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 September, 2020, the pages in this directory list around 450 instances of malicious functionalities (with more than 540 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

  • Internet-enabled watches with proprietary software are malware, violating people (specially children's) privacy. In addition, they have a lot of security flaws. They permit security breakers (and unauthorized people) to access the watch.

    Thus, ill-intentioned unauthorized people can intercept communications between parent and child and spoof messages to and from the watch, possibly endangering the child.

    (Note that this article misuses the word “hackers” to mean “crackers.”)

  • Roblox (among many other games) created anti-features which sucker children into utilizing third-party payment services without authorization.

  • The Mellow sous-vide cooker is tethered to a server. The company suddenly turned this tethering into a subscription, forbidding users from taking advantage of the “advanced features” of the cooker unless they pay a monthly fee.

  • Many employers are using nonfree software, including videoconference software, to surveil and monitor staff working at home. If the program reports whether you are “active,” that is in effect a malicious surveillance feature.

  • Facebook snoops on Instagram users by surreptitously turning on the device's camera.

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