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Jitsi Meet: An often-overlooked member benefit

by Greg Farough Contributions Published on Dec 06, 2023 05:13 PM

Time flies at the FSF, but it seems it's been more than three years since I last drew attention to the need (and thankfully, existence) of solutions for free software videoconferencing. At the time of my writing, the FSF office was closed because of the pandemic, and the office staff had almost entirely transitioned to remote work. From a purely technical perspective, this wasn't all that difficult for us. We're likely one of the only nonprofits that uses that bastion of the early nineties -- IRC -- as a core piece of infrastructure. For others, it wasn't so easy.

In particular, I remember hesitating before writing this line:

If you're able, hosting your own instance [of Jitsi] is the most free and reliable method.

When you interact with the free software community as much as I do, rattling off a line like this is probably easier than it should be. Every workday and most weekends, I talk to people who consider spinning up an instance of something as trivial, even when it's a program as complex, as Jitsi. While the difficulty of hosting services for yourself is overblown (unless it's email!), most people don't have this kind of luxury. It's easy enough to write "if you're able," but for most, that "if" is a big one, especially if you're going to do it without forking over your freedom in the process.

Despite how it added one more and quite complex service to the dozens that the FSF tech team is already responsible for, we didn't take very long to decide that offering a Jitsi server as an associate member benefit was something that we had to do. At the time, we were seeing thousands flock to services like Zoom that deprive them of their freedom; whole national court systems were and still are being conducted on a product that harvests user data and lied about its security capabilities. Due to its nonfree JavaScript, we could not recommend any public Jitsi Meet server that we knew about. And while we're often lampooned for our strict stance on software freedom, we felt that need to help users so urgently that we couldn't recommend the default instance. We had to start our own.

So, we did.

Unlike the flagship server, ours does not require a third-party login. It does not use nonfree JavaScript, and it does not recommend nonfree software or browser extensions. This is a Jitsi that we had to spend time making. We didn't simply spin it up and forget about it.

I'm proud to say that our Jitsi Meet server has been humming along all this time. We've heard of it being used for family calls, town meetings, tabletop roleplaying games, and trivia shows. Because we don't spy on you, we rely on you to tell us what you're doing with it. We're always happy to hear stories like this, to know that people are finding one of our membership benefits useful.

With an associate membership, you can start a Jitsi room and invite whoever you please, whether or not they have an FSF account. You're not handing over your credentials to Apple or Google by proxy, only the bare minimum required to authenticate you -- to a small nonprofit that cares so strongly about your and our digital autonomy that we work harder than organizations at twice or ten (or more!) times our size, against the combined might of just about every major tech corporation on the planet.

We care that much about you and your freedom, and we hope that you'll use our Jitsi server.

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