In the past days, the campaign to crowd-fund a privacy-focused smartphone built on top of Free software and in collaboration with its community reached its funding goal of 1.5 million US dollars. While many people doubted that the crowdfunding campaign would succeed, it is actually hardly surprising if we look what the librem 5 promises to bring to the table.
1. Unique Privacy Features: Kill-switches and auditable code
Neither Apple nor Android have convincing stories when it comes to privacy. Ultimately, they’re both under the thumbs of a restrictive government, which, to put it mildly doesn’t give a shit about privacy and has created the most intrusive global spying system in the history of mankind. Thanks to the U.S., we now live in the dystopian future of Orwell’s 1984. It’s time to put an end to this with hardware kill switches that cut off power to the radio, microphone and camera, so phones can’t be hacked into anymore to listen in on your conversations, take photos you never know were taken and send them to people you definitely would never voluntarily share them with. All that comes with auditable code, which is something that we as citizens should demand from our government. With a product on the market supplying these features, it becomes very hard for your government to argue that they really need their staff to use iphones or Android devices. We can and we should demand this level of privacy from those who govern us and handle with our data. It’s a matter of trust.
Companies will find this out first, since they’re driven by the same challenges but usually much quicker to adopt technology.
2. Hackable software means choice
The librem 5 will run a mostly standard Debian system with a kernel that you can actually upgrade. The system will be fully hackable, so it will be easy for others to create modified phone systems based on the librem. This is so far unparalleled and brings the freedom the Free software world has long waited for, it will enable friendly competition and collaboration. All this leads to choice for the users.
3. Support promise
Can a small company such as Purism actually guarantee support for a whole mobile software stack for years into the future? Perhaps. The point is, even in case they fail (and I don’t see why they would!), the device isn’t unsupported. With the librem, you’re not locked into a single vendor’s eco system, but you buy into the support from the whole Free software community. This means that there is a very credible support story, as device doesn’t have to come from a single vendor, and the workload is relatively limited in the first place. Debian (which is the base for PureOS) will be maintained anyway, and so will Plasma as tens of millions of users already rely on it. The relatively small part of the code that is unique to Plasma Mobile (and thus isn’t used on the desktop) is not that hard to maintain, so support is manageable, even for a small team of developers. (And if you’re not happy with it, and think it can be done better, you can even take part.)
4. It builds and enables a new ecosystem
The Free software community has long waited for this hackable device. Many developers just love to see a platform they can build software for that follows their goals, that allows development with a proven stack. Moreover, convergence allows users to blur the lines between their devices, and advancing that goal hasn’t been on the agenda with the current duopoly.
The librem 5 will put Matrix on the map as a serious contender for communication. Matrix has rallied quite a bit of momentum to bring more modern mobile-friendly communication, chat and voice to the Free software eco-system.
Overall, I expect the librem 5 to make Free software (not just open-source-licensed, but openly developed Free software) a serious player also on mobile devices. The Free software world needs such a device, and now is the time to create it. With this huge success comes the next big challenge, actually creating the device and software.
The unique selling points of the librem 5 definitely strike a chord with a number of target groups. If you’re doubtful that its first version can fully replace your current smart phone, that may be justified, but don’t forget that there’s a large number of people and organisations that can live with a more limited feature set just fine, given the huge advantages that private communication and knowing-what’s-going-on in your device brings with it.
The librem 5 really brings something very compelling to the table and those are the reasons why it got funded. It is going to be a viable alternative to Android and iOS devices that allows users to enjoy their digital life privately. To switch off tracking, and to sleep comfortably.
Are you convinced this is a good idea? Don’t hesitate to support the campaign and help us reach its stretch goals!