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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, 2021, the pages in this directory list around 500 instances of malicious functionalities (with more than 570 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

  • As of 2021, WhatsApp (one of Facebook's subsidiaries) is forcing its users to hand over sensitive personal data to its parent company. This increases Facebook's power over users, and further jeopardizes people's privacy and security.

    Instead of WhatsApp you can use GNU Jami, which is free software and will not collect your data.

  • Many popular mobile games include a random-reward system called gacha which is especially effective on children. One variant of gacha was declared illegal in Japan in 2012, but the other variants are still luring players into compulsively spending inordinate amounts of money on virtual toys.

  • Most Internet connected devices in Mozilla's “Privacy Not Included” list are designed to snoop on users even if they meet Mozilla's “Minimum Security Standards.” Insecure design of the program running on some of these devices makes the user susceptible to be snooped and exploited by crackers as well.

  • The personal finance management software “Quicken” has a discontinuation policy, a.k.a. planned obsolescence, which is an injustice to users. A free (as in freedom) program would let users control the software. But when you use a proprietary software, you won't be in control.

  • Adobe Flash Player has a universal back door which lets Adobe control the software and, for example, disable it whenever it wants. Adobe will block Flash content from running in Flash Player beginning January 12, 2021, which indicates that they have access to every Flash Player through a back door.

    The back door won't be dangerous in the future, as it'll disable a proprietary program and make users delete the software, but it was an injustice for many years. Users should have deleted Flash Player even before its end of life.

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