The Four [Browser] Freedoms

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Seventy-five years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed four fundamental freedoms that people everywhere in the world should enjoy. Purism now proposes four fundamental freedoms we should insist in our digital lives. In the first of a series of discussions, we focus on what we demand in a web browser before it’s included in PureOS.

Purism’s default web browser—PureBrowser—is one of the most secure, private, and freedom-respecting browser available, with a philosophy that will keep it respecting users’ rights in the future as new exploits and vulnerabilities are exposed and discovered.

There is only one sure way to ensure total security and privacy: don’t go online. However, that would make us even less free. Freedom compels risk-taking. Inaction is another path to servitude.

PureOS demands four fundamental freedoms:

  1. Useable to everyone; safety in numbers. A secure system few use is as bad as a compromised system everyone uses. Safety is contagious. If only a few people are using online privacy schemes, they stand out to thieves and other hostile entities. This isolation makes them targets. Thus, everyone’s privacy matters. Protecting less technically sophisticated users strengthens even the most sophisticated of us.
  2. Individual & personal. Everyone’s threat model – who is after you, for what, why & how – differs. Even for the same person, it changes, depending on context. Freedom means making knowledgeable choices that best suit our circumstances. Our fluid circumstances.
  3. Collectively verifiable & reliable. With your digital life at stake, promises are the wind. Only by using Free/Libre Open Software & Hardware (F/LOSSH) can we objectively verify claims.
  4. Transparent. Your software and hardware – and those making it – should be forthright in its function, capable in delivering them and limited to doing only what they promise.

Compared to common browsers, PureBrowser respects and protects your rights to privacy, security, and freedom by:

  1. Blocking third party trackers & advertisers by default. These are designed to gather private details about your browsing habits. Opting in should be your choice – not opting out.
  2. Using HTTPS where ever possible by default. Encrypting these connections prevents your behavior and information from being monitored by malicious groups while it is in transit. This also prevents you or the site you think you’re visiting from being hijacked by a third party.
  3. Being Free/Libre Open Software (F/LOSS). Without the ability to audit the software, it’s impossible to be certain how it works. Since Libre software’s source is made available – every line of code, by definition, has to be – it can be verified that it is what it purports to be. Communities together ensure this is the case. F/LOSS principles don’t require that we trust the author, it requires we trust the community.
  4. Never “phoning home” any personally identifying information surreptitiously. Information collected is, inevitably, information used. Chekhov’s Database, if you will.

 

The Four [Browser] Freedoms

 
MS Internet
Explorer
Google
Chrome
Mozilla
Firefox
Apple
Safari
Purism
PureBrowser
Blocks sending identifying details
No
No
No
Partial1
Yes
HTTPS Everywhere by default
No
No
No
No
Yes
Free/Libre & Open Source
No
Partial2
Yes
No
Yes
Blocks 3rd Party trackers by default
No
No
No
Partial3
Yes
1. Sends information to Apple for diagnostic purposes and to facilitate user-anticipated services.
2. Source code is released under free licenses, but other freedom and privacy restricting features exist.
3. Blocks 3rd party cookies; can send HTTP header request to them.

Summarizing the table above:

  • Microsoft’s Internet Explorer – and most likely their in-development browser, Edge – fail all four of these essential tests.
  • Google’s browser fails more than three of the four.
  • As of this writing, the general release of Firefox also fails three-quarters of them.
  • Apple’s Safari fails half.
  • PureBrowser passes all four of these essential tests. From the start, Purism’s PureBrowser blocks your personal information from being sent to groups you most likely do not want them to have.

Purism uses a fork—creates a distinct & separate piece of software—of Firefox, developed by the Trisquel development team. Wikipedia characterizes Trisquel as a fully F/LOSS system without proprietary software or firmware, noting that it is “listed by the Free Software Foundation as a distribution that contains only Free software.” Purism takes this already exemplary version then optimize it for the Librem laptops running PureOS and adds more privacy protections.

We carefully select privacy-enhancing add-ons, by default, such as the EFF’s Privacy Badger, that blocks third-party advertisers tracking literally every site you visit, page you view & video you watch.

PureOS also includes the EFF’s HTTPS Everywhere browser extension, which is also turned on by default.

Finally, we proudly include the superlative Tor Browser from the Tor Project to ensure your anonymity.

The threats we face are many, varied and constantly evolving. Purism will be constantly evolving, too. We’ll continue evaluating the best, most effective add-ons, the tightest, best source code and most cunning new exploits to keep PureBrowser the most rights-respecting browser available to safeguard your privacy.

We were delighted to discover, while writing this article, that the founder of the Free Software Movement, Dr. Richard Stallman, was also inspired by President Roosevelt when he proposed his Four Essential Freedoms. We ecstatically, humbly, follow these two superlative tracks of footsteps.

Rather than close with a The only thing we have to fear…, let us instead close with Mr. Roosevelt’s, Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.