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Proprietary malware → Obsolescence

Proprietary Obsolescence

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.

One of the malicious functionalities that may be designed into proprietary software is obsolescence.

IT has an environmental impact, as does any human activity, but it is especially harmful to the planet when it is proprietary, because then it encourages users to change devices when they are no longer updated, or to replace components when they are no longer supported, or to discard defective hardware which would be repairable if it were free.

Here are examples of proprietary software that is designed to break the devices they are associated with, or to make them irreparable. Users cannot avoid this constraint and are forced to “upgrade” the hardware because they have no control over the software.

If you know of an example that ought to be in this page but isn't here, please write to <webmasters@gnu.org> to inform us. Please include the URL of a trustworthy reference or two to serve as specific substantiation.

  • ChromeBooks are programmed for obsolescence: ChromeOS has a universal back door that is used for updates and ceases to operate at a predefined date. From then on, there appears to be no support whatsoever for the computer.

    In other words, when you stop getting screwed by the back door, you start getting screwed by the obsolescence.

  • The British supermarket Tesco sold tablets which were tethered to Tesco's server for reinstalling default settings. Tesco turned off the server for old models, so now if you try to reinstall the default settings, it bricks them instead.

  • Apple and Samsung deliberately degrade the performance of older phones to force users to buy their newer phones.

  • Apple will stop fixing bugs for older model iThings.

    Meanwhile, Apple stops people from fixing problems themselves; that's the nature of proprietary software.

  • Revolv is a device that managed “smart home” operations: switching lights, operate motion sensors, regulating temperature, etc. Its proprietary software depends on a remote server to do these tasks. On May 15th, 2016, Google/Alphabet intentionally broke it by shutting down the server.

    If it were free software, users would have the ability to make it work again, differently, and then have a freedom-respecting home instead of a “smart” home. Don't let proprietary software control your devices and turn them into $300 out-of-warranty bricks. Insist on self-contained computers that run free software!

  • The “Cube” 3D printer was designed with DRM: it won't accept third-party printing materials. It is the Keurig of printers. Now it is being discontinued, which means that eventually authorized materials won't be available and the printers may become unusable.

    With a printer that gets the Respects Your Freedom, this problem would not even be a remote possibility.

    How pitiful that the author of that article says that there was “nothing wrong” with designing the device to restrict users in the first place. This is like putting a “cheat me and mistreat me” sign on your chest. We should know better: we should condemn all companies that take advantage of people like him. Indeed, it is the acceptance of their unjust practice that teaches people to be doormats.


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