Ramhorns is the first of my open source projects that I've decided to license under GNU General Public License. As expected people asked questions about the decision to do that. I'm considering switching Logos to GPL or LGPL as well, and likely will use similar licenses in the future. In this post I'd like to lay down my rationale. I don't necessarily want to sway anyone to follow in my footsteps (although that would be great!), just to have a resource I can link to so that people can at least read and understand where I am coming from.
Since Richard Stallman started the Free Software Movement the issue was primarily about the software running on end user's computer. While this is still a concern, the fact that some drivers on my laptop are proprietary is not something that keeps me awake at night. Maybe it should, who knows. What does concern me is the ever growing Surveillance Capitalism built with proprietary software that runs in big, closed data centers.
The main culprits here are ad companies and social networks like Google, Twitter, and Facebook. Year after year it becomes clearer that these giants are not benevolent tech gods providing us with services and convenience free of charge, but that even with best intentions those services have immensely changed how we talk to each other, how our societies function, and how we participate in the democratic process. Those changes, I would argue, are not for the better. Even small startups these days tend to collect excessive data on users whenever they can.
Opaque black boxes
We know Twitter and Facebook manipulate feeds, with algorithms that exploit our minds in order to optimize engagement, at our cost. We know that Google ad network, with its user profiling, allows third parties to target political ads to people most subjectable to them. While those companies do contribute to open source, their surveillance and manipulation code base is closed and proprietary. Why?
I personally find the analogy to food transparency to be the most convincing argument. The food we consume affects our health, so it stands to reason that we would require food producers to be transparent about their process. We now live in a world where proprietary software is affecting not our bodies, but our minds - why not demand the same sort of transparency? Wouldn't you want to know just how Facebook or Twitter ranks and filters your feeds? Wouldn't you want to know what kind of data Google collects and how it is processing it? Moreover, shouldn't you have the right to know?
Taking a stand
I'm not a politician, nor do I feel like I'd make a good activist. I find ideological conflict uncomfortable at best, depressing at worst. But there is something I can do. I can license my own code under GPL and, at very least, not contribute to the problem. I have no illusions about this small act changing anything, and I am fully aware that this might mean that the code I do write is less likely to be used. I find that to be a fair price to pay for the peace of mind, so that I too can continue using computers without dishonor.