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 February, 2021, the pages in this directory list around 500 instances of malicious functionalities (with more than 580 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

  • 2021-02

    The proprietary program Clubhouse is malware and a privacy disaster. Clubhouse collects people's personal data such as recordings of people's conversations, and, as a secondary problem, does not encrypt them, which shows a bad security part of the issue.

    A user's unique Clubhouse ID number and chatroom ID are transmitted in plaintext, and Agora (the company behind the app) would likely have access to users’ raw audio, potentially providing access to the Chinese government.

    Even with good security of data transmission, collecting personal data of people is wrong and a violation of people's privacy rights.

  • 2021-02

    Microsoft is forcibly removing the Flash player from computers running Windows 10, using a universal backdoor in Windows.

    The fact that Flash has been disabled by Adobe is no excuse for this abuse of power. The nature of proprietary software, such as Microsoft Windows, gives the developers power to impose their decisions on users. Free software on the other hand empowers users to make their own decisions.

  • 2021-02

    The Prodigy maths game played in schools at no cost entices students to play it at home, where the company tries to lure them into paying for a premium subscription in exchange for mere cosmetic features that, at school, underline the socioeconomic gap between those who can afford it and those who can't.

    The strategy of using schools as a fishing pool for customers is a common practice traditionally adopted by nonfree software companies.

  • 2020-12

    The HonorLock online exam proctoring program is a surveillance tool that tracks students and collects data such as face, driving license, and network information, among others, in blatant violation of students' privacy.

    Preventing students from cheating should not be an excuse for running malware/spyware on their computers, and it's good that students are protesting. But their petitions overlook a crucial issue, namely, the injustice of being forced to run nonfree software in order to get an education.

  • 2021-02

    Many cr…apps, developed by various companies for various organizations, do location tracking unknown to those companies and those organizations. It's actually some widely used libraries that do the tracking.

    What's unusual here is that proprietary software developer A tricks proprietary software developers B1 … B50 into making platforms for A to mistreat the end user.


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