Free software advocate Richard Stallman has accused the software industry of peddling malware, identifying Microsoft and Apple as chief suspects as their products are designed to do things that are not in the user's interests, such as snooping on their activity and installing updates without permission.
Writing in an opinion piece in The Guardian, Stallman delivers a stinging rebuke to the software industry in general, saying that it has become mired in practices that would have been seen as shocking in the past, but which are now the norm.
Stallman, who founded the Free Software Foundation and launched the GNU Project which led to the creation of Linux as we know it today, made it clear in the article that he wasn't talking about viruses.
He defined malware as the name given to "a program designed to mistreat its users", and claimed that much of today's proprietary software fits this description.
"What kinds of programs constitute malware? Operating systems, first of all. Windows snoops on users, shackles users and, on mobiles, censors apps," he said.
"It also has a universal back door that allows Microsoft to remotely impose software changes. Microsoft sabotages Windows users by showing security holes to the National Security Agency before fixing them."
But it isn't just Microsoft that is at the receiving end of Stallman's ire. Apple's Mac OS snoops and shackles, he contends, while iOS snoops, shackles, censors apps and has a back door.
"Even Android contains malware in a non-free component: a back door for remote forcible installation or de-installation of any app," he added.
Stallman goes further and points to the routine capture of user data in many apps today, including those that claim they are merely collecting data to deliver an improved service.
"We know about the smart TV and the Barbie doll that transmit conversations remotely. Proprietary software in cars that stops those we used to call 'car owners' from fixing 'their' cars," he said.
"If the car itself does not report everywhere you drive, an insurance company may charge you extra to go without a separate tracker.
"Meanwhile, some GPS navigators save up where you have gone in order to report back when connected to update the maps."
Stallman finishes with a call to arms, saying that users can reject proprietary software and services that give them no control over snooping or tracking, and by organising to develop free alternatives.
'Free' in this sense does not mean that it costs nothing, but refers to software that does not place restrictions on the user and can be amended as desired.
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