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.

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 August, 2020, the pages in this directory list around 450 instances of malicious functionalities (with more than 530 references to back them up), but there are surely thousands more we don't know about.

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

  • Apple is putting the squeeze on all business conducted through apps for iMonsters.

    This is a symptom of a very big injustice: that Apple has the power to decide what software can be installed on an iMonster. That it is a jail.

  • New Toyotas will upload data to AWS to help create custom insurance premiums based on driver behaviour.

    Before you buy a “connected” car, make sure you can disconnect its cellular antenna and its GPS antenna. If you want GPS navigation, get a separate navigator which runs free software and works with Open Street Map.

  • Apple can remotely cut off any developer's access to the tools for developing software for iOS or MacOS.

    Epic (Apple's target in this example) makes nonfree games which have their own malicious features, but that doesn't make it acceptable for Apple to have this sort of power.

  • TikTok exploited an Android vulnerability to obtain user MAC addresses.

  • Apple whistleblower Thomas Le Bonniec reports that Apple made a practice of surreptitiously activating the Siri software to record users' conversations when they had not activated Siri. This was not just occasional, it was systematic practice.

    His job was to listen to these recordings, in a group that made transcripts of them. He does not believes that Apple has ceased this practice.

    The only reliable way to prevent this is, for the program that controls access to the microphone to decide when the user has “activated” any service, to be free software, and the operating system under it free as well. This way, users could make sure Apple can't listen to them.

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