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A letter to all my Gmail-using friends...

I have recently become aware of a problem that has been largely ignored until now, that I'd like to ask you to consider when you use Gmail.

When we use our computers, we should have control over what they are doing and to whom they are talking. We don't want our computers reporting our location or sending our keystrokes to some advertising company, without our permission.

Because I use a free software operating system -- GNU/Linux -- I thought that the software on my computer was under my control. But I haven't given enough consideration to programs running inside my web browser.

You might be aware that when you visit Gmail, normally your web browser will download and run programs written in a language called JavaScript. When the web was young, JavaScript was used for trivial effects on web pages. Now it is used to do actual computing tasks and to interact with programs running on remote systems.

JavaScript programs are downloaded and run on our computers in exactly the same way as free software programs like Firefox and LibreOffice -- but unlike Firefox and LibreOffice, their terms say I am not allowed to view, modify, or share them.

JavaScript by itself is not good or bad, but true control over our computers must include the freedom to see what any program we run is doing, to change it to work the way we and our friends want it to, and to share our improvements with each other. In this sense, it doesn't matter if we are talking about traditional applications, or programs running in our browsers.

We've already seen the amazing things members of our community can make for all of us to use when they can control JavaScript running in their browsers. Plugins such as Greasemonkey have given rise to a series of free software programs that change how JavaScript runs on-the-fly, adding new features and removing malicious ones. We need more of this freedom.

To build momentum for change in this area, our friends at the Free Software Foundation have put together a practical guide to using Gmail without proprietary JavaScript. By following it, you can still use a web browser to read and write your emails, or you can use one of the dozens of free software desktop email clients such as Mozilla Thunderbird, Evolution, or KMail. You'll be taking an immediate positive step by reclaiming your freedom.

Thanks for reading. Please join me in supporting this action and encourage your own friends and colleagues to make the switch away from relying on proprietary JavaScript.

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