In the wake of the revelation that Zoom has been repurposing private user data to train machine learning models, the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) has taken a stand to emphasise the importance of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) alternatives.
The SFC, an advocate for software rights and freedom, is extending its efforts to provide ethical technology choices and promote FOSS solutions for various needs.
The pandemic-driven shift towards digital technologies – including video conferencing – has highlighted the widespread adoption of proprietary software, often leaving users with limited options to ensure their data privacy and security. The SFC acknowledges the challenging decisions that individuals and organisations face in balancing convenience and principles.
During the pandemic, the SFC faced its own dilemma when colleagues pressured them to adopt Zoom for meetings. In response, the organisation took a unique approach by joining meetings solely by phone, using their mostly-FOSS LineageOS mobile devices. This approach sparked meaningful discussions about avoiding proprietary platforms and showcased the importance of advocating for ethical technology choices.
However, the recent discovery of Zoom’s terms and conditions change – allowing the company to use user data for machine learning purposes – has further underscored the risks of relying on proprietary software for critical infrastructure. While Zoom eventually amended its terms in response to public backlash, the SFC says its ability to unilaterally modify terms remains a concern.
The SFC highlights the complex nature of terms and conditions agreements, often requiring hours to fully understand. The organisation’s efforts to self-host alternative video chat platforms demonstrate their commitment to offering FOSS solutions for video conferencing needs, even in the face of scepticism from colleagues.
In response to Zoom’s actions, the SFC is extending its support to the FOSS community by making its BigBlueButton chat server an official part of its infrastructure. The organisation is also offering access to FOSS projects within its fold and encouraging those who contribute to FOSS to apply for access. Additionally, individuals who become SFC Sustainers will also have access to these resources.
The SFC acknowledges that this is just one step in addressing the larger issue of big tech’s control over user data and technological workflows. The organisation plans to host online sessions to share its knowledge of setting up FOSS video chat solutions, with the goal of empowering others to transition away from proprietary platforms.
The ongoing struggle between corporations and users for control over data and privacy emphasises the need for sustainable FOSS alternatives in critical sectors such as healthcare and business communication.
The Software Freedom Conservancy’s efforts serve as a reminder that supporting FOSS solutions for essential infrastructure is essential to protect user rights and privacy in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.
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