When you buy a laptop, how free are you to use it? You can install programs on it, a different operating system with some hassle. You can unscrew the chasis and replace some components if they break. But there’s still a lot you can’t do. On most laptops, you cannot change a lot of the proprietary firmware, even if they have security vulnerabilities. You can’t disable certain scary features that the manufacturer has forced on you, like Intel’s Management Engine
When you use Facebook or Twitter, do you feel unnerved to think that these social networks know more about you than you feel comfortable with? Not only your activities on their platform, but beyond that too? Facebook knows your biases and prejudices, and the stories in its news feed strengthen them. Google knows practically everything about your online life. All your web searches, all the YouTube videos watched, the apps you use, the things you type on your phone. All so that it can show you ads it thinks you will click on.
When you reach for your phone and mindlessly open an app you’ve become addicted to, do you sometimes think that these have made you, somehow, different? Do you feel that you are not in as much control as you once used to be? That the apps and websites you use are getting more and more addictive and you are getting more and more addicted?
Does technology make you more free or less? Are these the kind of questions that only a paranoid, obsessive nerd asks? Or are they important for the future of technology and humanity? In a series of posts over several weeks, I will attempt to explore freedom - or the lack of it - in technology. Mostly in software, but also in user interfaces, hardware, and data.
Other posts in the series: