5 years ago: Digital Feudalism and How to Avoid It


I learned a lot in those five years and we’re still working for the same goals. Surveillance Capitalism is worse than it ever was but we also have new hopes: @Purism, Mastodon, @gnome, DAT, …

The one thing I’d change is to replace “open source” with “ethical technology” and “free (as in freedom)” in my words.


@aral Great talk. What do you make of services which aren't open source, but state clear alignment with privacy -- subscription instead of ads, no data mining (or even end-to-end encryption), easy data export?

@james Depends on their funding and corporate structure. The key risk is that they’ll be Trojan horses – if they get too popular, one of the surveillance-based businesses buys them and slowly erodes privacy – see WhatsApp. If VC-funded, it’s basically a given that this will happen unless they IPO (and even then, the internal loss of control of the original founders – is they were driven by their social mission instead of profits to begin with – may change its character).

@aral Hmm yeah, Trojan horse is a good way of putting it. My main concern of open sourcing as a founder with bootstrapped products is that someone will deploy a clone and undercut my pricing, making it unsustainable for me to continue developing the product.

@aral What do you think of something like this: github.com/jamesisaac/product- . Hasn't left draft status as I'm not sure it's a particularly bullet-proof solution. WhatsApp a good counter example as network effects are so strong that it's too late for people to leave even with ample notice, but for apps with a good single-user utility I can see it helping. Do you think that sort of approach could help / is there something similar I'm not aware of?

@aral (For an example of how it looks to an end-user, who isn't concerned with the exact clauses)

@james Would AGPL not protect you? A first-hand example: @better is an example of us having the tool open source and yet being able to sell it on the App Store as we still have copyright. It’s released under AGPL (server-side) and GPL (client-side).

@aral @james Perhaps the best approach is to maintain the expectation that one will switch services from time to time depending on which are taking preferred principles seriously, and promote that attitude as a deliberate alternative yo choosing a walled garden and staying there no matter how weedy it gets.

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