On Friday 15 May, I was at an event in the German Parliament about the power of consumers in the digital world, organised by the Green party. I participated because part of the event was a workshop about consumer protection for mobile devices.
A lot of programs people install on their Android devices do not respect their rights. It is common that those programs ask users to accept non-readable terms and conditions, reveal where the device and therefor the user currently is, access personal data like user’s address books or text messages. Innocent looking apps like a torch light program are violating user’s privacy. This is not me explaining the problem, that was what Carola Elbrecht from the German consumer protection organisation (VZBV) and other participants explained.
I gave an overview what the FSFE in particilar and the Free Software community in general are doing, and what problems we have. I explained them how we help users to install Free Software versions of Android on their phones, so they can have up to date software, and do not have to buy a new phone just because they need new software. How vendors tell consumers that they loose warranty when they install another operating system, and that we inform users that this is wrong. How we help people to install their software from a Free Software app market like F-Droid, where all the software guarantees consumers that they can use it for any purpose, that people around the world can study the source code and understand what the program is doing, and that everybody is allowed to change the apps, for example remove malicious features which compromise user’s security. It is software which respects the user’s rights instead of violating them.
Member of Parliament Nicole Maisch, who was responsible for the workshop, already knew about our work and asked us what politicians could do to help us. I highlighted that it would help the Free Software community if it is legally guaranteed that users have the right to install another operating system on mobile devices. That vendors have no right to hinder users doing this by technical measures and that it is clear that you do not loose your warranty. Furthermore I explained why it is important that apps developed by the public administration are Free Software, and are also offered outside of Google Play and the iTunes Store.
After the workshop I had a lot of good talks with different people, mainly from consumer protection organisation or with journalists.
Now just assuming you also want to know what you can do to protect consumer rights on mobile devices, here some suggestions:
- Promote Free Your Android (FYA) in your peer groups, and explain people how they can be in control of their own computing and why this is important. Nikos Roussos is currently doing a good job pushing Free Your Android in Greece. In his recent blog post Nikos wrote about his Free Software setup, how he removed Google Analytics from the CyanogenMod builds with freecyngn, and which apps he can recommend others. Torsten Grote, who started FYA, gave a talk at FISL (OGV video, 82M) with the latest developments of the campaign.
- If you are an developer, join the F-Droid team! FSF published an interview with Ciaran Gultnieks, founder of F-Droid project, who explains the problems with Free Software in the Android app space like obsolete source code, proprietary code and libraries, and libraries which spy on their users. Help the F-Droid team to master those challenges.
- Help with translations! FSFE’s volunteers wrote, translated, printed and distributed leaflets about the Free Software app store F-Droid. After Torsten Grote made a new version, this month we plan to print new languages versions. We still need people to proofread the German, Greek, Spanish, Finnish, and Netherlands versions. As well as help with the French and Italian translation. Please contact our translation team if you can help.
- Join the FSFE team at RMLL! In July FSFE will be at RMLL in Montpelier/France, where former FSFE intern Daniel Marti will give talks and workshops about F-Droid, Erik Albers will talk about Free Your Android, and Paul Kocialkowski will present the Replicant project there. If you already know how more about F-Droid, flashing phones, or have experience with Replicant, please support us there to teach others about it.
- For all of you who are not yet; become a supporting member of FSFE! In order for FSFE to send employees like me to events in the Parliament we need an appropriate budget. Then someone can follow-up with politicians for several years to achieve results, brief consumer protection organisations about user rights on mobile devices and support them in their work, or FSFE can pay travel expenses when it is done by our volunteers. Just with good financial support we will be able to achieve results against large organisations, which have other interests than user rights.