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I'm making an open-source software product (that runs natively on a user's machine) and I'm interested in how often the software is being used. What I'd like is: If the software is used for more than X minutes (with X being really high), ping a server somewhere to increase an anonymous tally.

I know that stuff like this is done all of the time with proprietary products (not to mention web apps), but does doing something like this in an open-source context violate unwritten norms?

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  • Why do you think it would violate FLOSS licenses? – curiousdannii Apr 15 '17 at 12:41
  • If this worries you, make it very public somewhere in the project files/on the website, and provide an alternative makefile, which builds without that functionality enabled (or other easy way to disable it; for instance, dropping an empty file called dont_track_me into the app's directory, or some such) – Mawg May 4 '17 at 9:47
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It doesn't violate normal free software licences, and it's not unheard of. The email client alpine, released under Apache v2, on first invocation (and, if memory serves, after major upgrades) displays this message:

SPECIAL REQUEST: This software was originally created and maintained as a public service by the University of Washington until 2009; updates are made available as a public service of the Alpine community. It is always helpful to have an idea of how many users are using Alpine. Are you willing to be counted as an Alpine user? Pressing Return will send an anonymous (meaning, your real email address will not be revealed) message to the Alpine developers for purposes of tallying.

Note, however, that they are very up-front about what they're doing, and the notification is opt-in - that is, the user must take an affirmative action to permit it. If you're not very clear about what you're doing and why, or you don't provide an easy opt-out, you may well find that your software gets recompiled without the tracking option in it - which free software is specifically designed to permit - and that the non-treacherous version quickly becomes more popular.

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