Sarah03oct2016: Luke, can you say in really simple plain english what the issue is with slack, wordpress and disqus and perhaps copy and paste the relevant bits of their TOS. I don’t clearly understand the issues that are referred to on https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/who-does-that-server-really-serve.en.html

Luke04Oct2016: Hiya Sarah: partly that's a red herring (and China connectivity is poor, I'll answer more later if I can get access to them). Dr Stallman's writings are written from the perspective of both being ethically-based and technically-minded. This extremely rare combination unfortunately means that whilst a large number of technically-aware people could understand Dr Stallman's writings in full, only a handful of those would actually resonate with them! And, clearly, those that might understand the ethical considerations: if they are non-technical people then just as you say, they cannot understand either! Although there are likely more people than this who appreciate the FSF's position, actual membership of the FSF is therefore something ridiculously small like 6,000 people world-wide. Now, here's the thing: the provision of "information" through these services geeenerally doesn't matter to the average person. If you are being geo-tracked through every single post onto Slack for example, who the hell cares, right? You've not done anything "bad", right? Except... that's under "normal" circumstances. Reports online have shown time and time again that this kind of geo-tracking and other monitoring results directly in suppression of free speech. When people believe that a Government Agency could be watching them, they tend not to even discuss issues that could "Get Them Into Trouble". And that's the basic problem, here. We're using these services for the purpose of telling everybody that we're farting, drinking coffee, joking about and laughing ha ha, so nobody gives a damn. But when there's a serious challenge, this very same infrastructure can be turned into the worst kind of surveillance and tracking nightmare that even George Orwell could not have forseen... because it already is a surveillance system: one that just as Tim Cook pointed out, "we did it to ourselves". I leave it with you to read the TOS and look for "geotracking" as well as the phrase "IP address" and "logging" and "third party". Those are the keywords that you should look out for: the rest is just padding to make you feel reassured and comfortable, particularly the bits which read "We go to great lengths to respect your privacy". Apart from the "free speech" suppression that is already taking place and is a real and documented effect, there are other instances: look up the sad case where a female journalist working inside Iran was tracked through her Satellite Phone, and killed by the Iranian Government.

Sarah04Oct2016: Here are some responses to your questions. I do not expect them to be final responses, but simply exploration of a topic that is clearly complex and challenging.

Q1: When one or more participants have pre-established integrity and purpose as well as knowledge of Copyright Law and the privacy implications of utilising "Service as a Software Substitute", is it wise to sign them up for such privacy-violating services without first consulting them as to the implications not just for themselves but also for the other participants, especially given that it was assumed that all communication shall cease except as provided through the privacy-violating services?

I don’t find it wise to have done so, but I also do not find it unwise. It seems to me that if a person is expert in an area of life they are probably aware that most other people are not expert in that area. In this particular case most people are highly unaware, especially because it is not easy to distinguish between fact, conspiracy and emotion without a lot of research into issues of privacy. Even the information that is quoted to explain the problem is frankly very difficult to understand. I know that in my own area of expertise I have to assume that other people have very little knowledge. Then I am pleasantly surprised when they know more that I expected but there’s no surprise if they are ignorant. And it becomes my duty to educate them, which takes time.

Q2. If the Organisers are simply unaware of these issues, such that the participants are in effect teaching the Organisers what "Wisdom and integrity of purpose" is about, what exactly is the purpose of the course? i.e. specifically: what "value add" is provided by the Organisers that justifies the cost of the course? (Supplementary question: should this particular participant, the author of these questions, be reasonably justified in charging the Organisers for their services, given that the author can reasonably claim to already be operating with integrity in their life purpose?)

The course is not about privacy and the organisers learn about areas that are not their expertise from many different sources. It is entirely appropriate for us to be learning from any of our participants. They are, after all, experts in many different areas that we could never expect to be expert in ourselves. That’s the whole point. The purpose of the course is to bring people together who are gamechangers in an exploration of wisdom, purpose and integrity. It will be a deepening and eye-opening experience for every participant. That’s why I chose to do the course myself as a participant, although I am also an organiser. I will share my knowledge and experience freely with the others and I expect to learn a lot from them too. The payment is because the organisers have given considerable time and in some cases many years of expensive training and learning to be able to run the course. If they weren’t paid for doing this they would have to do other jobs instead to pay their bills.

It is important to understand that this is not a “taught” program. There are no gurus or wise people teaching the participants about wisdom. It is an experience that is created by the participants, within a framework created by the organisers. If we were claiming to teach you about privacy (etc) and knew nothing about it, you would be justified in asking why you should pay for it, or asking us to pay you to teach it instead.

I find it hard to believe that anyone can stand with their hand on their heart and say they are living in full integrity with their purpose. Purpose is constantly evolving as is the society in which we express our purpose. This very case is a good example. One person who has expertise in the area of privacy (etc) is now collaborating with a group of others who have very little expertise or knowledge of privacy issues. They are doing things that are against his principles. There are many options available. He can refuse to have anything to do with them. Is he maintaining integrity with his purpose or not? He can refuse to cooperate with them unless they use his systems. Is this integrity? He can educate them about the issues and let them make their own decision (which he might or might not agree with). He can educate them and find a way to make a unanimous decision - presumably he would like this outcome, but it could take some time. Which of these has more integrity? Which of these is a wiser course of action? What happens if people do not understand what he is doing along the way and misjudge him? All these questions challenge his and our integrity and the answers cannot be found easily.

Q#: If the proprietary SaaSS tools (wordpress, disqus, slack) require payment for their ongoing provision, and one of the participants is funded and sponsored almost wholly by people who, in being keenly aware of the blatant privacy-violations regularly carried out by such SaaSS tools, and would be extremely annoyed to find that their money is being irresponsibly channelled (by way of payment for the course) into the public endorsement and funding of such tools, what explanation should be offered by the Organisers (to the participant's backers and sponsors) to justify these costs?

I understand this extremely challenging aspect of the issue. The services (slack, wordpress, disqus) do not require any payment. They are all free of charge. We currently pay $10 per month for our Mailchimp account (for handling emails) and $20 per month for our Zoom videoconferencing account. We are willing to learn more about this issue from Luke and it is possible that we will change our services as a result, if he makes a compelling case. We have no great attachment to these services and since we are just starting out nor do our participants. But it would also be irresponsible for us to change things every time one participants tells us we’re doing it all wrong. Every “gamechanger” has strong beliefs and opinions about how things should be done and they are not always in agreement with each other. We need to learn what the issues are so we can make wise decisions. That’s in the nature of the program and also in the nature of life. I see this as an opportunity for all of us to learn about something that is clearly important and my discussions with some participants confirms that they see it the same way. I believe we are an open-minded group and will be willing to listen sincerely and explore a good solution.

Q4. If, in sticking to the ethics and principles that are integral to a participant's life work, they choose not to agree to the "Terms and Conditions" of the privacy-violating SaaSS tools (which they were signed up for without their consent), such that by refusing (as is their absolute right) to agree to those Terms and Conditions they, the other participants and the Organisers are put to severe inconvenience in communicating and in fulfilling the assignment (unable to comment or even see the coursework because it is behind a privacy-violating login), what course of action is best taken that allows all parties to effectively participate in collaboration and communication... with integrity?

My suggestion, which has already been discussed and agreed with the other organisers, is that we arrange a “Spark Session” for the entire group where Luke can teach us more about this and all of us can ask questions. Then we will break into small groups and look for a practical solution so Luke can participate fully and we can all respond to the problems he has outlined. The prerequisite for this is that Luke is able to give us a clear explanation of the problems. I realise this is challenging since it seems even world experts are very difficult to understand. But I am happy to help him to get as clear as possible about what the essence of the issue is so we can have a constructive discussion and come to a good solution.

Q5: Can it reasonably be claimed that this should have been discussed with the participants themselves before the course was established, particularly in light of the fact that three of the participants are familiar with Copyright Law, one of them is a Lawyer, and one of them has been running their own Libre and privacy-respecting Web Services for themselves and their clients for over a decade?

This is the first time this program has been run and it is effectively a beta test. We didn’t know who the participants would be until they signed up so we couldn’t possibly have discussed this before the course was established. The lawyers seem rather unconcerned, but this doesn’t mean the issue is unimportant, they are simply unfamiliar with it. The organisers have done courses using these softwares and no-one raised the same problem, so we have to take this as a learning experience. My suggestion is that until we change the software we do not sign anyone up to any software without their permission and without inviting them to examine the T&Cs themselves.

A final note on time: contentious problems take time to resolve. This is not an excuse, but a reality. Educating people who are ignorant of a subject takes time. You can give a crystal clear outline but not everyone will understand it the same way, or at all. Imagine someone teaching a group of people how to be happy. It’s pretty easy to explain, but some people will take a long time to understand and experience it. In the meantime you have some very unhappy people. Is the teacher doing something wrong? Is he a bad teacher? Is he a bad person? No. He is simply dealing with human nature and teaching people something very important. Please give him time.

What we are really talking about here is how human beings can express their innate right to freedom. This is a beautiful ideal that can only truly be found when we have inner freedom as well as outer freedom. Now that is a challenge for all of our integrity.

Luke06oct2016: sarah, very cool and thought-provoking responses. much appreciated.