Proprietary Software Is Often Malware

Proprietary software, also called nonfree software, means software that doesn't respect users' freedom and community. A proprietary program puts its developer or owner in a position of power over its users. This power is in itself an injustice.

The point of this page is that the initial injustice of proprietary software often leads to further injustices: malicious functionalities.

In this section, we also list one other malicious characteristic of mobile phones, location tracking which is caused by the underlying radio system rather than by the specific software in them.

Power corrupts; the proprietary program's developer is tempted to design the program to mistreat its users. (Software whose functioning mistreats the user is called malware.) Of course, the developer usually does not do this out of malice, but rather to profit more at the users' expense. That does not make it any less nasty or more legitimate.

Yielding to that temptation has become ever more frequent; nowadays it is standard practice. Modern proprietary software is typically a way to be had.


As of April, 2022, the pages in this directory list around 550 instances of malicious functionalities (with more than 650 references to back them up), but there are surely thousands more we don't know about.

If you want to be notified when we add new items or make other changes, subscribe to the mailing list <www-malware-commits@gnu.org>.

Injustices or techniques Products or companies
  1. Back door:  any feature of a program that enables someone who is not supposed to be in control of the computer where it is installed to send it commands.
  2. Digital restrictions management, or “DRM”:  functionalities designed to restrict what users can do with the data in their computers.
  3. Jail:  system that imposes censorship on application programs.
  4. Tether:  functionality that requires permanent (or very frequent) connection to a server.
  5. Tyrant:  system that rejects any operating system not “authorized” by the manufacturer.

Users of proprietary software are defenseless against these forms of mistreatment. The way to avoid them is by insisting on free (freedom-respecting) software. Since free software is controlled by its users, they have a pretty good defense against malicious software functionality.

Latest additions

  • 2022-06

    Canada has fined the company Tim Hortons for making an app that tracks people's movements to learn things such as where they live, where they work, and when they visit competitors' stores.

  • 2022-05

    A worldwide investigation found that most of the applications that school districts recommended for remote education during the COVID-19 pandemic track and collect personal data from children as young as below the age of five. These applications, and their websites, send the collected information to ad giants such as Facebook and Google, and they are still being used in the classrooms even after some of the schools reopened.

  • 2022-04

    The US government sent personal data to Facebook for every college student that applied for US government student aid. It justified this as being for a “campaign.”

    The data included name, phone number and email address. This shows the agency didn't even make a handwaving attempt to anonymize the student. Not that anonymization usually does much good—but the failure to even try shows that the agency was completely blind to the issue of respecting students' privacy.

  • 2016-03

    Electronic Arts made one of its games permanently unplayable by shutting down its servers. This game was heavily reliant on the company's servers, and because the software is proprietary, users can't modify it to make it connect to some other server. If the game were free, people could still play what they purchased.

  • 2022-04

    New Amazon worker chat app would ban specific words Amazon doesn't like, such as “union”, “restrooms”, and “pay raise”. If the app was free, workers could modify the program so it acts as they wish, not how Amazon wants it.

More items…