Librewashing could be defined as a compound word modeled on “greenwashing”, a form of advertising or marketing spin in which Free Software marketing is deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization’s software, aims and policies are Free Software friendly. Companies that intentionally take up librewashing communication strategies often do so in order to distance themselves from the Free Software lapses of themselves or their suppliers.
A definition adapted from greenwashing which further explains how it contributes to consumer skepticism of all green claims, and diminishes the power of the consumer to drive companies toward greener manufacturing processes and business operations..
There are companies who engage in librewashing in ways that are not very subtle, such as Talend. I participated in meetings a decade ago where they deceptively discussed exclusively the Free Software they publish to lead a governmental agency into thinking there was no proprietary software involved. Where in reality the Free Software they publish is not usable in a production environment without the proprietary software they sell. Others, such as Google or Microsoft are believed by many to be genuinely friendly to the Free Software movement because a tiny fraction of their resources is used to further software and organizations with no strings attached. A more subtle form of deception that, very much like greenwashing, can be leveraged by marketing to distract developers and consumers from the fact that the vast majority of the software produced by these companies is exclusively proprietary.
I think librewashing is a problem because:
- being Free Software friendly is not a binary proposition, it is a matter of degree
- developers and consumers are friendly to Free Software and are deceived into spending their time and resources into projects and organizations that are not as friendly to Free Software as they claim to be
It is worth mitigating because it has a high impact on the sustainability of the Free Software ecosystem. When the majority of actors are engaged in librewashing, they are more likely to deceive developers and consumers to spend time and money to further their own agenda rather than Free Software. A successful effort to reduce librewashing is therefore likely to help the Free Software movement.
For these reasons I propose that a goal of FSDL is to fight librewashing.
An action to achieve this goal could be to create a libre quality label for software projects and organizations. It would combine fact based metrics into a grade (1 to 10 for instance) for everyone to quickly evaluate how friendly to Free Software they are. It would be up to the people relying on this quality label to set a limit acceptable to them.
For instance governmental agencies could set the bar to 5/10 in their tender to avoid wasting time with companies that claim to fulfill a Free Software requirement when they have a 0.1/10 libre quality grade.
The work required to maintain, advocate and develop such a quality label could be sustained by Free Software companies who are loosing market opportunities against competitors who, via librewashing, are collecting the benefits of building a positive images for Free Software although they don’t really do much.
This is an idea I had this morning and is half baked But it is the outcome of a rather long discussion with a long time friend on the related topics and it feel like there is something worth doing.
What do you think?