The EPA Deserves Software Freedom, Too

Tuesday 22 September 2015 by Bradley M. Kuhn

The issue of software freedom is, not surprisingly, not mentioned in the mainstream coverage of Volkswagen's recent use of proprietary software to circumvent important regulations that exist for the public good. Given that Volkswagen is an upstream contributor to Linux, it's highly likely that Volkswagen vehicles have Linux in them.

Thus, we have a wonderful example of how much we sacrifice at the altar of “Linux adoption”. While I'm glad for some Free Software to appear in products rather than none, I also believe that, too often, our community happily accepts the idea that we should gratefully laud a company includes a bit of Free Software in their product, and gives a little code back, even if most of what they do is proprietary software.

In this example, a company poisoned people and our environment with out-of-compliance greenhouse gas emissions, and hid their tracks behind proprietary software. IIUC, the EPA had to do use an (almost literal) analog hole to catch these scoundrels.

It's not that I'm going to argue that end users should modify the software that verifies emissions standards. But if end users could extract these binaries from the physical device, recompile the source, and verify the binaries match, someone would have discovered this problem immediately when the models drove off the lot.

So, why does no one demand for this? To me, this feels like Diebold and voting machines all over again. So tell me, voters' rights advocates who claimed proprietary software was fine, as long as you could get voter-verified paper records: how do are we going to “paper verify” our emissions testing?

Software freedom is the only solution to problems that proprietary software creates. Sadly, opposition to software freedom is so strong, nearly everyone will desperately try every other (failing) solution first.

Posted on Tuesday 22 September 2015 at 19:00 by Bradley M. Kuhn.

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#include <std/disclaimer.h>
use Standard::Disclaimer;
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Both previously and presently, I have been employed by and/or done work for various organizations that also have views on Free, Libre, and Open Source Software. As should be blatantly obvious, this is my website, not theirs, so please do not assume views and opinions here belong to any such organization. Since I do co-own ebb.org with my wife, it may not be so obvious that these aren't her views and opinions, either.

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Bradley M. Kuhn <bkuhn@ebb.org>