The WWWorst App Store
Picture the most abusive app store.
Programs in it are meant to run on your own computer.
However, you have to be online to run them.
Every time you start them, they contact the app store.
If there is an updated version, it's installed automatically, no questions asked. You'd rather run the earlier version? Tough.
If the app store decides you're no longer welcome, the program won't start any more.
If the app store servers are offline, or if you are, it won't start either.
Programs in this app store must also hold your data in the app store's servers.
If the program won't start, you can't get to the data on the servers any more.
You may have downloaded backups of your data, but you'd have to figure out how to decode them without the program.
Sounds like a nightmare? It is. But it's also very real.
Well-known app stores are approaching this level of nastiness.
But they are just catching up with the real thing.
The most abusive app store is the business-driven perversion of the old user-empowering distributed hypertext system called "the Web".
Users have been encouraged to adopt "web apps" for much of their computing, paving the way for other app stores to follow suit.
- you don't have control over what the program does;
- you don't have control over when you can run it;
- you don't have control over your own data.
The app store owner takes all that control away from you, thereby gaining control over you.
But you also lose when it is (nominally) free software!
When the app / web site has so much control over what runs on your computer, the effect "is equivalent to using a nonfree program with surveillance features and a universal back door."
The owner gets all the freedom, and you, the user, get none.
That's not a self-respectful way to do your computing.
It invades your privacy, it keeps you and your data hostage, it takes away your agency and your freedom when it comes to your digital life.
The web used to be a wonderful way to share information.
It is time to separate the WWWonderful from the WWWorst practices.
Here are some ways to help:
- alternate means of access to information they publish, or
- alternate means of delivery for their apps;
- beware of apps that are mere front ends for SaaSS; https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/who-does-that-server-really-serve.html
- demand software you use to be delivered in freedom-respecting ways;
- promote hypertext systems that do not grant servers control over users.
- as a self-respecting user, reject the abusive practices whenever you can; https://gnu.org/philosophy/saying-no-even-once.html
- discourage automatic execution of downloaded code; https://www.fsfla.org/blogs/lxo/pub/who-is-afraid-of-spectre-and-meltdown.en.html
- as a network service operator, set a user-respecting example; https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/network-services-arent-free-or-nonfree.html
Thanks to Richard Stallman for the inspiration to write about this issue, and for the encouragement to publish it.
Copyright 2021 Alexandre Oliva
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