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 July, 2021, the pages in this directory list around 500 instances of malicious functionalities (with more than 610 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

  • 2021-07

    The pegasus spyware used vulnerabilities on proprietary smartphone operating systems to impose surveillance on people. It can record people's calls, copy their messages, and secretly film them, using a security vulnerability.

    A free operating system would've let people to fix the bugs for themselves but now infected people will be compelled to wait for corporations to fix the problems.

    Please note that the article wrongly refers to crackers as “hackers”.

  • 2021-07

    A newly found Microsoft Windows vulnerability can allow crackers to remotely gain access to the operating system and install programs, view and delete data, or even create new user accounts with full user rights.

    The security research firm accidentally leaked instructions on how the flaw could be exploited but Windows users should still wait for Microsoft to fix the flaw, if they fix it.

    Please note that the article wrongly refers to crackers as “hackers”.

  • 2021-07

    Advertising companies are experimenting to manipulate people's minds, and impose a new way of advertising by altering their dreams. This “targeted dream incubation” would trigger “refreshing dreams” of the product, according to the companies.

  • 2021-06

    Peloton company which produces treadmills recently locked people out of basic features of people's treadmills by a software update. The company now asks people for a membership/subscription for what people already paid for.

    The software used in the treadmill is proprietary and probably includes back doors to force software updates. It teaches the lesson that if a product talks to external networks, you must expect it to take in new malware.

    Please note that the company behind this product said they are working to reverse the changes so people will no longer need subscription to use the locked feature.

    Apparently public anger made the company back down. If we want that to be our safety, we need to build up the anger against malicious features (and the proprietary software that is their entry path) to the point that even the most powerful companies don't dare.

  • 2021-06

    Google automatically installed an app on many proprietary Android phones. The app might or might not do malicious things but the power Google has over proprietary Android phones is dangerous.

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