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 January, 2020, the pages in this directory list around 450 instances of malicious functionalities (with more than 500 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

  • Tesla's cars have a universal remote back door. Tesla used it to disable the autopilot features on people's cars to make them pay extra for re-enabling the features.

    This kind of malfeature is only possible with proprietary software—free software is controlled by its users who wouldn't let do such things to them.

  • Xiaomi phones report many actions the user takes: starting an app, looking at a folder, visiting a website, listening to a song. They send device identifying information too.

    Other nonfree programs snoop too. For instance, Spotify and other streaming dis-services make a dossier about each user, and they make users identify themselves to pay. Out, out, damned Spotify!

    Forbes exonerates the same wrongs when the culprits are not Chinese, but we condemn this no matter who does it.

  • The Google Play Terms of Service insist that the user of Android accept the presence of universal back doors in apps released by Google.

    This does not tell us whether any of Google's apps currently contains a universal back door, but that is a secondary question. In moral terms, demanding that people accept in advance certain bad treatment is equivalent to actually doing it. Whatever condemnation the latter deserves, the former deserves the same.

  • The CIA exploited existing vulnerabilities in “smart” TVs and phones to design a malware that spies through their microphones and cameras while making them appear to be turned off. Since the spyware sniffs signals, it bypasses encryption.

  • The Alipay Health Code app estimates whether the user has Covid-19 and tells the cops directly.

Available for this page:

[en] English   [de] Deutsch   [es] español   [fr] français   [it] italiano   [ja] 日本語   [nl] Nederlands   [pl] polski   [pt-br] português   [ru] русский   [tr] Türkçe   [zh-cn] 简体中文   [zh-tw] 繁體中文  

 [FSF logo]  “The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a nonprofit with a worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom. We defend the rights of all software users.”