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[liberationtech] Jacob Appelbaum's Ultrasurf Report

Catherine Fitzpatrick catfitz at
Thu Apr 19 12:16:33 PDT 2012

Jacob Appelbaum's agenda doesn't seem to be entirely altruistic here with this Ultrasurf report.

There's a lot going on -- first, there's the desire of him (and his supporters) to attack the US government and "DC Lobbyists" merely for what they are, which is a hated government with a disliked Internet Freedom program, which has put him under investigation for his involvement in WikiLeaks (his buddies at the State Department notwithstanding). Second, there's the desire to attack any competitor of Tor, especially a competitor that adheres to the idea of proprietary versus open source software. These are religious matters.

In other words, when a person who runs a competing open-source software solution, who has his reputation largely wrapped in it, goes and publicly attacks a proprietary software solution as inferior and even harmful, and attacks a software used by a government that has him under investigation, it's ok to question where he is going with this.

There is the added dimension of the pornography issue -- Appelbaum's slam on Ultrasurf for blocking porn distracts from the fact that Tor is notoriously used for viewing pornography, including illegal child pornography. And there's the fact that Appelbaum has published his critique just as yet another criminal case involving the use of Tor for illegal drug sales is being publicized:

There is no reason to take his concerns public, as the notion that "users need to be warned" isn't sufficient, as most users couldn't read a blog in English anyway, and most users don't care about anonymity, which they lost to their ISP anyway. They care about trying to access blocked sites, and perfection in this effort isn't required.

So this report seems a hostile, politically-motivated attack on his part.

What's important in the fight for Internet freedom are the following principles of non-coercion:

o no one should be forced or brow-beaten into using open-source software; proprietary software is ok to use. If your opensource software is demonstrably better, it will sell itself without you having to artificially level the playing field with constant ideological attacks

o no one who produces proprietary software solutions should be bullied into having to discuss their flaws openly or be forcibly outed as to their flaws; it merely helps give ideas to authoritarian governments and doesn't really help users.

o if you don't like proprietary software, you don't have to wage a jihad against it, you can make your own opensource software that is supposedly better

o pluralism is the best defense against authoritarianism, not everyone being forced to go to "the best" circumvention tool or "the ISP that secures your privacy". It's precisely when the market is open with a variety of options that authoritarian is undermined

o software does not have to be perfect to largely achieve its goal -- 1/99 binary thinking is a killer of freedom

o people have the right to be wrong about software -- an open society requires that right to be wrong and to float contrary hypotheses even if they are incorrect, politically or otherwise

o you don't have to be technically capable to criticize software that profoundly influences all of us as we increasingly move our lives on line.

My thoughts:

Catherine Fitzpatrick
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