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You are here: Home Bulletins 2019 Fall My global journey into free software activism

My global journey into free software activism

by Zoe Kooyman Contributions Published on Nov 27, 2019 04:30 PM

Many people never get the chance to learn about free software. We are ruled by proprietary software companies whose business model is built around luring software users into handing over their basic rights in order to do their work or enjoy their leisure time. And this is generally accepted in society without conflict.

Thankfully, I did have defining moments in my life that helped me question my relationship to technology and realize the need for free software. In my undergraduate studies of media and culture, I was taught that the Internet was not a place where user rights were respected. Facebook could store and use any information I would upload onto it, and by doing so, I was giving them permission. Everyone started uploading as much information as we possibly could onto the Internet, a space that was unregulated, and it felt unsafe to me. But that didn't stop me from joining Facebook, partly because it was required for my work, marketing large events internationally, but also because it helped me stay in touch with friends and family overseas as I migrated from the Netherlands to Australia in 2008.

When I became a project manager for an international event company, traveling to six countries per year, working with some of the largest brands in the world, I learned about data analysis in order to sell tickets. I was confronted with the amount of information we provide every time we are online: not just what we put on the Internet, but also how we behave, is analyzed carefully. I learned how easily accessible this data is, and how valuable it is to companies. A note is written beside your name with every move you make online, and once again, this happens without your permission in any meaningful sense.

This knowledge made me interested in recognizing what the programs involved in this process were doing, and exploring if I could change them for my own benefit. I had a basic understanding of how complex and powerful software could be, and wanted more authority over it. When my understanding of the development of software improved, the concept of free software started becoming clear. If software doesn't respect its user's freedom, then that is a conscious decision made by someone, to take something away from you. Enter free software, and my understanding of the intricacy of the concepts, the might and ability of the movement, and its history, which has been shaping itself further every day in my role as the program manager for the FSF.

The work I do as part of the campaigns team at the FSF is meant to empower people to become aware of proprietary software injustices and to then provide them with guidance and answers upon their discovery of free software. To be able to maintain their interest, we need to also be able to direct people to free software that will give them everything they need to function in our society, without abusing them.

The High Priority Free Software Projects list, a central resource that we want to highlight and update this year, focuses on which projects in the free software domain are of greatest strategic importance to the goal of freedom for all computer users. For example, in the last update, it was determined that the development of a fully free phone operating system was a high priority, since people use their mobile phones as personal computers. Another high priority is the encouragement of contributions by people underrepresented in the community, which deepens the intrinsically democratic nature of free software.

We plan to keep the High Priority Free Software Projects list updated, and you can work with us. Email hpp-feedback@gnu.org if you have any thoughts about updating the list, and we will consider them in our process. We will closely track the work that is being done by this extremely talented community, and highlight the projects that are vital to a freer future. Because a movement without practical implementation is not a movement, just a philosophy.

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