Spyware vs Spyware

Using the status quo against the interests of the status quo is essential pragmatism for those building alternatives.

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Pitting spyware against spyware. We must use existing systems to promote our alternatives if our alternatives are to exist at all.

Yesterday, we started a Thunderclap for Ind.ie.

If you’d like to help, lend us your Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr accounts so we can send a message to your followers on the 8th of November to ask them to support our launch:

“Google and Facebook spy on you. Help us create alternatives that don’t. #iamindie”

But wait a minute, Aral, isn’t that, y’know, a tad hypocritical?

Pragmatism vs hypocrisy

First, I tell you to be wary of Spyware 2.0 and now I ask you to use those exact same services to support Ind.ie…

What’s going on here?

Fair question. Let me explain.

Ind.ie exists because we want to live in a world where there are viable independent alternatives to consumer spyware. Unfortunately, there aren’t any today.

The business of mining, farming, studying, and selling people dominates the Interweb.

The private spaces of Silicon Valley exert a monopolistic stranglehold on our global public spheres. Their digital imperialism expands to every corner of the world via venture capital investments, accelerators, and educational programs that teach technology with as much objectivity as McDonald’s teaching nutritional science.

This status quo has dire ramifications for the future of human rights, fundamental freedoms, and democracy itself.

We might not like it but this is the world that we find ourselves in today. Ignoring the fact or pretending that we can close our eyes to it is not going to get us anywhere. Neither is pretending that simply disconnecting ourselves from this monopoly is going to solve the problem.

Digital Hermitism isn’t the answer.

Instead, we must be clever and use existing systems to empower ourselves so we can build our independent alternatives. As we do so, we must be careful to use them in ways where we get more value from them than what they mine from us.

There are two major areas where existing systems can provide us with more value than they extract. The first is open source and the second is publishing.

Open Source

Spyware companies use open source both as openwashing to improve their image and because they want to benefit from the productivity advantages of having more eyes on the code, and more fingers on keyboards. We can use these projects to reduce our time to market. Since the software is open source, we can (and should) make sure that there is no spyware involved. (This does not apply to APIs, which should be avoided.)

When we work on our projects, however, we should make sure to release them under free software licenses (not open source) so that spyware companies and other closed silos cannot take them, close them off, invest huge sums of money to improve them, and then decline to share those future improvements.

Our using open source when it benefits our goals and releasing our work under free software licenses is essential competitive advantage against an astronomically better-funded adversary against which we would otherwise not stand a snowflake’s chance in a Finnish sauna.


The second way to extract value from existing systems is to use them as publishing platforms to amplify our voices and reach the audience of individuals who will support and fund our independent alternatives.

Remember that this is not a fair fight. Spyware 2.0 companies are subsidised by venture capital. They have billions upon billions in the bank, an amazing talent pool to draw on, and politicians in their pockets. We have good intentions, passion, determination, the right skills, a solid plan, an emerging set of products, and enough money to pay the rent for a few more months. And you. We also have your support. And that will make all the difference.

Ind.ie is still in the cradle and we have to make use of whatever limited resources we have so we can leave it and stand on our own two feet.

Using the status quo against the status quo is pragmatism.

What we absolutely cannot, must not, and will not do is to be sponsored by Spyware 2.0 or adopt their toxic business model.

Now that would be hypocrisy.