Wednesday 14 May 2014 by Bradley M. Kuhn
(Spoiler alert: spoilers regarding a 1950s science fiction short story that you may not have read appear in this blog post.)
today that Mozilla Corporation (or maybe Mozilla Foundation? She doesn't
really say…) will begin implementing proprietary software by default
in Firefox at the behest of wealthy and powerful media companies.
Baker argues this
serves users: that Orwellian phrasing caught
my attention most.
In the old science fiction story, To Serve Man (which later was adapted for the The Twilight Zone), aliens come to earth and freely share various technological advances, and offer free visits to the alien world. Eventually, the narrator, who remains skeptical, begins translating one of their books. The title is innocuous, and even well-meaning: To Serve Man. Only too late does the narrator realize that the book isn't about service to mankind, but rather — a cookbook.
It's in the same spirit that Baker seeks to serve Firefox's users
up on a platter to the MPAA, the RIAA, and like-minded wealthy for-profit
corporations. Baker's only defense appears to be that
vendors have done the same, and cites specifically for-profit companies such as
Apple, Google, and Microsoft.
Theoretically speaking, though, the Mozilla Foundation is supposed to be a
non-profit charity which told the IRS its charitable purpose was:
keep the Internet a universal platform that is accessible by anyone
from anywhere, using any computer, and … develop open-source
Internet applications. Baker fails to explain how switching Firefox to
include proprietary software fits that mission. In fact, with a bit of
revisionist history, she says that open source was merely an
“approach” that Mozilla Foundation was using, not their
Of course, Mozilla Foundation is actually a thin non-profit shell wrapped around a much larger entity called the Mozilla Corporation, which is a for-profit company. I have always been dubious about this structure, and actions like this that make it obvious that “Mozilla” is focused on being a for-profit company, competing with other for-profit companies, rather than a charity serving the public (at least, in the way that I mean “serving”).
Meanwhile, I greatly appreciate that various Free Software communities maintain forks and/or alternative wrappers around many web browser technologies, which, like Firefox, succumb easily to for-profit corporate control. This process (such as Debian's iceweasel fork and GNOME's ephiphany interface to Webkit) provide an nice “canary in the coalmine” to confirm there is enough software-freedom-respecting code still released to make these browsers usable by those who care about software freedom and reject the digital restrictions management that Mozilla now embraces. OTOH, the one item that Baker is right about: given that so few people oppose proprietary software, there soon may not be much of a web left for those of us who stand firmly for software freedom. Sadly, Mozilla announced today their plans to depart from curtailing that distopia and will instead help accelerate its onset.
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