I recently wrote a post for the FSF on dating as a free software issue. It’s also something I talked about at SFScon back in November. I wanted to write a bit about it for my own blog, to reflect my own ideas and not just those of the FSF, as well as provide a bit of a summary from my talk. My slides from SFScon are available on Gitlab. The talk is only 15 minutes long, so I recommend checking it out if you want to listen.
I wanted to have some fun when talking about software freedom. I feel like when we talk about the rights of users we have a tendency to focus on the extreme cases of freedom: dissidents, whistleblowers, and revolutionaries. We think about people whose lives literally depend on their technology. In doing so, we tend to ignore the less showy ways people’s lives depend on their technology — I talked about my own experiences of life-saving technology at SeaGL.
We also have a tendency to forget about the fun stuff — the ways technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives and the little ways. Some of these are joyful, and some of them are more serious, or serious in ways we might not think about.
One of the things I talked about is the opacity of algorithms. Algorithms have been shown to be racist and sexist. Tinder likes to occasionally show men to lesbians. This is one way we choose to interact with technology — and therefore is a user freedom issue, as everytime we act with proprietary technology we’re looking at a question of user freedom. The practical side to this is the question of what algorithms we’re choosing to trust. When it comes to partnering up, whether for the night or for life, we’re placing this trust into the hands of something unknown that may not have our best interests in mind.
I also talked about Internet stalking. Internet stalking doesn’t have to be a bad thing, or at least an actively negative thing. I define internet stalking as covertly looking at the life or available information of an individual. This can be creepy, of course, but it can also be harmless: watching someone with whom you went to university getting married and having children; seeing a distant family member develop their career; or checking in on an ex and their new relationships. Okay, that last one might be unhealthy, unless you’re just hoping they’re happy.
Internet stalking allows you to learn about potential partners. It gives you the opportunity to delve into their pasts quickly, which might be eyeopening and show things like their history of racism, sexism, or abuse and violence — something you would otherwise take lots of time to discover if you can find out about it at all.
There are also issues like computer mediated communication (trusting our communications to email, texting, and video chat). These filter our communications through digital mediums we frequently have little control over. If you want to trust the security and privacy of a chat app, it needs to be free and open, because otherwise there is little to no accountability in both the code and the practices of the company designing it.
The ways we spend time together in ways focused around technology: we send each other streaming videos laden with DRM on proprietary web services; we use sites like Amazon to send presents down the street and across the world; we make playlists that serve as inspiration and declarations of feelings.
These are some of the ways technology interacts with our quest and the development of love in our lives. As I stated earlier every time we interact with a computer we’re interacting with software. When this happens, we need to ask ourselves what is being given up by using that particular piece of technology.