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

  • Google Nest is taking over ADT. Google sent out a software update to its speaker devices using their back door that listens for things like smoke alarms and then notifies your phone that an alarm is happening. This means the devices now listen for more than just their wake words. Google says the software update was sent our prematurely and on accident and Google was planning on disclosing this new feature and offering it to customers who pay for it.

  • The Focals eyeglass display, with snooping microphone, has been eliminated. Google eliminated it by buying the manufacturer and shutting it down. It also shut down the server these devices depend on, which caused the ones already sold to cease to function.

    It may be a good thing to wipe out this product—for “smart,” read “snoop”—but Google didn't do that for the sake of privacy. Rather, it was eliminating competition for its own snooping product.

  • BMW will remotely enable and disable functionality in cars through a universal back door.

  • “Bossware” is malware that bosses coerce workers into installing in their own computers, so the bosses can spy on them.

    This shows why requiring the user's “consent” is not an adequate basis for protecting digital privacy. The boss can coerce most workers into consenting to almost anything, even probable exposure to contagious disease that can be fatal. Software like this should be illegal and bosses that demand it should be prosecuted for it.

  • Runescape is a popular online game with some addictive features derived from behavioral manipulation techniques. Certain repetitive aspects of the game, like grinding, can be minimised by becoming a paying member, and can thus encourage children and impressionable people to spend money on the game.

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