Power to the People! [on Mozilla’s Firefox EULA]

Is anyone reading this old enough to remember that line from the BBC TV Sitcom “Citizen Smith“? I think I have just seen it in action.

In just a couple of short days there has been a massive expression of discontent with the imposition of an EULA on Ubuntu‘s users of the Mozilla Firefox web browser. And it seems that the voice of the community is being listened to:

We’ve come to understand that anything EULA-like is disturbing, even if the content is FLOSS based.  So we’re eliminating that.

Mitchell Baker, the chairman of the Mozilla Foundation,  has just posted an update on her blog “The Lizard Wrangler”. The main thrust of her comments make it sound like Mozilla has listened carefully to the concerns so fervently expressed. Although the proof will be in the pudding so to speak:

We still feel that something about the web services integrated into the browser is needed; these services can be turned off and not interrupt the flow of using the browser. We also want to tell people about the FLOSS license — as a notice, not as as EULA or use restriction.  Again, this won’t block the flow or provide the unwelcoming feeling that one comment to my previous post described so eloquently.

Apart from a few rather vitriolic comments towards individuals, the majority of the comments made on “that bug report” (which will probably become quite infamous in it’s own right and get it’s own page on Wikipedia) were lucid and expressed a deep concern about the direction this might lead FOSS in general. A snowball effect of pop-ups and EULAs appearing for Free Software applications would be our a nightmare for the FOSS movement and lead to many people simply saying “so what’s the difference between this an Windows then?”. The snowball that is FOSS would probably melt rather spectacularly.

A user’s ability to choose to install a product from a massive software library without being told how they must use it is one of the great and liberating freedoms of using FOSS. Take that away and you are simply creating a carbon copy of the proprietary software experience.

If it becomes clear after Mozilla release their updated plans that there is still some requirement for the user to positively acknowledge (or accept) some form of usage restriction, then unfortunately Firefox can no longer be classed as Free Software and undoubtedly removes itself from compliance with Freedom 0 “The freedom to run the program, for any purpose“.

If this transpires to be the case, then I personally think that Ubuntu must move Firefox from the “main” repository and replace their default browser with, either the unbranded (and Free) version of Firefox, or another alternative. Firefox can and almost certainly should still be available, but it surely must be moved to the “multiverse” repository which contains: Software restricted by copyright or legal issues.

If I understand the core problem correctly, it seems to me that the best solution is to, by default, disable the phising detection and other services which require end user consent, and to make the positive user acknowledgement simply part of the process of enabling these features, e.g. when you click the check box to turn on phising protection you must acknowledge the use terms at that stage. Not when you just start browsing the web. And, of course, for Linux users these “protection services” are of little or no benefit anyway.

Just perhaps; Wolfie’s goal of “The Glorious Day” is about to make a comeback…

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