There are so many great and helpful applications out there that already do what you want them to do, right? Google Docs is the most popular suite of tools. And then you have other companies that offer freemium and premium versions of the platforms to help you organize you and your team. Or store your data, like Dropbox. What’s the problem with signing up with any of these third-party platforms and boom, you’re done? Easy peasy, no strings. Right?
There are a few problems with third-party software, especially for people who are dedicated to making long-lasting meaningful social and economic change.
One is a question of ownership: who owns your content? What servers are their tools hosted on? If a provider decides they don’t like you or the work you’re doing, they can lock you out of your account and sever your access to all the data you’ve been working on for months. This is not a hypothetical, it’s happened to organizers working on national Monsanto protests and the Black Lives Matter movements as well multiple times.
Second is a question of privacy: will your provider tell the government to take a walk if it comes knocking asking for names, numbers and IP addresses? If the last few years have taught us anything, they’ve taught us that the answer to that is no. Google, Yahoo, Skype, Verizon, every major company has been revealed to routinely and secretly collude with the NSA in providing all the information they demand. We are not safe from the prying eyes of a government that has far exceeded it’s legal grasp for private information and to rely on the protection of third-party companies in the face of this is folly.
Third is a question of control of the code: Third-party software keeps an locked fist on their code. It’s like Latin – a dead language. And it will never really evolve. Change will only occur if someone in that company decides it’s time to. Other programmers and developers can’t investigate the code, modify it or improve upon it. By contrast, while free and open source software doesn’t mean it costs zero dollars, it does mean that you the user can lift the hood up on the software you are using and investigate it. See if perhaps you’re being monitored, which is likely if you’re working on large scale, hot topic actions. It means you can tailor your instance of the software to better meet your network’s needs, you can also make it available to the larger tech community who can improve upon the code. You can think of it as a kind of living language – constantly evolving and spreading.
This kind of approach maximizes collaboration and advances our overall work – to bring about deep systemic change.
By choosing free and open source software, you are making an investment in our collective creative power. You are declaring your autonomy. You are setting yourself and your networks free.