Why does software matter?

Our experience of the world, one another, and ourselves is increasingly mediated by digital technologies. Digital technology also facilitates the exchange of immeasurable resources, from information to labor, goods, and capital. Everything that powers our society—our media, medical devices, communication, and so much more—depends on digital devices, and all digital devices are controlled by the software running on them. The digital divide is about much more than mere access to consume digital media. Given its immense influence, the question of who controls digital technology is critical to examining who has power in society.

How can we trust our technology?

We’ve seen incredible advancements of social movements enabled by digital technology, but we must be mindful of potentially detrimental side effects. Software ultimately leaves users at the mercy of the whoever owns it, but software doesn’t have to be privately owned. Technology users should not be subjugated by software owners; using free software is the only way to enable that. By using free software, users begin to gain autonomy over their own computing and protection from the surveillance, monopolism, and other malicious antifeatures in proprietary software.

What is free software?

All software is written by programmers in the form of “source code” which determines how it functions. When that source code is privately owned and kept secret, there’s no way to know what the software is doing or how it works. When software is privately owned, software owners have an inherent authority over users’ computing. Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. Free software is defined by the freedom to use, study, change, and share it. These four freedoms give users control over their own computers and ensure that the technology they use isn’t also taking advantage of them. Why should we ever trust technology which runs on laws we cannot change, understand, or even see?

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