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Digital colonialism is threatening the Global South

Filed under
GNU
OSS

Control over how technology works forms the foundation of digital colonialism. Software is often proprietary, which means that users cannot read, modify, or share the source code. This prevents them from understanding and controlling how their computers work.

The public cannot hold Big Tech corporations accountable if they cannot take direct action to change how their software works.

It is for this reason that American software programmer Richard Stallman started advocating for Free and Open Source Software in the early 1980s. "A nonfree program is a yoke, an instrument of unjust power," Stallman reasoned.

People should be given the freedom to control their computers, which requires them having access to software source code - the set of instructions that tells your computer what to do.

Free Software licenses are written to invert the authoritarian power of proprietary software: They secure the user's freedom to use, study, modify, and share the software. They keep software free and open for everyone and enable accountability.

For example, Microsoft configures its Windows operating system to spy on its users. If it were not under the proprietary control of Microsoft, computer hacktivists would surely strip out its spying services and release a modified, "spy-free" version of Windows for the public.

However, Free Software alone is not enough to protect the public interest because in recent years, surveillance capitalism has given rise to centralised Internet services outside of user control. Platforms like Facebook function as "information intermediaries" which stand between end users. Want to send a picture to a friend? You send it to Facebook first, and then your friend downloads it from Facebook.

With the shift to centralised services run by corporate giants, the surveillance of users sky-rocketed. Cloud computing plays a key role. While Free Software creates accountability for software running inside your own device, it cannot produce accountability for cloud services run by corporations. This is because the software is running on someone else's computer (Facebook, Google, etc). Corporate clouds dispossess the people of the ability to control their computers.

Cloud services provide petabytes of information to corporations, who use the data to train their artificial intelligence systems. AI uses Big Data to "learn" - it requires millions of pictures to "understand" how to recognise, say, the letter "A" in its different fonts and forms. In this sense, "data is the new oil".

When applied to humans, the sensitive details of people's personal lives become an incredibly valuable resource that tech giants are incessantly trying to extract.

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Android Leftovers