Free Software, Free Society?


On the bus I rode today, I saw a young man wearing a t-shirt with "Free Software, Free Society?" written on it. I could relate to his feelings, but nonetheless, this statement felt more than a bit anachronistic in these times where cloud is taking over the last bastions of desktop software and all but one operating system is completely free (free as in free beer, not as in free speech). While software is now free, but also quite irrelevant, it is the second part of the sentence that I find much more interesting. How free is the society today and has it become more or less free now that all our processing happens in the cloud. Free software movement came out of frustrations of hackers who were not allowed to play with their favorite toys in every possible way they intended, but were instead severely restricted by limitations set forth by software industry. Just like there are no electric grid hackers or people playing with water supply, I don't think there will be people doing things with cloud that run against the interests of cloud providers. The stakes are just too high and any deviant behavior is very easy both to detect and prevent. I think the friction point between cloud providers and hackers of tomorrow will be in access to data and integration of different services. Just like it takes integration of water and electricity to enable washing machines, many services of tomorrow will require integration between various vendors. If the vendors will try to prevent people access to data they feel is theirs data hacking will start to proliferate just like software hacking proliferated in the 1980's and 90's. To see an early example of such hacking, check Wired's article how one mathematician hacked OkCupid! to improve his luck with heart matters.