There are some morally neutral things which may be said about Stallman: His views are far out of the mainstream; he is uncompromising even in small matters; and he occasionally has a weird-but-powerful charisma.
There are some praiseworthy things about Stallman: He appears to be utterly principled; he shows few signs of being tempted by money; and he has persevered for decades to bring about the world he wants.
None of these things, good or bad, affect the underlying question: Is Stallman right?
In my case, I often find Stallman's claims ridiculous at first. Why? Because Stallman is asking us to take extreme measures against threats which seem both unlikely and dystopian, such as the universal DRM he predicted in his 1997 short story, "The Right to Read."
But I've noticed, over the years, that Stallman's most paranoid fears tend to come partially true. Today, we have an acronym for "DRM", and we've spent years fighting the legal powers granted by the DMCA. So I no longer automatically discount what Stallman says, because his pessimistic predictions have a better track record than my optimistic ones.
Language like that just alienates people. The dude needs a filter.
But lets step back from the messenger for a moment and look at the message. Richard's rant on cellphones is predicated, in part, that they can be used as surveillance devices. The engineering of a cell phone network is such that it presents, perhaps as an 'attractive nuisance', the ability to extract surveillance data. This has nothing to do with whether or not the software in the phone is "free", rather it has everything to do with how that software is used.
So a question that does not come up often, and I have yet to see in print, is this, "If all software was 'free' and 'open' how would that change anything?" So if the source code to the handsets is "free" and the source code to the base stations is "free" and the PSTN software is "free", what changes? SIP based phones have the same surveillance capabilities as GSM phones and one can put together a nominally 'free' stack for such a phone network. I'm afraid I don't have any good answers here.
 http://definitions.uslegal.com/a/attractive-nuisance/ although in our case the 'children' here are Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) who don't have the resources to send someone out to follow you around.
So, unless I'm misreading things, he never says that the issue with surveillance is about "whether or not the software in the phone is 'free'".
Another option might be for your phone to check into a different tower, or only check in at intermittent intervals, but I'm not sure that that would be enough - signal strength would probably give you away.
I look forward to this influx of wealthy and altruistic individuals.
I've noticed the same about Nostradamus' predictions. Oh, and Jules Verne's fiction. ;) Irony aside, counting how many vaguely described predictions came partially true, is hardly a good way to judge whether someone's opinion is right.
To judge whether a principle should be called moral or ethical, I try to ask myself whether it can be thought of a universal. Otherwise, it's just a matter of personal preferences.
Accordingly, Stallman's principles are just personal preferences although he tries to sell them as universal.
Surely, he's entitled to try but that doesn't make his principles right.
This isn't a prediction, it's reality today.
Free software on phones? If anyone can sideload whatever they want onto any platform they want, it's the Chinese. How does this help you, when the cellphone towers are tracking your phone's every movement, and when attempts to evade that tracking are sufficient to get you arrested or worse?
The nature of the license for the software running on a radio has nothing to do with the ability to triangulate that radio, sadly.
But you don't have to disclose the fact that that radio source over there is jrockway's radio.
Freenet-style routing is an idea that comes to mind for solving this problem with software.
That being said, it's going to be really tough to find a technical solution that allows people to be found in an emergency, but not tracked by a Big Brother government. The solution might end up being legislative.
The unfortunate downside of this is that he doesn't generally see the need to find compromise positions that are palatable to those who maybe agree with his thoughts but don't have the exact same value set. I may see his concern about privacy, etc but I also need to be reachable when I'm not at my desk. By being too extreme in his views, he reduces the chance that they'll be taken seriously.
Really, if he talked like a sane, reasonable, rational person, he could make the same arguments and persuade more people. Right now, his extremism is making his supporters sound bad. He's a liability to his own cause.
His filtering of technology is less extreme a change in lifestyle than veganism. But you can talk to most vegans and completely understand why they're doing what they're doing, and sympathize with their decisions far easier than this. The first, last, and only Stallman speech I went to gave me a real headache at the --- lets be honest -- Jackassitude of his entire presentation. I was on his side until I heard him speak!
Bootloaders are executed after the BIOS.
This page says how to port Replicant to a new phone, but not which phones and networks it's been done for.
Also, I don't think proprietary software is a moral issue. People should have the right to make and buy something non-free if they wish. I do admire Stallman's principled lifestyle, though.
Finally, it's interesting that Kevin Kelly (former editor of Wired), in his awesome book "What Technology Wants", also makes the case for not owning a cell phone, but for different reasons.
It has the benefit of making the batteries last extra long (because the cell and wifi radios are turned off).
Nice closing paragraph in the Network World article. Then again I live in Madison, Wi.
The more you have to hide, the more protections you must take. You cannot rely on technology. In extreme cases, it means eschewing technology entirely, living in caves, and living in Afghanistan and Sudan.
You cannot rely on that which you do not control, including free software.
And this is why, instead of getting my emissions checked every year, I choose not to use cars, or even public busses.
Even if that car is a coal-fired chariot with whirling spikes extending from the axles?
I agree with your sentiment entirely, but also recognize that so long as I live within the confines of human society, absolute freedom is impossible.
When you do drive, do you bother to follow traffic lights? I mean, they're just another form of the government telling you what you can and can't do. You should just be able to drive when you like, where you like, right? Similarly license plates should be discarded, as they're just another way for the government to track your activities, which we should be free from.
To be clear, what I'm trying to illustrate is the pointlessness of absolutist statements. Being human is an exercise in compromises, and libertarian talking points fail to take this into account.
My personal view is that the societal desire for and against privacy and human rights always trumps any technological barriers. Hitler and Stalin, for example, were able to do pretty bad things despite having relatively primitive technology. Examples date back to the dawn of recorded history. Even today, I can be tracked using my license plate number, fingerprints, DNA, etc. pretty handily. Where there is a will, there is a way. Fortunately, our society does not have the political will to do it--and, in fact, would likely find inappropriate tracking to be revolting.
In this respect I think Stallman is way off base. Fighting to make sure your phone runs OSS does little to ensure that the culture we live in values the right things and has an ideal political structure (representative democracy). I'd argue it's a dangerous distraction, in fact, because it promulgates the incorrect notion that if only we had open technology, we'd be free from criminals, dictators, and other bad things, and we'd live in a world of ponies and rainbows. Because this is not true, I fear this effort diverts attention from where it deserves to be. That said, RMS's scare tactics to help to some degree, by reminding people that our societal values will always need to be projected into the latest wave of technology. I think this tends to happen naturally and organically, but whatever.
Fortunately, the flipside is pretty good: given the right political environment, privacy and technological regulation can coexist peacefully. This is good because some amount of regulation of the commons is necessary and good, and this extends to new technologies (like the car, or the cell phone).
If someone has never read anything about or by Mr. Stallman, there is plenty to see here. There may be nothing to see here for you, but when you say "Nothing to see here," you are speaking in absolutes. I have read a fair bit about his beliefs and I found a few things of interest in the article, such as the discussion about the Replicant variation of Android and the Tivoization of Android by carriers. This may not be news to you, but it's news to me.
Therefore, I say there is something to see here.
I can't speak to your thinking or motivations, so what follows is a general observation: On HN we have a principle of not downvoting comments just because we disagree. Upvotes and downvotes are ideally applied on the basis of whether they contribute positively to the discussion. A contribution can be made simply by opening a new line of thought, even if the premise is flawed.
I am not going to get into whether I agree or disagree with Mr. Stallman's beliefs. However, I will suggest that his various missives, rants, and other statements contribute positively to the general fabric of discussion around software freedom and personal privacy. This suggestion is open to discussion: I am aware that some people think his zeal does more harm than good. But that's what I believe.
I said above that I believe the article provides a public good by including information that someone like myself may not have already known. I now suggest that the article also presents something that is a public good by contributing positively to the general fabric of discussion about cell phone technology and privacy, even if you or I might disagree with Mr. Stallman's views.
You are free to draw your own conclusions, of course. I'm just trying to explain mine.
I wonder if there is really a need to choose either convenience or privacy in the long run. Privacy-conscious technologies could be made easy to use. We're just not there yet, but it seems that lately security is being taken more seriously. When people realize how much of their lives they are giving away there might be a push for it...
I find this incredibly disrespectful. I considered flagging it because I think it's on the order of insulting someone's spouse, but I don't think that's exactly what "flag" is for.
ESR stated in Revolution OS that RMS's 'wholesale attack' on (was it software patents or intellectual property? i don't remember now) was one of the reasons it was hard to convince businesses this wasn't just a hippie pipe dream.
The OpenMoko runs all Free code, afaik, so the whole "being tracked by Big Brother" deal sounds like tinfoil hat syndrome. This particular rant only points out that most cellphones run on proprietary software. Why don't we just shout about anything that uses proprietary software like cars or industrial manufacturing equipment? We know it's proprietary, but comparing it all to a fascist regime isn't going to contribute positively to a discussion to make it more open.
We dont need to know how GSM is transmitted, or what encryption schemes they're using. If you are outputting a signal, you can be found. Hell, there's competitions for RDF.
Now, just not carrying a cell phone is a good idea on not being tracked. Next best is taking the battery out of the phone. "Off" does not mean off, even in airplane mode. Some GSM frames are still transmitted, as per what my fellow ham geeks have told me (I'm one as well).
Other than the government decoding your GSM communications (which it can just ask Ma Bell to tap without a warrant and get away with, according to the W.Bush-era abuses) I don't see that particular un-free code helping in tracking or spying on you.
Tin foil hats wouldn't be quite as silly if mind control rays were real and already used in the field.
Open your comment in a text editor and count how many times you said " I ".
I also find such writing bloodless. Others may have a knack for doing it well, but when I write without putting myself into the words, it reads like I'm pretending to be an academic writing a paper with all the neutrality and "fair and balanced" viewpoints.
Context affects my perspective on this. Sites like Quora, Stack Exchange, and Wikipedia exist to build compendiums of knowledge. Neutrality is crucial to their mission. But is the article comments of Hacker News the same kind of place? I don't know, but so far I don't think so. (I could have written, "But so far it seems this is not the case," I imagine). Hacker News is composed of people discussing ideas with people. Personal opinions seem to be the point of the comments section.
So... When I state my opinions I use the word "I."
1. Stop using the word "I" but continue to state my opinions.
2. Stop stating my opinions.
3. Carry on, but live with the consequences of sounding smug and arrogant.
Is it possible that throwing opinions around is smug and arrogant, no matter how they are couched? Perhaps the real issue here is between pretending to be humble (option 1) or actually being humble (option 2)?
Whackberry, this is very interesting, and I'm sorry I only have one upvote to give your response.
If we want to start throwing around nearly antiquated terms of insult, it should be noted that the OP was being snide, and whackberry was being iniquitous. (This is true whether or not your comment was in fact smug btw).
It wasn't the use of "I"s. It was:
* Your borderline ad hominem-like nitpicking about "proving" vs "demonstrating". Unless there are gross language problems, I'd rather have people disagree with the ideas rather than language use.
* Your incredulous stance that you didn't understand what whackberry refers to when s/he writes "convenience-privacy continuum?" and asking for citation. I would have used the word "spectrum" but still I think it's perfectly clear what s/he means, and it's a well-known topic.
* Your last sentence, which sort of sounds dismissive of what the person you are disagreeing with thinks.
I didn't think it was perfectly clear, especially in the context of saying that Mr. Stallman doesn't understand or accept it. I can conjecture what I think people mean when they say this and what argument they are making and why they think Mr. Stallman doesn't agree with them, but how do I argue with my conception of someone else's conception of what Mr. Stallman believes without attacking a strawman?
I thought it was far better to challenge the phrase and ask what it means. If someone replies and says "There's trade-off between convenience and privacy," we can have a chat about false dichotomies or whether the convenience is for telcos or for users, and so on. Or maybe they explain something else, and I might discover something unexpected.
You could have just as easily written:
I think the trade-off between convenience and privacy is a false dichotomy.
And waited for a response or a correction. Or if you wanted to check first:
When you say privacy/convenience continuum, do you mean the trade-off between convenience and privacy?
Or if you didn't want to hazard a guess:
What do you mean when you say privacy/convenience continuum?
Any of which would have been far more gracious than what you actually said.
I didn't pretend to entertain the possibility of a citation, he (or you) could easily reply "It's the same thing as this thing or that thing, just different words." I still entertain this possibility.
If you want to say I was ungracious in replying to an incredibly terse statement, I do not disagree. But dishonesty doesn't enter into asking someone what they mean by a phrase that I haven't seen before--and which doesn't have Google hits--and asking for a citation.
Terse? Yes. Ungracious? Sure, why not. Dishonest? I don't think so.
EDIT: But still, thanks for the feedback. I like where you're coming from about graciousness.
First, the word you're thinking of is "demonstrating," not "proving." But let's get to the big stuff.
Many websites have a white background. Are the designers aware that there are other colors besides the default?
But in the long run, those issues are orthogonal. Encryption doesn't make user interface suck. Neither does the licence.
This is obviously wrong. Convenience is completely tied to someone's particular uses. I don't see the point of using a phone for anything but phonecalls, I don't need the internet with me all the time, and I dislike small screens and small keyboards.
Therefore, I have no use for smartphones.
I'm not going to do the same demonstration for privacy, but let's just say that there is no such continuum.
Do you mean that more convenient technologies are by nature less private? Or do you mean that you can convince people to give up their privacy in exchange for convenience?
The second is clearly true (currently at least), but I don't see any evidence of the first.
The laptop is the Lemote Yeeloong -- which I'll grant isn't much better to English ears.