If you’re a free software lover who’s concerned about your privacy and the limitations of DRM, you don’t want an iPhone. Amidst Apple’s iPhone advertising blitz helped along by positively bubbly media coverage, the Free Software Foundation calls out the dark sides of the new iPhone.
- iPhone completely blocks free software. Developers must pay a tax to Apple, who becomes the sole authority over what can and can’t be on everyone’s phones.
- iPhone endorses and supports Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) technology.
- iPhone exposes your whereabouts and provides ways for others to track you without your knowledge.
- iPhone won’t play patent- and DRM-free formats like Ogg Vorbis and Theora.
Note: When the FSF refers to “free software,” it doesn’t mean the free apps in the iTunes App Store. Those are “free as in beer,” essentially giveaways, when “free as in speech,” is software built with the belief you have the right to manage your own data and use it and modify it the way you please. Here’s more on the philosophy of free-as-in-freedom software.
The FSF folks continue:
Apple, through its marketing and visual design techniques, is manufacturing an illusion that merely buying an Apple makes you part of an alternative community. But the technology they use is explicitly chosen to divide people into separate digital cells, and to position Apple as sole warden. When your business depends on people paying for the privilege of being locked up, the prison better look and feel luxurious, and the bars better not be too visible.
The prison metaphor may be extreme, but my gut tells me there’s at least a little bit of truth in there.
I bought my iPhone after left my Nokia handset in a cab which drove away faster than I could catch it. The decision was a tough one, since Apple’s model does rub my free software-loving self the wrong way. But Mobile Safari’s tabbed browsing convinced me to trade in my principles for convenience. This job requires me to be online everywhere I go, and as far as I could see, the iPhone was the best way to do that. (The dedicated team of developers who provided an easy way to jailbreak the device and use it the way I wanted—instead of the way Apple intended—also inspired.)
But even as I affixed duct tape over the Apple logo on my iPhone and Mac in a minor fit of rebellion, I still wrote and edited plenty of positive iPhone coverage on these very pages.
We focus on things that make life easier, and using any device or piece of software requires some level of trust that its manufacturer won’t completely screw you—too badly, anyway. Still, every time an iPhone app wants permission to use my current location, I get creeped out and more often than not tap “Don’t Allow.”
So, Lifehacker readers, this is a hypocrite’s confession. I purchased and use an iPhone, but I hate being locked into Apple’s proprietary system. We’ll continue to feature iPhone applications and tips that make getting things done easier, because that’s what we do. But if you’ve bought an iPhone or are considering it, we hope you’ll do it knowing all the good reasons why not to.