What Makes Digital Inclusion Good or Bad?

Richard Stallman came to talk with us on the 26th June 2012, about his view of Digital Inclusion; and that it is not always good. This seems especially the case if the software you are using is proprietary, on a device, or SaaS. You can make your own decision as I audio recorded the talk (in ogg – as per his request). While it’s 1h18m long, I transcribed just the first 10m in an attempt to see if any volunteers thought it important enough to transcribe the rest in 10m chunks.

Stallman thinks that activities directed at ‘including’ more people in the use of digital technology are predicated on the assumption that such inclusion is invariably a good thing. It appears so, when judged solely by immediate practical convenience. However, if we also judge in terms of human rights, whether digital inclusion is good or bad depends on what kind of digital world we are to be included in. If we wish to work towards digital inclusion as a goal, it behoves us to make sure it is the good kind.

Donate TimeYou can listen to the full audio recording of ‘What Makes Digital Inclusion Good or Bad?‘ as a .ogg audio file. In this case I’ve transcribed the first 10 minutes of the talk. If you’d like to help transcribe the rest then please donate some time and mail the transcription to me (I’ll credit and link to you, as I’ve done to myself – bazaarly recursively).

  1. 00:00-10:03 Simon Harper – So, you will see lots of activities that state that their goal is digital inclusion, they take for granted that being included in a digital society is a good thing. I think they’re mistaken it can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on whether that digital society is just or unjust. Teaching people to use Windows for instance is a harmful activity which destroys an important national resource people who haven’t yet learned to use Windows are that resource because they could just as easily learn freedom respecting free software as a user subjugating proprietary software teaching them Windows is destroying that resource so it’s a mistake to treat digital inclusion as an unquestionably desirable goal the whole discourse about the digital divide is based on this presupposition which I disagree with so if we want digital inclusion to be a good thing we need a digital society that respects human rights, well what do we need to be concerned about I will discuss nine threats to freedom in the digital society the first one apropos of Facebook being surveillance digital technology facilitates surveillance that Stalin could only have dreamt of it’s as easy as pie to record absolutely everything about everyone and put it into a dossier under that person’s name handily available for the secret police to look out any time it suits them it might conceivably help catch minor criminals, you know the ones that attack people on the street, it does very little good against the big criminals and Bank-sters who are stealing billions as opposed to a few pounds at a time, it won’t help at all in preventing the biggest crime of all the destruction of the Earths ecosystems and of civilisation itself, so I’m not very impressed by the arguments claiming that they need to do this. In fact it probably hurts important things because surveillance is aimed at least as much at dissidents at protesters as at the people we would normally want to call criminals and so surveillance is done in several ways with digital technology first of all it is often done with our own computers those of us who make the mistake of using proprietary software are in many cases being surveilled by the software that they have chosen to use many proprietary programs, that is non-free – non-freedom respecting programs, have surveillance features specific known examples include Windows the Apple iThings Flash player the Amazon swindle and most portable phones and I’m talking about known features now this is not speculation this is fact so you can prevent your own computers and appliances from spying on you if you have control over them if they are running free software because then the users can change them to do what the users want and even if you  personally don’t know how to program well other users of the program do and they will remove the spy features and you’ll get the benefit as they protect themselves from surveillance they’ll protect you because you’re part of the same user community as they. However surveillance is also done at one removed from the user for instance the UK government is now trying to require ISPs to do a tremendous amount of surveillance of all their customers you can’t prevent this by maintaining full control over your own computer because it is not your own computer that is doing the surveillance in this case so the only way to prevent this is by organising politically to protect against an over powerful government a government that has too much power over people is the real danger a government that people often depend on thats a minor issue of course politicians in UK focus on the minor side issues to distract you from the threat that they consist of another example of surveillance at a certain distance is the way many websites keep-track of their visitors and even those who are not their visitors Facebook for instance does broad surveillance of web traffic through like buttons if you look at a page that shows a like button then Facebook knows that your computer visited the page because the buttons image comes from the Facebook server that was sent by the Facebook server to your machine so this is surveillance of people even though they don’t ever use Facebook and the Amazon swindle does  surveillance of its users by requiring them to buy books with credit cards identifying themselves you can’t pay cash so that way it keeps track of all the books that each user has read and the existence of such a list is a threat to human rights especially in a country like this which imprisons people for what books they have and if you look at the article of mine which was published in the Guardian in March about this topic you’ll find a link to an article about such a case so take a look if you don’t believe me and sometimes surveillance is done by systems which have nothing to do with our activities they are only their for surveillance for instance in the UK there are cameras by the side of the roads that track all car travel and make it possible for the suppression forces to track any car in real-time now this is something that Stalin couldn’t manage to do and this has already been used to attack democracy, people suspected protesters where tracked this way and were arrested before they could get to a planned protest so whenever they use a proposal for a law supposedly aimed at terrorists read dissidents it is one of the oldest lies in the government playbook to claim that anyone who is a dissidents is either a terrorist or an ordinary criminal or insulting the state there are various speeches they have if they don’t want to say that we don’t imprison dissidents. The next threat that I want to mention is censorship, censorship is not new but 15 years ago we thought that the Internet would defeat censorship that it would make it possible for people to communicate and that it would not be possible for governments to stop them well for a while governments didn’t know how to stop them but they’re figuring it out and lots of governments are imposing censorship on the Internet and not only the governments which are blatantly tyrannical such as China and Iran of course what would you expect those governments to do it will hardly be news that they do more censorship what can you say, but unfortunately it’s going beyond there…
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Dr. Richard Stallman launched the free software movement in 1983 and started the development of the GNU operating system in 1984. GNU is free software: everyone has the freedom to copy it and redistribute it, with or without changes. The GNU/Linux system, basically the GNU operating system with Linux added, is used on tens of millions of computers today. Stallman has received the ACM Grace Hopper Award, a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award, and the Takeda Award for Social/Economic Betterment, as well as several honorary doctorates.


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