Franklin Street Statement on Freedom and Network Services

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Benjamin Mako Hill:

"The current generation of network services or Software as a Service can provide advantages over traditional, locally installed software in ease of deployment, collaboration, and data aggregation. Many users have begun to rely on such services in preference to software provisioned by themselves or their organizations. This move toward centralization has powerful effects on software freedom and user autonomy.

On March 16, 2008, a workgroup convened at the Free Software Foundation, to discuss issues of freedom for users given the rise of network services. We considered a number of issues, among them what impacts these services have on user freedom, and how implementers of network services can help or harm users. We believe this will be an ongoing conversation, potentially spanning many years. Our hope is that free software and open source communities will embrace and adopt these values when thinking about user freedom and network services. We hope to work with organizations including the FSF to provide moral and technical leadership on this issue." (


"We consider network services that are Free Software and which share Free Data as a good starting-point for ensuring users’ freedom.

Although we have not yet formally defined what might constitute a ‘Free Service’, we do have suggestions that developers, service providers, and users should consider:

Developers of network service software are encouraged to:

  • Use the GNU Affero GPL, a license designed specifically for network service software, to ensure that users of services have the ability to examine the source or implement their own service.
  • Develop freely-licensed alternatives to existing popular but non-Free network services.
  • Develop software that can replace centralized services and data storage with distributed software and data deployment, giving control back to users.

Service providers are encouraged to:

  • Release customizations to their software under a Free Software license.
  • Make data and works of authorship available to their service’s users under legal terms and in formats that enable the users to move and use their data outside of the service. This means:

o Users should control their private data.

o Data available to all users of the service should be available under terms approved for Free Cultural Works or Open Knowledge.

Users are encouraged to:

  • Consider carefully whether to use software on someone else’s computer at all. Where it is possible, they should use Free Software equivalents that run on their own computer. Services may have substantial benefits, but they represent a loss of control for users and introduce several problems of freedom.
  • When deciding whether to use a network service, look for services that follow the guidelines listed above, so that, when necessary, they still have the freedom to modify or replicate the service without losing their own data."


Status Update

2012: Four years after

Hubert Figuière writes:

Good things have happened, with various degrees of success:

MediaGoblin,, Diaspora, openphoto, BrowseID trying to fullfill the statements or mission of the FSS.

Non-withstanding things like OpenStack, Freebom box, that are here to help fullfill the infrastructure needs.

Sepp Hasslberger:

“Not much seems to have happened since the Free Software Foundation, made their statement made 4 years ago. They are quite clear about user independence, and lay down what is preferable in the case of cloud software. Free software, free sharing, etc.

The services that Hubert lists:

- MediaGoblin - Yes, it's a media sharing software, but from what I can see it doesn't seem to be very popular. Reading their site, I am completely missing a clear, concise statement about what it's good for, what one can use MediaGoblin for, and who's using it. Perhaps the geeks believe everyone else is a geek as well, and if they aren't ... that's just too bad.

- - according to Wikipedia ( is a free software microblogging service that gives a service similar to Twitter. On their page, they seem to market themselves majorly to businesses, and also here there is a missing statement, something that tells a complete non-tech person what it's good for, in simple words.

- openphoto - the site is a free photo sharing service which is nice as it's not commercial in any way, and each photo is shared with CC license. I like that service.

Looking at some of the photos on the site, I came across one in the "public domain". I followed the CC link and got a page that says CC has eliminated the pubilc domain denomination and no longer supports that type of license. I am baffled why there seems to be no proper designation of content that the author declares to be in the public domain. Neither the Free Software Foundation nor the CC folks seem to be interested in that designation. Does it smack too much of anarchy to have absolutely no rights connected to some content? At times I would like to use a "public domain" designation on my work, but I can't find any link to refer people to, that explains what it means that something is in the public domain. This is definitely a hole in the license types (a non-license?) that are available for use.

- BrowseID - doesn't even seem to exist on the net. There is no site for it. has a placeholder saying they'll be having a site soon. I wonder what is being referred to here. Perhaps it is BrowserID, the Mozilla identity initiative that's being now called 'Persona' in its public-facing version.

In any case, it seems that compared with the growth of cloud-based computing and (commercial) software as a service, little has been done so far to achieve what was laid out in the Franklin Street Statement on Freedom and Network Services. The statement is still valid as ever and is perhaps even more important today than when it was issued.

In my mind, the instances of microblogging, media sharing, and photo sharing (and the "under development" ID service of Mozilla) are nowhere near what the FSF envisions in their statement. “

More Information

Network service licenses are compiled here at