Why Richard Stallman Takes No Shine to Chrome

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.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.


  • That’s so narrow minded..

    He speaks as if google Chrome OS was build to replace all forms of computing.. that’s like saying smart phones aren’t useful because I can’t create a powerpoint presentation with the same ease as with my pc.

    Google Chrome OS computers are made to be complementary devices… like the ipad is complementary.

    Te argument that people won’t want to keep their data on the cloud is uneducated. People post their photos, whereabouts, documents etc etc on the net already for years.. yeah.. that’s all subjected to espionage.. theft. etc.. but if you got something to hide then you aren’t just going to place it on the net like that are you??? He makes the argument of a paranoid person.. most users aren’t that paranoid.. it’s just that the paranoid users make a lot of noise so it seems like people actually care all that much about privacy, when it’s quite obvious that most exposure occur due to user carelessness.

    Finally. It amazes me that he’d think that the topics raised weren’t debated internally by google and that measures and policies to establish content propriety weren’t thought of… he trutlky is underestimating their thinking power.

    In my opinion. Google Chrome OS has a place in the future of tech market. Running in circles like a chicken on fire due to fear of change gets you no where.. 😉

    • Stallman speaks truth. phatpungu takes serious analysis as extremism. I see why. I’ve read many privacy and business model laments on storing data in the cloud. There is a middle ground between trying to stop it from happening (being paranoid) and mindlessly embracing it. Let us find the middle together.

      For instance : how about if we expect all free online storage/program companies to report to the people who use it. Do real reports on how much they made off of the user. Give monetary credits to people who make the providers more than they use etc etc. Also of course report real privacy details and customer tweaks.

      • It is not easy to tell if RMS is putting on a show or if he really believes his own words. In any case, that sort of stance is to be expected since it fits his overall image presented to the portion of the FOSS community who dote on his antics. It is easy to tell an RMS fan(atic), they use GNU/Linux instead of the common term Linux to describe things. They will not even use the terms "Chrome", "Android", or even "Ubuntu" without some clarification that they are actually "GNU/Linux".

        Google provides a lot of services gratis and also a lot of technology at the same price to the user. They also derive quite an income due to the robustness of their brand from sales of advertising "impressions" and custom software and services to businesses. That is a much more effective strategy than simply being a cultist.

        The Google cloud and Chrome OS have little to fear from Stallman’s disdain.

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