Dan Gillmor's next project, "Permission Taken" - the theory and practice of "going free" with your technology

Dan Gillmor has posted the outline of "Permission Taken," a new project he's taken on to explain what he's gone through in his journey from using proprietary systems to open and free ones. Gillmor -- one of Silicon Valley's best-respected columnists -- is a sophisticated technology user, and he's always understood that there is value to going free/open, as well as costs in terms of learning how to do things differently. Over the years, Gillmor's experience with technology and technology companies started to tip the scales for him, so that the value outweighed the cost. "Permission Taken" is part philosophical treatise, part practical guide. It looks really interesting and incredibly useful. Dan sent me an earlier draft of this outline for comment and I was immediately impressed. Now, he's inviting public comment from everyone.

Not many years ago, I was a happy acolyte in the Church of Apple. I spent most of the day using a Macintosh laptop. I used an iPhone. I had a Facebook account with hundreds of “friends,” and used Google’s search engine almost exclusively. While I worried about misuse of my information by third parties, I didn’t do much about it. I was so in love with technology that I adopted the latest and greatest without considering the consequences.

I still love technology, and believe it plays a transformative role in our lives. But as I’ve learned more about how it works, and how powerful interests want it to work, the more I’ve realized the need to make some changes.

So, today, I’m writing this on computer running Linux, the free and open operating system. I own an Android smartphone, “hacked” to remove restrictions the manufacturer and carrier would prefer to impose. I have closed my Facebook account, and use search engines in much different ways. And I am much more cautious about what I’ll allow third parties to know about me and my activities.

By making these and many related choices, I have made parts of my life slightly less easy, or at least less convenient. But I have gained something more important: liberty. I use the devices I purchase as I choose; I decline to live in the increasingly restricted environments that so many technology and communications companies have imposed on their customers. And to the extent that I am able, I’m preventing snoops, corporate and governmental, from watching my every move without my consent. On balance, I believe, I’ve made my life better.

That’s why I’m doing this project: to help you make your own decisions.

Permission Taken -- a summary and outline


  1. With the Facebookification of Google, along with the government and others who wish to profit from indiscriminately spying on me, this is the sort of premise I need to take more seriously from now on. Thanks for making me aware of this. I’ll certainly be paying attention to Mr. Gillmor more often in the future.

  2. I totally agree that we need to wrest our liberties from the hands of those who want to profit from us, but I am not entirely sure why Dan take issue with certain tech and not with others – though this might be explained by his Google Doc that I cannot access thanks to my company’s firewall.

    What is the problem with Windows/MacOS? How is Linux less evil (apart from the fact that it’s free)? Part of taking permission is taking your OS as well. My Win7 is legit OEM but every version of XP I have installed is a dodgy version, thieved by coders and repackaged to eliminate Micro$oft’s authentication routines. I installed Ubuntu once and it looked quite useful, but it was a short-lived venture as I could not get it to recognise my 3G modem. Software support is Linux’s biggest drawback. Also I require Adobe CS for work so Linux is not a feasible replacement.

    I’m a huge fan of Android, but I cannot see why a rooted Android phone is somehow more open/free than a jail-broken iphone. The only thing that springs to mind is the ability to install multiple OS options. I will probably always choose Android over ijunk, but that’s purely because I don’t think that Apple has any respect for their portable device users. We are consumers to Apple, not customers. One advantage of Android is that if you choose a Google-experience model then you don’t have to worry about carrier or manufacturer bloatware.

    Facebook is evil. I haven’t deleted my account, but I haven’t really put much info there – nor have I logged-in in months. My “name” is a handle and all my details are fake. This results in hilarious foreign-language ads being served to me (That is, if I disable AdBlock Plus). I never used facebook apps or games and I certainly never log into 3rd party sites using FB.

    Get your own server space and domains – they are immensely useful for protecting your anonymity. Do I need a temp email address? Ill set up a forwarding account in about 60 seconds. Do I need to sneakify? Ill use the password protected web-proxy that I’ve hosted on my own domain. Nothing is better than taking your own permission and I am excited to read Dan’s book when it comes out.

  3. You’re not going far enough.  Dump the Android or iPhone entirely.  If you need cell, use a Tracfone.  You most likely have a phone in the office on your desk and a phone at home, so why do you need to yak in the car on your way between those places?  Keep your devices simple and your focus intense.  Keep some time for yourself.  Your thoughts.  To gaze out the window, enjoy some music, enjoy the drive.  Talk to a passenger, be here now.

    I’m a programmer.  I have computers EVERYWHERE.  Probably 15 of them at home and tons at work.  But what do I use most, every day?  vi on the command line.  It gets the most done in the least space, with the least waiting, least fuss, least amount of stuff to go wrong.  It’s like an old grandma.  Very comforting and inviting, always ready to serve.

    I used to have an iPhone. I have an iPad.  I have Macs, various Linuces, Winderz, hosted sites, all kinds of crapola… But I’m learning that the amount of stuff matters very little. And that what is truly important changes very little: some code, vi, a shell or two, a few other tools and references.  Sometimes books, often Google and specific sites.

    Then home, to my family and kitchen.  It’s a good life.  Simplifying it makes it even better…

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