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commit cf7dd2177341677ebb2b8a7c2294a9680d92abd2
parent 0c20f06793a6630152e8fe032b2cd3f9f636141b
Author: rsiddharth <s@ricketyspace.net>
Date:   Sat, 18 May 2019 18:48:05 -0400

Add md/article/android.md.

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diff --git a/md/article/android.md b/md/article/android.md @@ -0,0 +1,192 @@ +<!-- pubdate: 20110919 --> +<!-- author: Richard Stallman --> + +# Android and Users' Freedom + +First published in [The Guardian][artcl]. + +[artcl]: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/sep/19/android-free-software-stallman + +To what extent does Android respect the freedom of its users? For a +computer user that values freedom, that is the most important question +to ask about any software system. + +In the [free/libre software movement][0], we develop software that +respects users' freedom, so we and you can escape from software that +doesn't. By contrast, the idea of "open source" focuses on how to +develop code; it is a different current of thought whose principal +value is [code quality rather than freedom][1].Thus, the concern here +is not whether Android is "open", but whether it allows users to be +free. + +[0]: https://fsf.org +[1]: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html + + +Android is an operating system primarily for mobile phones, which +consists of Linux (Torvalds's kernel), some libraries, a Java platform +and some applications. Linux aside, the software of Android versions 1 +and 2 was mostly developed by Google; Google released it under the +Apache 2.0 license, which is a lax free software license without +[copyleft][cl]. + +[cl]: https://www.gnu.org/licenses/copyleft.html + +The version of Linux included in Android is not entirely free +software, since it contains non-free "binary blobs" (just like +Torvalds' version of Linux), some of which are really used in some +Android devices. Android platforms use other non-free firmware, too, +and non-free libraries. Aside from those, the source code of Android +versions 1 and 2, as released by Google, is free software – but this +code is insufficient to run the device. Some of the applications that +generally come with Android are non-free, too. + +Android is very different from the [GNU/Linux operating +system][gnu-project] because it contains very little of GNU. Indeed, +just about the only component in common between Android and GNU/Linux +is Linux, the kernel. People who erroneously think "Linux" refers to +the entire GNU/Linux combination get tied in knots by these facts, and +make paradoxical statements such as "Android contains Linux, but it +isn't Linux". If we avoid starting from the confusion, the situation +is simple: Android contains Linux, but not GNU; thus, Android and +GNU/Linux are mostly different. + +[gnu-project]: https://www.gnu.org/gnu/the-gnu-project.html + +(Within Android, Linux the kernel remains a separate program, with its +source code under [GNU GPL version 2][gpl-2]. To combine Linux with +code under the Apache 2.0 license would be copyright infringement, +since GPL version 2 and Apache 2.0 are +[incompatible][gpl-apache-incompat]. Rumours that Google has somehow +converted Linux to the Apache license are erroneous; Google has no +power to change the licence on the code of Linux, and did not try. If +the authors of Linux allowed its use under GPL version 3, then that +code could be combined with Apache-licensed code, and the combination +could be released under GPL version 3. But Linux has not been released +that way.) + +[gpl-2]: https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-2.0.html +[gpl-apache-incompat]: https://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html#apache2 + +Google has complied with the requirements of the GNU General Public +License for Linux, but the Apache license on the rest of Android does +not require source release. Google has said it will never publish the +source code of Android 3.0 (aside from Linux), even though executables +have been released to the public. Android 3.1 source code is also +being withheld. Thus, Android 3, apart from Linux, is non-free +software, pure and simple. + +Google said it withheld the 3.0 source code because it was buggy, and +that people should wait for the next release. That may be good advice +for people who simply want to run the Android system, but the users +should be the ones to decide this. Anyway, developers and tinkerers +who want to include some of the changes in their own versions could +use that code just fine. + +The non-release of two versions' source code raises concern that +Google might intend to turn Android proprietary permanently; that the +release of some Android versions as free software may have been a +temporary ploy to get community assistance in improving a proprietary +software product. Let us hope does not happen. + +In any case, most of the source code of some versions of Android has +been released as free software. Does that mean that products using +those Android versions respect users' freedom? No, for several +reasons. First of all, most of them contain non-free Google +applications for talking to services such as YouTube and Google +Maps. These are officially not part of Android, but that doesn't make +the product OK. There are also non-free libraries; whether they are +part of Android is a moot point. What matters is that various +functionalities need them. + +Even the executables that are officially part of Android may not +correspond to the source code Google releases. Manufacturers may +change this code, and often they don't release the source code for +their versions. The GNU GPL requires them to distribute the code for +their versions of Linux, if they comply. The rest of the code, under +the lax Apache license, does not require them to release the source +version that they really use. Replicant, a free version of Android +that supports just a few phone models, has replaced many of these +libraries, and you can do without the non-free apps. But there are +other problems. + +Some device models are designed to stop users from installing and +using modified software. In that situation, the executables are not +free even if they were made from sources that are free and available +to you. However, some Android devices can be "rooted" so users can +install different software. + +Important firmware or drivers are generally proprietary also. These +handle the phone network radio, Wi-Fi, bluetooth, GPS, 3D graphics, +the camera, the speaker, and in some cases the microphone too. On some +models, a few of these drivers are free, and there are some that you +can do without – but you can't do without the microphone or the phone +network radio. + +The phone network firmware comes pre-installed. If all it did was sit +there and run, we could regard it as equivalent to a circuit. When we +insist that the software in a computing device must be free, we can +overlook pre-installed firmware that will never be upgraded, because +it makes no difference to the user that it's a program rather than a +circuit. + +Unfortunately, in this case it would be a malicious circuit. Malicious +features are unacceptable no matter how they are implemented. + +On most Android phones, this firmware has so much control that it +could turn the product into a listening device. On some, it controls +the microphone. On some, it can take full control of the main +computer, through shared memory, and can thus override or replace +whatever free software you have installed. With some models it is +possible to exercise remote control of this firmware, and thus of the +phone's computer, through the phone radio network. + +The point of free software is that we have control of our computing, +and this doesn't qualify. While any computing system might have bugs, +these devices might be bugs. (Craig Murray, in Murder in Samarkand, +relates his involvement in an intelligence operation that remotely +converted an unsuspecting target's non-Android portable phone into a +listening device.) + +In any case, the phone network firmware in an Android device is not +equivalent to a circuit, because the hardware allows installation of +new versions and this is actually done. Since it is proprietary +firmware, in practice only the manufacturer can make new versions – +users can't. + +Putting these points together, we can tolerate non-free phone network +firmware provided new versions of it won't be loaded, it can't take +control of the main computer, and it can only communicate when and as +the free operating system chooses to let it communicate. In other +words, it has to be equivalent to circuitry, and that circuitry must +not be malicious. There is no obstacle to building an Android phone +which has these characteristics, but we don't know of any. + +Recent press coverage of Android has focused on the patent +wars. During 20 years of campaigning for the abolition of software +patents, we have warned such wars could happen. Software patents could +force elimination of features from Android, or even make it +unavailable. (See [endsoftpatents.org][eop] for more information about +why software patents must be abolished.) + +[eop]: https://endsoftpatents.org + +However, the patent attacks, and Google's responses, are not directly +relevant to the topic of this article: how Android products approach +an ethically system of distribution and how they fall short. This +issue merits the attention of the press too. + +Android is a major step towards an ethical, user-controlled, +free-software portable phone, but there is a long way to go. Hackers +are working on [Replicant][replicant], but it's a big job to support a +new phone model, and there remains the problem of the firmware. Even +though the Android phones of today are considerably less bad than +Apple or Windows smartphones, they cannot be said to respect your +freedom. + +[replicant]: https://replicant.us + +Copyright 2011 Richard Stallman. Released under the [Creative Commons +Attribution Noderivs 3.0 licence][cc]. + +[cc]: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/3.0