FSF gives freedom-respecting videoconferencing to all associate members
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is now offering all FSF associate members free "as in freedom" videoconferencing as an additional member benefit. Becoming a member now helps you push back against increased societal pressure to use nonfree software to communicate with collaborators, friends, and loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic, and after.
We have been raising the alarm about encroachments upon user freedom by popular remote communication tools since social distancing guidelines were issued. You might have seen our recent publications warning users about widely used nonfree applications for remote communication and education, like Zoom.
As promised at LibrePlanet 2020, we have formed a working group to document and address major issues facing free software communication platforms, and this project is part of that effort. Another initiative in our free communication toolbox is a collaborative resource page created to steer users to applications that respect them, and away from conferencing tools like Zoom, which requires users to give up their software-related freedoms, and which has been a recent focal point of criticism due to problems ranging from security issues to privacy violations.
The platform we use to offer ethical videoconferencing access is Jitsi Meet. We used it previously to stream and record our annual LibrePlanet conference for an online audience after the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to cancel the in-person event. Choosing Jitsi Meet is only the first step to addressing the problems posed to user freedom by services like Zoom and Facebook. Even users that start a call via a server running Jitsi could still be vulnerable if that server depends on or shares information with third parties. The FSF made changes to the code we are running, in order to enhance privacy and software freedom, and published the source code, to motivate others to host their own instances. The FSF instance does not use any third party servers for network initialization, and does not recommend or link to any potentially problematic services.
In order to be able to provide a sustainable and reliable service, we are offering the ability to create conversations on the server exclusively to associate members, and it is only intended for personal, noncommercial use. Members can create a channel using their member credentials, but then any person or group can participate in the conversation. Nonmembers can be invited, but cannot start a channel.
Privacy and encryption in the FSF Jitsi Meet instance
Jitsi Meet offers end-to-end encryption for conversations between two people. For conversations between three or more people, there will always be encryption at the network level, but you still have to place some level of trust in the server operators that process your video stream. Because the FSF controls the physical machine, we can offer members the respect of privacy and freedom you have come to expect from us. The FSF servers do not store any voice, video, or messages from calls, and logging is minimal -- for the purpose of troubleshooting and abuse prevention only. Jitsi is working on developing end-to-end encryption for calls with more than two people, and we will implement these changes on our instance as soon as this becomes available.
As a nonprofit, the FSF has limited resources, which may at times affect the server capacity. We will experiment with different parameters and limitations and improve the instance as needed, and update the repo accordingly.
Support our work
Now that remote and digital connections are playing a bigger role in our daily lives than ever before, it is important to communicate about and push for free software continuously. Our success hinges on the people that support us, and in return, we want to do our part to make sure no one is forced to give up their freedom in order to live their (now remote) daily lives with technology. Please consider an FSF associate membership to help support our work, and continue your advocacy for free software.
Illustration Copyright © 2020, Free Software Foundation, Inc., by Zoë Kooyman, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.