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May 13, 2011

Google’s “Chromebooks” are the very definition of Treacherous Computing

Some years ago, free software pioneer Richard Stallman penned an essay asking users, “Can You Trust Your Computer?” He wrote:

Who should your computer take its orders from? Most people think their computers should obey them, not obey someone else. With a plan they call “trusted computing”, large media corporations (including the movie companies and record companies), together with computer companies such as Microsoft and Intel, are planning to make your computer obey them instead of you. (Microsoft’s version of this scheme is called Palladium.) Proprietary programs have included malicious features before, but this plan would make it universal.

He added:

In the past, these were isolated incidents. “Trusted computing” would make the practice pervasive. “Treacherous computing” is a more appropriate name, because the plan is designed to make sure your computer will systematically disobey you. In fact, it is designed to stop your computer from functioning as a general-purpose computer. Every operation may require explicit permission.

Emphasis is LGB’s.

Google has now officially joined the league of companies engaged in what Richard justifiably calls treacherous computing schemes. The Monster of Mountain View is planning to debut a device it calls the Chromebook, which is basically a dumbed-down laptop running Google software which obeys Google instead of the user it supposedly belongs to. H-Online notes:

It is currently unclear if the Chromebooks will have a “developer” switch on them as Google’s CR-48 device did; the switch allowed users to install different operating systems or modified versions of Chrome OS on the device. Chromebooks are designed to use the TPM chips on the motherboard to perform a Verified Boot on the device and if it detects tampering, it will replace the installed operating system with a known good instance automatically; the developer switch on the CR-48 prevented that from happening.

In other words, the hardware in the “Chromebooks” has been intentionally designed to prevent hacking. (Hacking, in the traditional sense, refers to a user’s freedom to tinker, it doesn’t mean harming anybody else’s equipment or services). Somebody who buys a Chromebook is thus not free to repurpose the hardware and use it for something else, because Google has programmed the motherboard to obey Google and not the user.

Even if the “Chromebooks” do contain a “developer switch” like the CR-48 prototype did, there’s no justification for putting hardware-based digital restrictions management into a computer.

Of course, the rationale for the restrictions is simple. Google wants to be sure that people who buy “Chromebooks” use them to access Google products and services.

That way, Google can continually spy on their “customers”.

Google’s behavior here is simply more proof that it is no better than Microsoft or Apple, the leading proprietary software companies (or Electronic Arts, which has stopped selling games and now only rents them out). But unlike Apple or Microsoft, Google is using free software to advance the evil of treacherous computing. What they are doing is outrageous and immoral.

It is time for the free software movement to rise up against Google and recognize it as the greedy, freedom-undermining, privacy-destroying corporation that it is.

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