Rex Djere is a Free Software advocate who preferentially supports Free Software-based solutions such as GNU/Linux, Android, and LibreOffice.
Let’s face it: we all have biases. I readily admit that I have a very clear bias in favor of Free Software. There is no human being that is truly objective and neutral. However, in the modern world of technology blogging, these biases are often cleverly hidden. “Studies” are released without revealing the true motivations behind those that conducted the study. In The Linux Week in Review 48, I will take a closer look at this growing problem.
The Political Connection
Where did the art of trying to persuade people to accept a certain position without revealing ones own stake in that position start? I believe that it started in the political realm. Writer Kristin L. Thomsen said it best: “Hiding your true political slants is a point of survival for a crafty politician and they get away with it by presenting us with information overload.” (Thomsen, 2011)
So What’s the Problem
The problem is that people often take what writers say as fact without realizing that there is a lot of intentional disinformation being used to gain a certain objective. Sometimes the author is not spreading disinformation, but putting information in the wrong context to get the desired result. In the old days, news used to be disseminated by journalists who were trained to at least look objective. Now, any skillful writer has the power to inform or misinform people.
How the Rise and Fall of Software Has Become Like a Political Campaign
It used to be that software writers could just focus on writing the best software possible. Now, writing good software and getting it into the hands of people has become a competition where a lot of politics is involved. Linux may or may not be a better solution for a lot of people, but it is very hard to get people to even talk about Linux. We have become so brainwashed with the idea that there are only two alternatives: Windows and Mac. Android is disrupting that idea, and as such is becoming subject to more attacks. This is the skeptical view that I took when I read this recent report: “Free Android Apps Cost Users Security, Privacy”.
An Analysis of the Report
So before I start tearing into this “report”, let me reveal my bias: I love Android! I am inherently skeptical of anything that criticizes Android. The 18 month study basically concluded that 24% of free Android apps track the user’s location data (Weitzenkorn, 2012). Even if this report’s results are true, I have two problems with the way the report is presented. First, the report does not reveal that the people behind the report are closely connected with people who would like to see Android fail. Secondly, the report implies that this is an Android problem, not a problem of unscrupulous software coders. I would suspect that you would get similar results if you looked at free apps on any platform: it has nothing to do with Android. So what are the dubious connections that should have been revealed?
Juniper Networks conducted the 18 month study. The CEO of Juniper Networks, Kevin Johnson, is a former Microsoft executive (Juniper Networks Press Release, 2008). When Johnson decided to leave Microsoft to become Juniper’s CEO, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer praised Johnson: “Kevin has built a supremely talented organization and laid the foundation for the future success of Windows and our Online Services Business.” (Fried, 2008) This paints an entirely different picture of Juniper’s possible motivations for conducting the study. Microsoft is trying to enter a mobile market where Android is dominant. A study from a company filled with former Microsoft executives (see below) paints a very bad picture of the prime competitor. Wouldn’t this have all been very nice to know while reading the “study”?
What Is the Solution?
Any writing, study, or other piece of work that presents itself as providing unbiased information should clearly state any conflicts of interest at the very top of the work. For example, the Juniper study could have had a disclaimer at the top saying that several Juniper executives are former Microsoft executives. There are at least 12 Juniper executives who were formerly Microsoft executives (Bekker, 2011): Peter Boit, Joe Austin, Gerri Elliott, Brian Roach, Andy Zupsic, Hoke Horne, Mitch Lewis, Mike Porter, Emilio Umeoka, Brad Brooks, Ben Jackson, and Bob Muglia. For me personally, this puts the Juniper report in an entirely different light, and the results of the “study” make perfect sense when I see the situation transparently.
I have decided that I will put my bias at the very top of every article that I write from now on. I will clearly state that I am a Free Software advocate who preferentially supports Free Software solutions. Thank you for reading TLWIR 48. I look forward to seeing you next time. Whether this article changed your view of the Juniper study or not, please feel free to leave a comment below.
Bekker, S. (2011, October 24). 12 microsoft execs who made the march to juniper networks. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/82LQZ
Fried, I. (2008, July 23). Kevin johnson to leave microsoft for juniper. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/F2uOy
Juniper Networks Press Release. (2008, July 24). Juniper networks names kevin johnson chief executive officer. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/NvVwK
Thomsen, K.L. (2011, March 4). Are us leaders able to hide their political connections? Retrieved from http://goo.gl/WC5z5
Weitzenkorn, B. (2012, November 3). Free Android apps cost users security, privacy. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/9WKWP