Apple's Sunset on Freedom

Apple's Sunset on Freedom

On the 9th November 2020, Tim Cook the current CEO of Apple, posted a picture on Twitter of a sunset from the Apple Park Campus in Cupertino. The text said "One more sleep". This was in relation to the online event the next day. While the direct message was essentially two dimensional corporate marketing, the deeper meaning that one could gather from this is much more significant.

On 10th November, Apple announced their new in-house designed M1 processors for their laptops and eventually desktop computers. For all the hype surrounding the technical features and the specifications, with this move they will also very quietly disallow you to load in an operating system of your choice. Apple computers in future will run only Apple operating systems and Apple approved software. You have no choice any more. The slow creep of hostility towards real choice has finally given Apple total control over the machines the users purchase.

To highlight just how bad this can be, in what could be considered bad timing for Apple, on the 12th November 2020 there was a server outage on their Apple Certificate Validation server. Normally if a server goes out it can be a little inconvenient in terms of grabbing data but this was an exceptional circumstance. The server was responsible for app authorisation on MacOS. As a part of the 'Gatekeeper' security technology in MacOS, every time you run an application, it needs to be verified by Apples online serves to ensure that it is secure. That is, every time you open an application that is installed on the local machine, Apple knows what you are launching, where and when you are doing it. If there is an internet connection, it will check it every single time you launch the application and if it cannot get through to the Apple server - it will not allow you to open the program.

If a server goes down on the opposite side of the world, you cannot use the programs you have installed on your computer right in front of you.

Gate Keeper as a technology is not a bad idea. It essentially does a check of your software to make sure that it is still the same piece of software you originally installed. It protects against malware changing it without your knowledge. But by adding in the near mandatory online check to this function, Apple has essentially weaponized a decent technology and turned it into a massive spying system at the same time.

Credit to the Apple OS team - at least there was a work around. If the users disabled their Wifi or access to the authorisation server, MacOS would fall back into an offline state for running these programs. While that works for know, how long until even that option becomes obsolete? And if you buy one of Apples new Laptops with the M1 processor, you will have absolutely no options against using this.

Apple have been actively hostile against folks using their computers as they wish for a long time. The GPL code that we fight for in ensuring the users have the freedom to use, share, modify and share modified - is forbidden on their app stores. The bulk of GPL code that was in MacOS has either been replaced with proprietary code, removed all together or left untouched since 2006.

NOTE: Apple uses some GPL 2 code in the form of GNU GCC and GNU Bash which were last updated in 2006. Apple will not use the newer GPL 3 code because it offers the users too much freedom over the rest of their machines.

If these issues with Apple were just limited to Apple machines, it wouldn't be such a large issue. It would be awful but not the end of computing in freedom as we know it. The issue is Apple has a tendency to leading the pack in regards to other manufacturers and software vendors decisions. As more custom hardware is being implemented in the name of performance and security, there is more incentive for manufacturers to lock down these machines for "competitive advantages". Custom hardware that limits users choices are becoming much more prevalent. Microsoft has started making laptops that use Microsoft specific processors which cannot have custom operating systems installed and Windows 10 has a near identical feature to the Apple authorisation certificates. This is a trend I do not see going away any time soon, so long as people keep buying these devices.

You as the users still have control however. You do not have to buy these restrictive machines or use their oppressive software. By buying hardware that respects your freedoms, that allows you to install the software you wish, you vote with your money on which way you want to see computing go in the future. Buy using a Free/Libre operating system like GNU/Linux, you are voting against the surveillance systems and the control that the big players are forcing on to individuals. By telling others about these options and how they can benefit the users, you are actively helping in fighting against the unwanted slide towards dystopia. We the users ultimately still hold the power, we just need to use it for good.

The sunset Tim Cook was posting wasn't just a sunset for an event the next day, it was a sunset on digital freedoms. The day when the last light of freedom was finally cast into the shadows of history... at least from Apples perspective. From your perspective you can choose otherwise, you can choose a path to freedom.

NOTE : I did not link to the post from Tim Cook because to use Twitter is to use a non-free service that tracks the users and it executes non-free java script.

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