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Proprietary malware → Potential malware

Potential Malware


Nonfree (proprietary) software is very often malware (designed to mistreat the user). Nonfree software is controlled by its developers, which puts them in a position of power over the users; that is the basic injustice. The developers and manufacturers often exercise that power to the detriment of the users they ought to serve.

This typically takes the form of malicious functionalities.


This page describes malicious techniques that proprietary software might use in the future for malicious purposes. We don't have any evidence that they are in use yet.

  • Car companies are coming up with a list of clever reasons why they “have to” put cameras and microphones in the car.

    BMW says its software does not store any driver-monitoring information. If this means none of the data that come out of the cameras and microphones can be seen by anyone else, the cameras and microphones are not dangerous. But should we trust this claim? The only way it can deserve rational trust is if the software is free.

  • Volvo plans to install cameras inside cars to monitor the driver for signs of impairment that could cause an accident.

    However, there is nothing to prevent these cameras from doing other things, such as biometrically identifying the driver or passengers, other than proprietary software which Volvo—or various governments and criminals—could change at any time.

  • Malware installed into the processor in a hard drive could use the disk itself as a microphone to detect speech.

    The article refers to the “Linux operating system” but seems to mean GNU/Linux. That hack would not require changing Linux itself.

  • Some portable surveillance devices (“phones”) now have fingerprint sensors in the display. Does that imply they could take the fingerprint of anyone who operates the touch screen?

  • Patent applications show that Google and Amazon are interested in making “digital assistants” study people's activities to learn all about them.

    AI programs would understand what people say to each other, observe the clothing they wear and the objects they carry (including the marketing messages on them), and use sound to track people's activities, including in the toilet or in bed.

    It should be illegal to have such a device in your apartment without getting signed consent from the people that live in the other apartments in the building.

  • Any device that has a microphone and a speaker could be turned into a sonar system that would track the movements of people in the same room or other rooms nearby.

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