Privacy concerns self-determination with respect to knowledge you hold or information about you, such as your inner thoughts or the topic of a conversation with a friend. With that in mind, digital privacy begins with using devices and software that you control. That means using free/libre software:

“Free software” means software that respects users’ freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”. We sometimes call it “libre software,” borrowing the French or Spanish word for “free” as in freedom, to show we do not mean the software is gratis.

Even if you are not a software developer yourself, you benefit from all four freedoms by virtue of belonging to a community whose members can and do exercise these freedoms by making improvements to programs you rely on and ensuring that they are safe to use. In this way, free software embodies the principles of mutual aid and the sharing of useful knowledge by way of a software commons.

In contrast, non-free software (also known as proprietary software) places restrictions on you that prevent you from using the software as you wish and usually prevent you from even knowing what the software does behind the scenes. Such software obeys its developer first, and only obeys you, the user, secondarily. Not only does this fly in the face of self-determination, but it comes with a host of ethical and practical pitfalls in the form of anti-features. For these reasons, free software represents a baseline criterion for recommendation in this guide.

Free software can be found under various alternative labels such as open source software, libre software, FOSS (free and open source software), or FLOSS (free/libre and open source software). To avoid ambiguity, we refer to software with no monetary cost as gratis rather than free. Free software should not be confused with freeware, which refers to gratis proprietary software.


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