Mike Gerwitz

Activist for User Freedom


Adopting Free Software Ideals

Adopting free software ideals can be confusing and challenging for individuals, filled with cognitive dissonance and questioning of practicality. Am I a bad person if I use non-free software? What example should I set as a free software activist or advocate? How does that relate to responsibilities of developers and distributors?

This is a talk about practical ethics and ideals. It is personal, drawing upon my experiences and evolution over the past fifteen years. It contains some awkward discussions that free software activists like to avoid, and hopes to guide those seeking to adopt more free software ideals, but fear they may not be able to meet such high standards. It’s a talk about evolution and growth.

But complacency in the face of conflict can also dilute our ideals. So this is also a talk about balancing ideals in the context of one’s own unique circumstances, while at the same time preserving a strong message about software freedom.

Presented on 2021-03-20 at LibrePlanet 2021.

The Surreptitious Assault on Privacy, Security, and Freedom

Privacy, security, and personal freedom: one cannot be had without the others. Each of these essential rights are being surreptitiously assaulted; only the most technical among us even know what to look for, let alone how to defend ourselves. Governments, corporations, and groups of ill-minded individuals are spying and preying upon both users and bystanders with unprecedented frequency and breadth. For those of us who do understand these issues, it would be irresponsible not to fight for the rights of others and continue to bring these assaults to light.

This talk will survey the most pressing issues of today, including topics of government surveillance and espionage; advertisers and data analytics; the Internet of Things; corporate negligence; public policy and the crypto wars; dangers of a non-free Web and untrusted, ephemeral software; pervasive monitoring; remote servers, services, and “the cloud”; modern vehicles; the fight against decentralization and free software; societal pressures and complacency with the status quo; and more.

Attendees will walk away with a broad understanding of these topics; an overview of mitigations; and dozens of resources for further research and discussion with others. No prior knowledge of security or cryptography are necessary.

Presented on 2017-03-26 at LibrePlanet 2017.

Computational Symbiosis: Methods That Meld Mind and Machine

Words like “wizardry” and “incantation” have long been used to describe skillful computational feats. But neither computers nor their users are performing feats of magic; for systems to think, we must tell them how.

Today, users most often follow a carefully choreographed workflow that thinks for them, limited by a narrow set of premeditated possibilities. But there exist concepts that offer virtually no limits on freedom of expression or thought, blurring the distinction between “user” and “programmer”.

This session demonstrates a range of practical possibilities when machine acts as an extension of the user’s imagination, for the technical and nontechnical alike.

Presented on 2019-03-24 at LibrePlanet 2019.

The Ethics Void

Many communities have widely adopted codes of ethics governing the moral conduct of their members and professionals. Some of these codes may even be enshrined in law, and for good reason—certain conduct can have enormous consequences on the lives of others.

Software and technology pervade virtually every aspect of our lives. Yet, when compared to other fields, our community leaders and educators have produced an ethics void. Last year, I introduced numerous topics concerning privacy, security, and freedom that raise serious ethical concerns. Join me this year as we consider some of those examples and others in an attempt to derive a code of ethics that compares to the moral obligations of other fields, and to consider how leaders and educators should approach ethics within education and guidance.

Presented on 2018-03-25 at LibrePlanet 2018.

Restore Online Freedom!

Imagine a world where surveillance is the default and users must opt-in to privacy. Imagine that your every action is logged and analyzed to learn how you behave, what your interests are, and what you might do next. Imagine that, even on your fully free operating system, proprietary software is automatically downloaded and run not only without your consent, but often without your knowledge. In this world, even free software cannot be easily modified, shared, or replaced. In many cases, you might not even be in control of your own computing—your actions and your data might be in control by a remote entity, and only they decide what you are and are not allowed to do.

This may sound dystopian, but this is the world you’re living in right now. The Web today is an increasingly hostile, freedom-denying place that propagates to nearly every aspect of the average users’ lives—from their PCs to their phones, to their TVs and beyond. But before we can stand up and demand back our freedoms, we must understand what we’re being robbed of, how it’s being done, and what can (or can’t) be done to stop it.

Presented on 2016-03-20 at LibrePlanet 2016.