Preventing the IoT Dystopia with Copyleft
Most IoT (The Internet of Things) devices remain under the control of the companies that manufacture them, yielding a plethora of security, privacy and software freedom concerns. Ironically, most such devices include Linux as their base operating system, and Linux's license, GPLv2, mandates the users' rights to modify and upgrade the software. Sadly, due to widespread violations of the GPL, such rights are rarely granted with most IoT devices on the market. This talk explains the political, social, and legal backstory that led to this abysmal situation, and proposes what we must do next to ameliorate the problem. IoT (The Internet of Things) is a marketing push by device manufacturers seeking to convince the general public to fill their home with interconnected computers embedded inside commonplace contraptions and tools. Proponents ballyhoo the IoT revolution as bringing the ultimate in convenience and informational interconnectivity for everyone. However, these embedded devices typically remain under the complete control of the manufacturer — not only for their basic functionality — but for safety and security updates as well. In many cases, these devices require Herculean efforts by the home user to modify and upgrade. Most ironically, however, nearly all these devices run Linux, which is released under a modification-respecting license, the GNU General Public License, version 2 (GPLv2). The GPLv2 uses copyright controls to mandate the users' ability to modify and upgrade the software. Yet, due to widespread GPL violations throughout the industry, rarely do IoT devices come with the freedoms and rights that GPL tries to uphold. This talk will explain the political, social, and legal ramifications of this abysmal situation. Attendees can expect a full explanation of the history of GPL enforcement, how it has historically defended the rights of hobbyist modifications to home devices, and what processes exist now to continue that fight. In particular, the talk will explain why community-oriented and led GPL compliance efforts are absolutely essential in preventing one of our greatest community-organized technological successes — namely, the development of Linux — from becoming part of a dystopia of corporate control in IoT.
Bradley M. Kuhn