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Take action for free JavaScript

by Zak Rogoff Contributions Published on May 29, 2013 02:20 PM
Choosing to run free software on your computer is a powerful statement. Unfortunately, regardless of what you have installed on your desktop or laptop, you are almost certainly running hundreds of nonfree programs as you surf the Web. Web sites often use programs written in JavaScript to expand the capabilities of HTML, adding menus, buttons, text editors, music players, and many other features. Browsers come configured to download and run the JavaScript without ever making the user aware of it. Contrary to popular perception, almost no JavaScript runs "on the Web site" -- it runs locally on users' computers when they visit a site.

JavaScript in and of itself isn't bad. But, as Richard Stallman pointed out in his article The JavaScript Trap, most of the Web's JavaScript programs are not freely licensed. This is harmful in the same ways as any other nonfree software: it prevents people from understanding, modifying and building on the programs they are running. It results in software that is designed to control users rather than serve the interests of them and their communities. Because of this, we're launching a campaign to demand that companies, governments, and organizations make their sites work without proprietary JavaScript, so that anyone can surf the Web without running nonfree software.

Because both Web users and Web site operators are largely unaware of these issues with JavaScript, the first steps are to inform more users about the problem and for all of us to join in a campaign to contact site operators about the issue. Since feedback like this will have more of an impact when it's concentrated, the campaign will highlight particular sites to contact.

The US government uses a Web site called Regulations.gov to gather public feedback about proposed regulatory changes. It's great that Americans have an easy way to get in touch with their government about issues that will affect their lives. Unfortunately, doing so requires nonfree JavaScript.

We're launching our Free JavaScript campaign by demanding Regulations.gov make their site work without proprietary JavaScript, so that Americans can participate in regulatory decisions without sacrificing their freedom.

Regulations.gov hasn't responded to our initial private email, so it's time to step it up a notch. Can you join us in requesting they make their site work without proprietary JavaScript? To take action, use the general Regulations.gov feedback page to send a them a message. We recommend you write your own message based on our sample text. Even if you're from somewhere other than the United States, you still have good reason to do this; this site's actions will set an example for other governments.

To amplify the effect of your action, post about it on your microblogging system or social network. Use the hashtag #freejs and link to this blog post. We also welcome you to send us a copy of the message at campaigns@fsf.org, so that we can track the success of the campaign to make sure the pressure stays on Regulations.gov. If you'd like to take action without running the nonfree JavaScript on Regulations.gov (and protest even more effectively), you can call the site's help desk at 1-877-378-5457.

Regulations.gov is just the beginning for this campaign. We'll demand that prominent sites stop requiring proprietary JavaScript, either by switching to a free program to do what they need, or by making the JavaScript unnecessary. The plan is to maximize impact by having as many people as possible focus on one site at a time. Join the low-volume mailing list if you'd like to receive updates and hear about the next site we'll focus on. You can also get more involved with the campaign by building up the list of sites to target and exploring the rest of the campaign area on LibrePlanet.

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