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 November, 2021, the pages in this directory list around 550 instances of malicious functionalities (with more than 620 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

  • 2021-10

    Ed Tech companies use their surveillance power to manipulate students, and direct them into tracks towards various levels of knowledge, power and prestige. The article argues that these companies should obtain licenses to operate. That wouldn't hurt, but it doesn't address the root of the problem. All data acquired in a school about any student, teacher, or employee must not leave the school, and must be kept in computers that belong to the school and run free (as in freedom) software. That way, the school district and/or parents can control what is done with those data.

  • 2021-11

    A building in LA, with a supermarket in it, demands customers load a particular app to pay for parking in the parking lot, and accept pervasive surveillance. They also have the option of entering their license plate numbers in a kiosk. That is an injustice, too.

  • 2021-11

    Apple's new tactic to restrict users from repairing their own device and impose DRM on people is to completely disable its Face ID functionality when you replace its screen.

  • 2021-08

    Microsoft is making it harder and harder to replace default apps in its Windows operating system and is pressuring users to use its proprietary programs instead. We believe the best approach to this would be replacing Windows with a free (as in freedom) operating system like GNU. We also maintain a list of fully free distributions of GNU.

  • 2018-02

    Spotify app harvests users' data to personally identify and know people through music, their mood, mindset, activities, and tastes. There are over 150 billion events logged daily on the program which contains users' data and personal information.

More items…