:45

NB. I wrote this in August 2012 and it has sat as a draft since then. But funnily enough the relevance remains.

Your money and your freedom is an article from the July 2012 members Bulletin of the Free Software Foundation by the Executive Director, John Sullivan. A couple of the articles in this Bulletin talk about e-books and e-readers. I thought this point was particularly good:

We want [people] to see how using free software is better for their privacy and security, and how it is wrong to subjugate themselves to a corporation’s control.

This process is complicated by the fact that, in many countries, people are accustomed to having such a relationship with corporations. […] When Amazon, using its proprietary Kindle software, remotely deleted copies of George Owell’s 1984 from readers’ devices, or when they disabled the Text-to-Speech features on many e-book titles, people recognized this as bad behavior but mostly saw it as an example of a company making some individually bad decisions, rather than as natural and expected outcomes to a model of software distribution that gives Amazon immense power over readers.

When Apple bans politically controversial applications from being distributed through the App Store, or removes some feature from applications users already have installed on their phones, people have complained about those decisions but often think that the problem is that Apple didn’t exercise its authority in justified ways, rather than contest that they should have that authority at all.

It’s all about the framing. It reminded me of a couple of other issues:

  • The suggestion that to avoid harassment, women should just not go to some conferences – rather than, those conferences should work to stamp out harassment.
  • The notion that unions or workers need to show an increase in “productivity” to justify an increase in pay – rather than, when a company has huge increases in profitability, those dividends should go back to workers who create the value in the first place.
  • Similarly, fires, mass suicides etc that happen in developing world factories under sweat-shop conditions are seen as individual tragedies, rather than the inevitable outcome of global capitalism where profits always trump workers’ rights and conditions.

The idea of “just don’t buy that product” being an appropriate response to unethical corporate behaviour also just shows how shrivelled and miserable our concept of democracy (power in society) is, I think. Never citizens – always consumers, or customers.

The Free Software Foundation are currently fundraising for 2014 and with the recent NSA revelations, free software has arguably never been more important. I am proud to have been a member since 2008.

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