If anyone had doubts that Richard Stallman dislikes Google’s new Chrome OS, he laid them to rest in an interview with the Guardian Tuesday.
The Chrome OS will push people into careless computing by forcing them to store their data in the cloud, said Stallman, who’s the founder and president of the Free Software Foundation.
Further, users don’t have a legal right to their data if it’s stored on a company’s servers, Stallman suggested.
His comments come just days after Google launched a preview of the Chrome OS in San Francisco.
Looking at the Chrome OS Darkly
The fact that Chrome OS is largely Web-based perturbs Stallman because a great amount of users’ data will be stored on Google’s cloud.
That would let the police access the data without needing to notify the data’s owner, he said. They may not even need to show a search warrant to the company storing consumers’ data on its servers, Stallman contended.
The U.S. government is encouraging people to go on the cloud because it can seize that data without the need for a search warrant, he suggested.
Further, even though Chrome OS is based on GNU/Linux, it falls short of most Linux distros because it’s delivered without the usual applications and is set up to make it difficult for users to install apps, Stallman stated.
Shiny New OSes Don’t Generate Love
Stallman couldn’t respond to requests for comment by press time because he’s in Libya, his assistant, Jeanne Rasata, told LinuxInsider.
However, Matt Lee, the Free Software Foundation’s campaign manager, fielded questions on Stallman’s behalf.
“Google Chrome is not free software in the sense of free and open source software,” Lee told LinuxInsider. “It’s proprietary. While there’s GNU/Linux lurking in the background, users can’t install apps or change anything on the machine.”
That may be just what Google intended. When unveiling the preview of Google Chrome OS, Sunder Pichai, vice president of product management for the OS, said today’s operating systems are based on the idea that applications can be trusted to modify the system and that users can be trusted to install applications that are trustworthy, but those are bad assumptions.
Perhaps Google is trying to improve computer security for users — software vendors have been grousing about users not following proper security practices.
However, “that’s not acceptable,” Lee stated. “It’s nothing more than Google wishing to restrict how people can use their computers.”
Google did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Why the Cloud?
Why would people put their data on the cloud if they don’t have control over it and it can be seized almost at will by the authorities, as Stallman contended?
“It’s a matter of convenience,” Lee suggested. “People aren’t thinking about the implications of what it means to give up your data to a private company.”
Typical applications a GNU/Linux operating system should come with that are lacking in Google Chrome OS are KDE, Gimp and Thunderbird, Lee said.
Granted, users can run their computers without these apps, but “you really want to be able to do things on your computer in native fashion,” Lee opined. “For example, if you’re editing a photograph on the cloud, every edit would be saved, and you’d have hundreds, or thousands, of copies of the photograph you wouldn’t have control over.”
The rules surrounding data ownership in the cloud are not clear, and government protection is almost non-existent, Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told LinuxInsider.
“Information could be shared without the owner’s permission and lost,” Enderle pointed out. “If you’re sending this information to a company whose clear goal is to provide access to information, the privacy risk would be off the chart.”
Material on Google’s services has minimal protection because Google’s business model is to provide this information in exchange for ad revenues, Enderle pointed out. Further, the cloud allows for the use of resources across geographic lines, and the protection of data depends on local laws, which could differ vastly in different countries, he said.
“Currently, there’s little regulation protecting people using free cloud services, and companies like Google figure that, since these services are free, people should be happy with what they get,” Enderle said.
“In some ways, Google and other advertising-based providers are more like a fence which has eliminated the thief in that they’re paid for selling information that would otherwise belong to the user,” Enderle opined. “They don’t steal it; the user gives it to them voluntarily, but Google gets the cash.”