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Mark Shuttleworth on open source and privacy

I recently blogged about how open source software is one of the answers to government using technology against us. Mark Shuttleworth, space tourist, venture capitalist and founder of Canonical and Ubuntu, was answering questions yesterday about a new smartphone he is working on.

We’re entering a really interesting phase where in a sense our very own tools spy on us.

We will certainly have an easier time providing transparency on the origin of the code in the platform than, say, your average android device, where it’s all a big hacky mush. The core OS which will be updated regularly on the Ubuntu phones is all traceable directly back to standard Ubuntu source and binary packages.

There will be a core piece on each phone which handles the hardware, consisting of kernel and drivers and firmware and interfaces to things like the radio. That’s where unhealthy things could creep in from manufacturers and carriers. We can offer… constructive guidance there.

I am not sure the comparison to Android is entirely fair, though some phones are more open than others. What can be done about remaining blobs of closed source code on phones? The resistance to opening this code comes from device and chip manufacturers as well as mobile network operators.

There may be blobs in the first generation device. The way to a blob-free future is to show demand from folks who care about that, not to be ideological about it.

Incidentally, the same discussion also contained this nice piece of evidence of open source software creating wealth:

Thanks for empowering millions of people from developing countries like India (I’m from India) to have an alternative to Pirated Windows XP. We can’t afford OS like Windows and the simplistic nature of ubuntu (native graphic and audio support with indic language support) really helps many people in the villages to learn computers.

2 comments to Mark Shuttleworth on open source and privacy

  • APL

    one of the answers to government using technology against us.”

    Or get a Blackberry Z10

  • Sam Duncan

    So because RIM doesn’t have any reported backdoors in its Blackberries, it can never have? How can you be sure?

    There’s a lot of debate as to whether the FSF’s “free software” or the OSI’s “open source” is the better term. But I don’t think either fully describes the idea, or why it’s a good thing in this context. I prefer something like “open development”, because the point isn’t simply that you or I can read the code – I’m not much of a coder, and most people aren’t at all – it’s that as a result, the development of that code takes place in public. (It’s worth emphasizing, because although it appears obvious when put plainly like that, it’s not always immediately apparent to anyone who hasn’t been involved.) Even if the leaders of a particular project were to have closed-doors talks with some governmental agency, the code they produce will be seen and examined by all. Nothing is impossible, but this makes the sort of collusion we’ve seen between Microsoft and the NSA extremely difficult to pull off.

    Hardware, as Shuttleworth points out, could still be a problem. Open drivers help, but the chips themselves could be doing nasty things that we don’t know about. Open hardware is the next frontier.