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Richard Stallman On Facebook's Privacy Scandal: We Need a Law. There's No Reason We Should Let Them Exist if the Price is Knowing Everything About Us (nymag.com) 367

From a wide-ranging interview of Richard Stallman by New York Magazine: New York Magazine: Why do you think these companies feel justified in collecting that data?

Richard Stallman: Oh, well, I think you can trace it to the general plutocratic neoliberal ideology that has controlled the U.S. for more than two decades. A study established that since 1998 or so, the public opinion in general has no influence on political decisions. They're controlled by the desires of the rich and of special interests connected with whatever issue it is. So the companies that wanted to collect data about people could take advantage of this general misguided ideology to get away with whatever they might have wanted to do. Which happened to be collecting data about people. But I think they shouldn't be allowed to collect data about people.

We need a law. Fuck them -- there's no reason we should let them exist if the price is knowing everything about us. Let them disappear. They're not important -- our human rights are important. No company is so important that its existence justifies setting up a police state. And a police state is what we're heading toward. Most non-free software has malicious functionalities. And they include spying on people, restricting people -- that's called digital restrictions management, back doors, censorship.

Empirically, basically, if a program is not free software, it probably has one of these malicious functionalities. So imagine a driverless car, controlled of course by software, and it will probably be proprietary software, meaning not-free software, not controlled by the users but rather by the company that makes the car, or some other company. Well imagine if that has a back door, which enables somebody to send a command saying, "Ignore what the passenger said, and go there." Imagine what that would do. You can be quite sure that China will use that functionality to drive people toward the places they're going to be disappeared or punished. But can you be sure that the U.S. won't?

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Richard Stallman On Facebook's Privacy Scandal: We Need a Law. There's No Reason We Should Let Them Exist if the Price is Knowin

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  • You know what.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:07PM (#56459199)

    he is 100% correct. I used to make fun of him in the 90s... but as I get older, I perceive him to be a kind of digital profit in the desert.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:15PM (#56459237)

      He isn't mad. Far from it.

      He's just right, and that ticks off many people who don't want to "get" it. Watch now all those infantile asshats poking fun at him to detract from what matters.

      Telling the truth and standing by it ain't always easy. And he's not... always diplomatic, mind you :-)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by x0ra ( 1249540 )

        He isn't mad. Far from it.

        Mad, unlikely, an asshole, most likely. We tried to invite him at a conference we were organizing in 2004, and submitted a two pages list of requirements, from hotel connectivity to tea brands. And I'm not even getting started about the way he behaves in the FSF, he made a lot of damages in their projects...

        • by Gojira Shipi-Taro ( 465802 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:42PM (#56459497) Homepage

          Did he ask for a parrot?

        • Post the requirements on SmokingGun, along with all the rock star contract riders. Should be good for laughs.

        • by AuMatar ( 183847 )

          Most likely Asperger or autistic. He just gets hyper focused on details.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jareth-0205 ( 525594 )

          He isn't mad. Far from it.

          Mad, unlikely, an asshole, most likely. We tried to invite him at a conference we were organizing in 2004, and submitted a two pages list of requirements, from hotel connectivity to tea brands. And I'm not even getting started about the way he behaves in the FSF, he made a lot of damages in their projects...

          There was a quote, I forget where it comes from:

          "Yes he's an arsehole. But he's *our* arsehole. And you can't hate your own arsehole."

    • by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @03:33PM (#56459871)

      I perceive him to be a kind of digital profit in the desert.

      Stallman is the last person I would perceive to be a capitalist, no matter what climate he operates in. The problem is getting enough electricity to actually do any bit-mining, and then keeping your systems cool in the heat.

  • I disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:08PM (#56459203)

    I think it's insane to say something like Facebook should not exist because they can know everything about us.

    The things that they know, ANYONE could know if they did what Facebook did. It's how the web and internet generally works that enables this, not Facebook.

    Getting rid of Facebook is treating only the symptom, not the underlying problem... but here's the real issue, do the vast majority of people even want this problem fixed? I do not think they really care. Have you seen Facebook usage graphs recently? There was a dip around all the furor over Facebook but then it went right back up again... what Stallman and other technologists MUST come to grasp is that most people fundamentally do not value privacy much at all, so they are willing to trade it away for nearly anything. You have to start at that point and see how you go about helping people, not playing whack-a-mole with companies that make use of this fundamental aspect of human nature.

    • Re:I disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Thad Boyd ( 880932 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:17PM (#56459257) Homepage

      but here's the real issue, do the vast majority of people even want this problem fixed? I do not think they really care.

      Sure, but "most people don't care" isn't always a reason in favor of, or against, a particular policy desire. That's tyrrany of the majority.

      what Stallman and other technologists MUST come to grasp is that most people fundamentally do not value privacy much at all, so they are willing to trade it away for nearly anything. You have to start at that point and see how you go about helping people

      If you're saying that what Stallman should be doing is explaining why people should care, he's been doing that for 30 years. Just how successful he's been, and how effective his methods are, are subject to debate, but I certainly think it's occurred to him that he needs to make a case for why people should care about privacy (among other things).

      not playing whack-a-mole with companies that make use of this fundamental aspect of human nature.

      I don't think he's advocating a Whac-a-Mole approach. He's advocating sweeping legal changes that wouldn't just affect Facebook, they'd affect any company taking a similar approach.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Sure, but "most people don't care" isn't always a reason in favor of, or against, a particular policy desire. That's [tyranny] of the majority.

        But that's usually meant to imply the majority decides for everyone, like how much taxes you pay or where the roads are built or whatever. You can hardly call peer pressure being forced to use Facebook. Maybe if it eventually goes all Chinese-like with a social credit system where you have to praise the government to get anywhere in life, but right now I'd say using it pretty damn voluntary. If you wanted to stop every harmful things people do to themselves you'd shut down McDonald's before you shut down Fa

        • Having a Facebook account is voluntary.

          Having your personal data collected by Facebook is not.

          Back when Facebook was first taking off, I used to get E-Mails trying to get me to sign up: "Do you know this person?"

          Once, I got one that asked me if I knew so-and-so. And, well, I did, because I used to date his daughter in high school.

          I never signed up for Facebook. But Facebook's got a profile on me. A profile that was able to determine, based on other people's data and searches, that I have a tenuous, secon

          • Having your personal data collected by Facebook is not.

            Sure it is - if you (A) don't use the internet, or (B) always using private browsing mode how would Facebook be tracking anything about you?

            There are a lot of tracking mechanisms but also ways to get around them, including simply not using the medium they all use to track you - not just Facebook.

            • Re:Still voluntary (Score:5, Informative)

              by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @03:45PM (#56459927)

              Sure it is - if you (A) don't use the internet, or (B) always using private browsing mode how would Facebook be tracking anything about you?

              Your picture is taken with a group of friends, one of whom posts the picture (and list of people in it) to Facebook (which includes GPS and timestamp). And since they already got your contact info from your friends phone book, they can correlate that data point to others they have on you from other sources.

              • by marcle ( 1575627 )

                Exactly what happened to me. A "friend" posted a group shot that identified me. That exact photo now shows up everywhere that collects profiles, even though I've never joined Facebook, and never published that photo.

            • Sure it is - if you (A) don't use the internet, or (B) always using private browsing mode how would Facebook be tracking anything about you?

              So you're basically arguing that Internet users who don't always use private browsing mode are consenting to being tracked?

      • Man, that typo on "tyranny" is really bugging me. Wish I could go back and fix it.
    • Re:I disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MostAwesomeDude ( 980382 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:19PM (#56459283) Homepage

      SuperKendall disagrees with RMS. Groundbreaking and new. More on this, including video, at 11. But first, our lead story: Should laws prohibit Facebook from carrying out their technically-legal but morally-dubious business strategy? Let's go to Jim with details. Jim?

      Jim: Thanks Linda. Facebook would like us to ask whether they should be forgiven in exchange for improving their stewardship of our personal data. However, should we trust Facebook to reform themselves, or should we legislate instead to force Facebook to act? That's the main question here.

      Linda: Sounds complex, Jim. What are the main arguments in favor of legislation?

      Jim: Well, Linda, in our current state, not only can businesses store enormous amounts of personally-identifying information, or "PII", without any accountability, but they can also sell those databases to other businesses, as Facebook does, or they can become targets for hackers, like anybody from Target to Equifax to the Nova Scotian government.

      Linda: Sounds dangerous, Jim. Can the government protect us?

      Jim: Not likely, Linda. The government can store PII too, and while our current government doesn't use PII against citizens very often, only using it to gerrymander and influence voting patterns, other governments around the world use PII to violate human rights. These protestors in favor of legislation argue that we can bind the government's use of PII, so that no organization, GO or NGO, can build up a database like this.

      Linda: I don't know, Jim; I like my Facebook account.

      Jim: So do I, Linda. Whatever we do from here, though, we can't deny that Facebook has changed our lives, and our lives now depend on changing Facebook. Back to you.

      • The government can store PII too, and while our current government doesn't use PII against citizens very often, only using it to gerrymander and influence voting patterns, other governments around the world use PII to violate human rights. These protestors in favor of legislation argue that we can bind the government's use of PII, so that no organization, GO or NGO, can build up a database like this.

        Curious as to how you keep the government from building a PII database. It's not like they don't have Census

    • Re:I disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hazardPPP ( 4914555 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:21PM (#56459295)

      but here's the real issue, do the vast majority of people even want this problem fixed? I do not think they really care.

      It's not that people do not care - they do not understand. Ask people a straightforward privacy question, like for example, "would you want a 24 hr live video stream of your bedroom broadcast onto to the internet for everyone to see?" - and most people would recoil at the thought and give you a resounding "Hell no!" as an answer. That's because that's a simple scenario to imagine, and people get it and understand the repercussions instantly.

      The type of data gathering Facebook, Google, et al. do and the type of things they do with that data is way too abstract and complicated for people to grasp instantly. It's difficult to understand the possible (and existing) repercussions. In some ways, it is all (still) too subtle - until there is some major scandal (bigger than this political campaign stuff - something like phones snapping randomly pictures of people while on the toiler and posting them to all social networks, I mean, something that shocking and obvious and deeply embarassing to almost everyone), this will remain so.

      People understand the way other people affect their privacy - that is why they freak out if they think their phone is listening in on to their conversations, or secretly taking pictures or videos. That's like other people peeping on them, and it also feels like the device is gathering information they didn't allow it to gather. On the other hand, the way computer algorithms affect their privacy, that's too complex and abstract. It's hard to instantly get the consequences of an algorithm mining your photos, mining your social media posts, and crossreferencing that with your movement (since it's tracking your location) to infer information about you - information that you probably did not want to share. People usually think - well, I posted all those pictures on facebook, so who cares if other people see them? I posted some stuff on Twitter, it was meant for other people to see, so what? They don't generally get meta-data, cross-referencing, and inference...because for humans to do that, you need to be a private eye and devote your entire day to making the connections, it's hard work - just to figure out that for one person. To do it human-style, Facebook would need as many employees as it has users (almost). Computers analyze the data much more quickly. People are generally not aware of that.

      • by Falos ( 2905315 )

        OMG I HATE SPAM CALLERS

        While intentionally staying blind to the ocean of databases we've been swimming in for 50 years. Their form, their technical structure may have changed over the decades, but we've been compiling since we learned how to make electronics store data.

        Granted, it's an invisible ocean, and it's impossible to mentally picture in any detail. Thank god it's all a pile of christmas wire, spaghetti, incompatible with each other, held by actors with no intrinsic incentive to meld. Cars have VINs

    • Re:I disagree (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sinij ( 911942 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:47PM (#56459537)

      most people fundamentally do not value privacy much at all, so they are willing to trade it away for nearly anything.

      This is only for as long as their privacy is not visibly compromised. Pretty much anyone would be outraged if their browsing history was shared with their peers, but this is some of the least intrusive information FB collects on you.
      Another way to look at this. 100% people who were dragged/publicly shamed on social media regret sharing personal details that enabled such occurrence.

      The issue is not disregarding privacy, the issue is lack of foresight and planning ahead.

    • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

      do the vast majority of people even want this problem fixed?

      Let's put it to a public vote and find out! Democracy is still a good thing, right?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Not according to Plato [wikipedia.org]. The people who wrote the US constitution were the leading philosophers and scientists of their time and were very afraid of democracies, and wrote as such, which is why the us US a republic.
    • Re:I disagree (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Visarga ( 1071662 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @03:04PM (#56459661)
      When you get at FaceBook size, knowing so much everything about people becomes more than a symptom. At this scale it is a problem in itself. The potential for abuse is on a whole new level.
    • Re:I disagree (Score:4, Insightful)

      by NicknameUnavailable ( 4134147 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @03:04PM (#56459663)

      The things that they know, ANYONE could know if they did what Facebook did. It's how the web and internet generally works that enables this, not Facebook.

      Silicon Valley isn't the web, they are the corruption of the web. Step outside your bubble, shill.

    • Re:I disagree (Score:5, Informative)

      by bgarcia ( 33222 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @03:13PM (#56459739) Homepage Journal

      I think it's insane to say something like Facebook should not exist because they can know everything about us.

      The things that they know, ANYONE could know if they did what Facebook did.

      What Mr. Stallman is saying is that we should enact laws against collecting all of this personal information. And if the result of those laws is that companies like Facebook go out of business because they can no longer be profitable without that capability, then they should be allowed to fail and no longer exist.

    • I think it's insane to say something like Facebook should not exist because they can know everything about us.

      The things that they know, ANYONE could know if they did what Facebook did.

      What's that supposed to mean? Just as well, the things the organized crime knows ANYONE could know if they did what the organized crime does.

  • by j_rhoden ( 214320 ) <rhodenr@gmail. c o m> on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:08PM (#56459205)

    âoeEmpirically, basically, if a program is not free software, it probably has one of these malicious functionalities.â

    Yeah citation needed there buddy.

    • Yeah citation needed there buddy.

      Not really.

      empirical - based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.

      So the sentence parses out as "according to Stallman's observations and experience, if a program is not free software, it probably has one of these malicious functionalities."

      • by Falos ( 2905315 )

        I don't think it needs to be anecdotal.

        "If you're blocked from information, the block isn't for your sake." is a solid enough axiom to start from.

        It may not necessarily be malicious, but it can be assumed (fuck off citationboy) to serve the other side of the table. Sealed judgements, sealed transcripts, sealed devices, sealed software. If something happens behind closed doors without you, that's a disadvantage, big or small.

        Conversely, the power to conceal is always an advantage, big or trivial. It's option

      • by mark-t ( 151149 )
        Doesn't it still have to be verifiable?
  • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:17PM (#56459247)

    If you put your life on the net, the data will be collected.

    You could build a FOSS global gossip network and it would still have it's data harvested. For example: I guarantee Github's data is scraped.

    Don't put your life on the net, do put disinformation on the net. It is that simple.

    • what about the non user/members? they, I never agreed to any of their terms..And as its been pointed out you need to be a full blown lawyer to read and really understand what your agreeing too..that's abuse also. i bet 99.99% of their user have never read the terms and really understand how much they are being mined of
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      So don't buy a house, get a mortgage, register to vote, start a business, have a phone number, or any of the other hundreds of things we do that get our information scraped?

      People complain about FB because it's an easy target. Most would freak out if they knew what Lexis-Nexis and dozens of similar companies have on them, collected mainly from public records. Your life is already in the public domain.

      • Way to move the goalposts. That's all been true since the 1950s.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rahvin112 ( 446269 )

        And there is a simple solution to these problems of private data collection.

        Make it illegal to collect like Europe did, then these companies can't collect this data and sell it. We need a privacy law in this country, not just for government but everyone. It should not be legal to gather all this personal information about people. And claiming there are others like Lexus-Nexis doing the same thing doesn't mean it's right.

        I personally consider this data collection a deep threat to not only the country (these

        • Disclaimer: I used to work in journalism as a reference librarian and researcher.

          There are MANY legitimate reasons for many public records to be public. It's in the public's interest to know if one person or company is buying all the land/homes/businesses in an area (and who's lending them the money to do it). It's in our interest to know who owns businesses. It's in the government's interest to know where people live and how to contact them, and it's in the public's interest to know what the government knows about us.

          When records are public, people are going to collect them, analyze them, and put them together in more useful ways (and often provide them for sale). It's certainly not a perfect system, and it makes people feel funny when someone knows things about them. But I'm not sure catering to your funny feeling (even if you think it's somehow a threat to democracy) is worth the tradeoff of not having this information be publicly accessible.

    • You could build a FOSS global gossip network and it would still have it's data harvested.

      Yes -- but people could audit the code and find out exactly what data was being harvested, make informed decisions, and fork it to create an alternate version that didn't harvest the same data.

      (Besides which point, RMS is proposing something beyond software licenses here; he says that such data-gathering should be illegal unless absolutely necessary to the purpose of the business, and heavily taxed if so.)

      For example: I

      • Yes -- but people could audit the code and find out exactly what data was being harvested, make informed decisions, and fork it to create an alternate version that didn't harvest the same data.

        This is the same logical fallacy that results in statements like "FOSS is so good because if you don't like how something works or need a new feature you can add it yourself." Ninety-nine and 54 one hundredths of the users have no clue how to audit the code, and thus no way of making the "informed decision", and even fewer would know that "fork" wasn't what you eat with.

        And then you have to ask, exactly what is a "malicious functionality"? Does it include using the code for malicious purposes? (It can func

        • This is the same logical fallacy that results in statements like "FOSS is so good because if you don't like how something works or need a new feature you can add it yourself." Ninety-nine and 54 one hundredths of the users have no clue how to audit the code, and thus no way of making the "informed decision", and even fewer would know that "fork" wasn't what you eat with.

          That's a fair criticism. But, just as a non-programmer can benefit from the Linux kernel or the Firefox browser, the wisdom of crowds play

          • the wisdom of crowds plays a role. No, not everyone is a programmer. But everyone can benefit from the work of programmers.

            "Code audits" are not "wisdom of crowds". Code audits are performed by very few people, and while you may subscribe to the notices that report such results, the vast majority of people do not. The "crowd" has no wisdom about security issues; it's select people who spend the time looking for them and a slightly larger group that cares enough to read the reports.

            Whether that information makes it to the public as a whole in large part depends on the apparent nuttiness of the reporter. Act like chicken little,

            • "Code audits" are not "wisdom of crowds". Code audits are performed by very few people, and while you may subscribe to the notices that report such results, the vast majority of people do not. The "crowd" has no wisdom about security issues; it's select people who spend the time looking for them and a slightly larger group that cares enough to read the reports.

              "The wisdom of crowds" (in this context, at least) assumes that we're talking about groups of people who are reasonably well-informed about the subj

      • by mccrew ( 62494 )

        You could build a FOSS global gossip network and it would still have it's data harvested.

        Yes -- but people could audit the code and find out exactly what data was being harvested, make informed decisions, and fork it to create an alternate version that didn't harvest the same data.

        Just to be clear, I don't advocate for the current situation. But I'm curious if you could elaborate on how this would work on such a "gossip network". Say a user has presence on this network, and has taken time to cultivate a list of friends, post pictures, send messages, and so forth. Then user learns that certain data is harvested, and is not happy about it, and decides to fork an alternate version.

        So the user, who also has the right technical skills and available time, creates a one-off of the ori

        • Vendor lock-in and difficulties in migration are issues, but I don't think they've got much to do with whether the underlying software is free or proprietary.
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Other people put up group images and tag every face. The user is the product.
  • DDT (Score:2, Troll)

    by Zorro ( 15797 )

    Yeah Social Media turned out a lot like DDT.

    We should ban it.

  • eh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by buddyglass ( 925859 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:21PM (#56459297)
    Seems like proper labeling requirements would do the trick. Have them state up front in simple, easy-to-understand-for-a-non-technical-person terms what data they collect, who they share it with, and what someone could do with it. Then, if people still want to use the service, they can, and they'll do it with eyes open.
  • by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:22PM (#56459309) Homepage

    Let's put his two core statements in closer proximity: "public opinion in general has no influence on political decisions" and "we need a law".

    Hold up your hand if you see the problem...

  • by rtkluttz ( 244325 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:22PM (#56459315) Homepage

    The facebook fiasco is bad, but there simply needs to be the same rules for corporations that exist for government. The data that corporations collect now make laws against search and seizure and privacy regulations laughable. They can't get your data directly but simply allow Google and Facebook to know everything about you then get it that way. I went to a hospital this past weekend that wanted to scan my drivers license just to go see my dad in the hospital. I refused and said I prefer to move about anonymously and refused to give it up. Where are we going to be when EVERY place demands identification? The government can't directly track your movements gestapo "paper's please" style, but they'll effectively have the exact same trail. It's not acceptable for your identification to be needed to participate in society.

    • by Falos ( 2905315 )

      Human wants to see it with his eyeballs? Sure.

      Scan it to a digital state of infinite duration scope and use? No deal.

      What hurts is that your average surface dweller thinks it's the other way around.

  • Yes, we need a law (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:26PM (#56459345)

    Unfortunately, we no longer have the power to get them created. That power now belongs to the rich, who have purchased the legislators. They create the laws that benefit them, and block the laws that would benefit us. I'm pretty sure the only thing that will change this is revolution - and that is becoming both increasingly less likely, (via bread-and-circuses, propaganda, and various other forms of Kool-Aid), and increasingly less possible, (via mass surveillance and, appropriately enough, Facebook). Not to mention that in a revolution, pretty much everyone loses big time, at least in the short term...

  • by Stan92057 ( 737634 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:36PM (#56459455)
    I am not a member,user of FB then why the hell should they data mine me others because our relatives put a picture up that happen to have me in them? I never agreed to FB terms and they don't have a right to spy on me at all. IMO what they are doing is wiretapping on mega scales..Someone should be in jail for wiretapping non users......
  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @02:45PM (#56459519)
    or socialist. Yeah, this is slightly off topic, but folks get confused so much when they hear this term that I think it's worth pointing out. Neoliberal is in line with the "Clintonian" or "Corporate" side of the Democratic party. e.g. Low regulations, free trade, legalize things that aren't directly harmful like drugs, etc. It's like a pro-corporate libertarian.

    For the record, Stallman is very left wing. [stallman.org]
  • The Right to Privacy.

    • What money-loving neoliberal plutocrat would go for an Amendment? It's already established they don't listen to public opinion.

      We have a two party system both trying to maintain the status quo for a small minority of their supporters. It's not so much a democracy as a patrician republic.

  • He doesn't score points with language like this.

  • No matter what RDS thinks, or you or I think, no law will be made. You can squeak in protest all you want if you have the time and energy to waste.

    Laws are made by legislators, guided by powerful market forces. There don't seem to be any legislators here, and certainly none that care to protect your privacy.

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