First code project for FreedomBox: the ‘bump’ challenge

Exchanging public keys and signing them is still a complicated matter for normal users. As part of the development of FreedomBox we are thinking of a simple way to establish trust and enable two people talk to each other through secure cryptographic means.

One possible scenario is the following: User Jane meets her friend Ken, they ‘bump’ their phones or scan QRcode and by doing so they exchange not only their private information (vcard, GPG keys) but also establish a high degree of digital identity trust. The updated status of ‘trust’ can be then transmitted back from the phone to their respective FreedomBoxes, securing future communication between Jane and Ken.

I’ve asked for comments and asked for participants on the FreedomBox discuss mailing list. Read the conversation on the archives and consider joining the effort.

Putting Firefox Mobile on Apple’s iOS

Apple doesn’t allow another browser Firefox  (apparently there are other browsers) on its iOS devices, so Firefox Mobile cannot run natively on iPhone/iPod/iPad. Enter Mozilla Home, the hack used by Mozilla Foundation to allow Mozilla desktop users to bring their data on their favorite mobile device.

The mockup of the upcoming version are awesome:

Building on Firefox Home « Ian Barlow.

Develop For Privacy Challenge

We live in a world of smartphones and other mobile devices that provide amazing services. But these same devices can also collect and share vast amounts of data that can paint a detailed picture about where we go, who we know, what we do and even what we think.

Protecting this critical information is more important than ever. But too many users lack the tools that would enable them to take advantage of new technology without losing control of their personal information.

That’s where you come in. And that’s why we’re launching the Develop for Privacy Challenge.

Rules, judges and deadline on  Take the Challenge | Develop For Privacy Challenge.

Apple and software freedom clashing again

Another app has to be removed from the Apple iTunes mobile App Store. This time, after GNU Go, it’s the iOS port of the popular free VLC Player because the terms of the GNU General Public License are incompatible with those of Apple’s store.

Difficult situation and I still think that the best way out is for FSF to sponsor a mobile app repository for free software applications. What would be better?

via How to avoid public GPL floggings on Apple’s App Store | ZDNet.

The carriers are ruining Android

Techcrunch author MG Siegler picked the wrong fight accusing Android of ‘not being open’. His rant rant is all about how the fact that Android is open source allows the carriers like Verizon and T-mobile to fill it up with crapware and basically crippling the user experience. The nuts of his argument though are in this paragraph:

The thought of a truly open mobile operating system is very appealing. The problem is that in practice, that’s just simply not the reality of the situation. Maybe if Google had their way, the system would be truly open. But they don’t. Sadly, they have to deal with a very big roadblock: the carriers.

Carriers have been crippling phones everywhere and independently from the OS. I think of my Nokia E71, for example. It came branded (not locked) by TIM (Italian operator), installed with a custom firmware containing software that wouldn’t even start. So bad was the situation that I had to change its serial number and lead Nokia to believe that it was an unbranded phone so that I could install the normal firmware and get regular updates.

I learned my lesson then: never ever buy branded/locked phones. But aren’t they more expensive that way? Yes! Unlocked phones cost a ton of money, and you know what? They should! When you go buy a laptop do you expect to pay less than $300? So why do you expect a Droid  phone to cost only $199? Don’t you expect that such low means strings attached? And the strings are crippleware, like the idiotic Navigator-thing that AT&T tried to make me pay for on the Palm Pre.

Come on, American friends, you should know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Android is (almost) free software but that doesn’t have anything to do with the stupid manoeuvres of the carriers. These are lame attempts to squeeze some pennies out of you while they wait for their friends in Washington to destroy net neutrality (with Google’s help).

Screw them, buy unlocked phones and refuse data+voice plans that tie to them for two years. Freedom comes at a very small price, all things considered.

There is nothing wrong in being a pipe

The more I think about the net neutrality debate the less I like what I learn. What is really puzzling for me is that carriers are complaining about having a privileged position and that is just unacceptable. It seems to me that network operators like AT&T, Comcast and Telecom Italia operate in an oligopolistic market, with extremely high barriers to new entrants, and with customers with strong disincentives to switch. The more I look at it the more I convince myself that network operators are telling politicians a fairy tale. Big telecoms want us to believe that they need to have some special power, because Google is taking away their margins. I am more inclined to believe that they should thank the governments that gave them a good and well defensible position, while focusing on delivering a good service.

There should be nothing wrong in being a dumb pipe: just focus on delivering a high quality service, voice and data, instead of venturing in idiotic ‘value added’ crap. Hell, even offer the option to the customer to shape internet traffic, couple it with real good customer service and enjoy the recurring revenue, maybe small but almost 100% sure. There is really nothing wrong in being a pipe.

Buy unlocked Android phones

When you buy an Android phone you’re not necessarily buying a phone with an free/open source operating system. Most of Android operating system is licensed in a way that allows manufacturers to lock down the device and make it physically impossible to install new and better software. Bradley Kuhn wrote an interesting article after Motorola finally admitted that they don’t want users to exercise their freedom:

the company just doesn’t believe users deserve the right to install improved versions of their software. At least they admit their contempt for their customers.

The lesson here is not to buy phones from Motorola and buy Google ADP1 or Nexus One which allow improvements to be installed.

Beyond removing GNU software from mobile stores

Last week the Free Software Foundation asked Apple to either remove the game GNU Go from the iTunes App Store or change the terms of service on it. Apple chose to simply remove GNU Go from the store and the move was not a surprise, as FSF Compliance Engineer said in the blog post.  I am puzzled by this move.

I don’t think that FSF goal it to prevent iPhone users to run GNU software on their device, as David ‘Lefty’ Schlesinger paints it and seems to discuss,but nevertheless this is the immediate effect.  Mobile app stores and locked down devices are hostile to free/libre software and GPLv3 can have a difficult life in the mobile environment because of its ‘full installation instructions’ provision. Also, there are still too few free/libre mobile applications.

Having this in mind, a plausible explanation of FSF’s move was to educate free software developers that mobile app stores are not designed to respect users freedom. Fine, but the following question is: how to we proceed from here? What’s the next step of this education and what’s FSF’s plan to bring freedom to the users of mobile phones? I suggest for FSF to sponsor a mobile app repository for free/libre apps: it would have to run on non-free operating systems, but that’s what GNU had to do when there was no Linux. Also, it would be good and probably easy to extend the Free Software Directory to take mobile world into account. What else should FSF do to promote freedom in the mobile world?