I keep reading frequent statements to the effect that, in terms of FOSS, Android is “evil”. Most of these are rather unspecific and do not really elaborate (example here). Now I am wondering if there is any tangible basis for this. I came up with three points, though they are not inherently related to Android itself:

  • Non-free drivers: Just about every smartphone on the market today requires non-free drivers to use its hardware, the only exceptions that I know of being niche products. (Which is quite different from the PC world, where a wide range of systems can run entirely on free drivers, with no or just minor limitations.)
  • Bundled non-free apps: Most Android devices ship with non-free apps installed, most notably the Google suite. The only way around this is to install a community-maintained Android distribution.
  • Project governance: While that doesn’t make the project non-free, the community has little say in the design of Android, and design decision tend to be made by Google behind closed doors. I have seen decisions which were unpopular with the community, but Google so far seems to be dragging its feet in addressing the issues raised.

Are there other points that I am missing here?

  • I would really appreciate an explanation from those who downvoted this question… – user149408 Feb 5 at 21:13
  • My opinion is not the proper basis for an answer, but I can comment as follows. Though corporations are invited to implement the open-source model, and though Google has contributed considerably to open source, still, if you are an open-source volunteer, you can sense the potential for a major corporate contributor like Google to leverage its contributions to bend or corral your own contributions to its private benefit. If, by its sheer mass, Google sets de facto open-source standards, well, one tends vaguely to prefer standards set by amateur individuals.... – thb Feb 6 at 14:02
  • ... I don't know. The problem is hard to explain, really. It's a feeling. Open source started in defiance of corporate software. It succeeded in defiance of corporate software. It was never anticorporate per se, which is an important reason it succeeded; but still, when amateur open source is assimilated (and perhaps increasingly controlled) by corporate interests, the results are not necessarily always bad, but something intangible has nevertheless been lost. Those of us who made the open-source revolution in the first place sometimes feel a bit uneasy at that. – thb Feb 6 at 14:06
  • I find it humorous that you and I are having this discussion on a corporate web forum. Well, I like corporations. It's just ... I don't know; I've already said it above as well as I can. Google is just too dominant a corporation not to inspire unease in several contexts including this one. – thb Feb 6 at 14:12

The objections to Android are basically the same as the objections to any other distribution that is not fully free. If you see complaints more frequently or intensely about Android, this is probably due to its position as a de facto default operating system for virtually all mobile devices that are not manufactured by Apple. That is, Android's prominence does not change the nature of the complaints against it versus other imperfectly-free distributions, but I suppose it does amplify its importance.

Currently, "Free phone operating system" sits at the top of the FSF's list of High Priority Free Software Projects (though I don't know for sure if the list is any particular order).

  • Thanks, in fact the first source you linked to (which is equally vague) points to another article that goes into more detail and is worth reading: gnu.org/philosophy/android-and-users-freedom.html – user149408 Feb 5 at 21:19
  • After reading the above article, it pretty much covers the points I addressed in my question, plus: Google removing more and more AOSP features and adding them to their proprietary suite instead; non-free modem firmware coupled with the modem being able to control most of the hardware (device-dependent and ultimately a device issue); and tivoization (or semi-tivoization) of devices (device and distribution dependent). Just wondering if the “nonfree ‘binary blobs’ (just like Torvalds' version of Linux)” are just the drivers or something else as well. – user149408 Feb 5 at 23:02

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