The Bait, the Hook and the Wide Net

Alexandre Oliva

Published (in Portuguese) in the May, 2009, second issue of Revista Espírito Livre.

Socially-conscious software users have already noticed that, by biting the bait, they encourage user fishers to keep on using such subterfuges as hidden hooks to catch them. Not by coincidence, fishers have resorted to the Wide Net as an alternate imprisoning device. What can we do to avoid these dangers?

Grub time!

The story begins with a mouthwatering piece of shrimp, worm or any other feature that could attract users. In the same package, carefully designed to ensnare the prey, is the hook, a malicious feature intended to restrict and imprison the user, by technical (denial of source code, DRM, Tivoization) or legal (restrictive contracts, limiting licenses, various threats) means.

Even that who understands and values freedom, and therefore does everything possible to avoid the hooks, is sometimes victimized by these devices made to fool and catch. The difference is that, once caught, some conclude the best that remains to do is to savor the bait, relax and enjoy the trip, while the most conscious ones struggle to get ourselves free till the exhaustion of our forces, even sacrificing such important and convenient features as parts of the mouth, of the computer or of sites.

Far smarter is to avoid taking the bait: aside from not risking being caught, we discourage the fisher. The fewer users fall in the trap, the greater the chances the fishers will abandon this strategy, so that we can all go back to feeding, at ease and in safety, on bits of shrimp and information.

Fishers in software, unethical that they are, have already found another strategy to lure their prey, even benefiting from the solidarity in users' movement, the Free Software Movement, against the immediate capture through hooks.

Casting the Wide Net

The busters started scattering bait on the digital ether, using the Wide Net to enclose the schools of users attracted by the bait, steering them, unawares, to the complete capture.

Interesting and worrisome is that the Wide Net can imprison the user in two different ways: in the users' own micro-environment as well as upon access to the fisher's site.

In the first case, the bait is not stuck to a hook, or to the users' environment: the fisher sends bait down their throats straight from his site. It's bait with AJAX, Flash and Java technologies, among others. The users process them in their own guts, without much of a chance to adapt them to their own preferences and needs. Distracted by the bait, users don't even notice that the net takes more and more space around them. Worse yet is that it's the fisher who decides what the victim will swallow, at each visit. Under these conditions, the bait is a danger even when its recipe is originally Free. It's even worse with the blatantly non-Free ones, that use hundreds of tons of Obfuscript.

In the second case, the fisher extends the net between the users and a site carefully crafted for them to lay down and maintain their eggs and personal information. Even if they're not caught, users risk finding that, later on, the access is obstructed; that their offspring might be born into bondage.

Before the arrival of the net, users could personally defend their offspring from external threats, keeping it under their control in their own isolated micro-environment. At the site, however, it's the fisher who controls the environment and the access to offspring, and he might use the offspring for undesirable purposes, and even offer them to third parties. Without control, the users are at the fisher's mercy, even when they can obtain recipes and specifications of the environment (as required by the GNU Affero GPL) and set up their own adapted environment at an alternate site.

Even in the case of a collaborative application such as, say, egg fertilization, it's essential for users that they, rather than a fisher, can control both the access to the eggs and the environment in which they're maintained. The specifications of the fisher-maintained site are not enough. If users can't take their offspring to another site, the offspring will be turned into hostages, used to control the users.

Getting No!ware

Fishers have a lot of interest in controlling current generations, but that's not enough. They hope to imbue in generations born and growing under their influence the acceptance of these attacks on freedom. Innocent users, in turn, apparently don't realize the risk to themselves and their offspring. And where does an unwary user go to avoid the dangers of fishers' baits, sites and nets? Nowhere! He stays right there, gullible and trustful of the comfort and the safety of the environment controlled by the fisher.

It's true that the future of a user caught in the Wide Net might not be, let's say, cloudy. After all, there are fishers who return their quarry to freedom, although with collateral damage at times. But there are also those who capture prisoners for them to live in bondage. Once in a bowl, jumping out is difficult and dangerous, possibly even fatal, especially to the offspring left behind. It's better to avoid it! And where does a conscious users go to avoid the dangers of fishers' baits, sites and nets? Nowhere! Nowhere even close to them!

Copyright 2009 Alexandre Oliva

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