Why we do what we do and how we do it

by Peter Leppelt


It has almost been three weeks since the publication of the concept Qabel. A lot has happened since then and a lot has been suggested to us – so it is time for an interim report.


What we want to achieve
 

Details are given further below. In short: We would like a crypto platform where any services can run decentrally and that principally always encrypts everything end-to-end at the touch of a button in order to counter mass surveillance. Furthermore, we would like that no possible communication metadata arises in the process (who from where to where with whom...) since the provider must always be viewed as compromised and thus as malevolent and that this platform may be used, distributed, modified and offered by everyone except the military and the intelligent services.

Finally, we would like that this project does not die in the meantime because it, like so many others, runs out of money.

 

Who we have to contend with

Qabel 2014

In short: with everyone actually.

 

The reactions so far


We almost entirely had positive reactions. The major topics, like the music industry and countries, will presumably still come later (a little foretaste foretaste ;-), but so far we have received an extreme amount of encouragement from all sides; companies offered themselves as fellow combatants, free developers try to help us on GitHub, private individuals simply respond and wish us luck.


The only side from which we have encountered any headwind so far was from ourselves so to speak: from data protection activists and especially from the free software community. They were the only negative voices (if one disregards the somewhat sceptical, current c't, which, however, may have to do with the fact that the editors did not want to speak with our developers, who could have perhaps answered one or the other question), but instead were particularly violent and sometimes abusive, which is why I would like to go into this in more detail.


Of course, we not only encountered criticism from this side – we have also received lots of support. Thanks for that!


It should first be noted that the discussions took place completely without us since they did not take place with but about us on various mailing lists of individual organizations. Except for 2-3 hostile comments on Twitter, no one deemed it appropriate to ask us things or at least directly to tell us what they think.


Before the accusation: "You could have subscribed to all the different mailing lists to stay up to date!" comes up, I say, sure. The plans to blow up the earth were also available on Alpha-Centauri for a long time. Discussions can only take place with one another. If the perceived opponent is not involved, it is not called a discussion, but slander.

Peter Leppelt Qabel 2014

The little that was eventually conveyed to us suggests that we did not choose the right choice of words from "their" point of view. Right in the first paragraph of our website, we currently use the description: "Qabel is a free, open source (but not in accordance with the OSI) and expandable platform." In our FAQ "What about the license?" in the 2nd question, it says: "The software "Qabel" is licensed under the QaPL, a specially developed license, which's source code is open. The QaPL can neither be classified according to the standards of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), nor to the standards of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) as "Free Software License" or "Open Source License" respectively.”. The QaPL itself begins with the same words.


That does not seem to be enough from the perspective of OSI and the FSF in order to sufficiently differentiate yourself. We do, however, find it somewhat difficult to find a more appropriate term when the words that best describe the heart of the matter seem are under exclusive right of use of others. Our source code is open, "open source," but forbidden to us (mind you: not legally). Our software is available for anyone, except the military and intelligence agencies, and can be freely used, extended, modified and offered. However, "free" also seems to be unavailable.


Various options are available to us:

 

  1. We could translate “open source” into Klingon since the German and English words for this term seem to be prohibited for all time. Or, to quote a Tweet, that was suggested to us by OSI: „The global Community agrees [the term 'open source'] indicates use of an OSI-approved free software license“. The whole galaxy, oh, what am I saying: the universe thus recognizes “open-source” to mean "OSI-compliant." So, we may soon have tlhab or Hal-poS software.
  2. We could coin a phrase. We are currently evaluating such word compositions as "Ethical Software" or "Open Ethical Code." Although this is certainly judgmental, but it just reflects what we want to do. We want to generate software projects that meet high ethical standards and should otherwise be available to humanity - and empower the people behind it, to advance them over the long term.
  3. We could also simply do nothing because we are convinced that our selected terms best describe what we do.

 

Our Motivation


Now, no one seems to have actually read our QaPL because most of the comments that coincidentally came to us  have exactly nothing to do with it but are only come from standard reflexes ("It is not OSI-approved and must therefore be evil, unfree and predatory capitalist. Besides, it is therefore automatically harmful to free software. And the developers are Satan.”) In most cases, not even our FAQ seem to have been examined, which, of course, addresses the subject as well.


I, myself, have been using and prefer free software for 20 years. Our entire company runs on OSS. But it still has fundamental problems:


The majority of our projects have too little money and too little drive to make the whole thing user-friendly. So, I've been waiting for the breakthrough for 20 years and now no longer believe that it will come with the current system - in fact, the trend, in my opinion, points exactly in the opposite direction - systems are becoming more and more closed.

 

I, for my part, would consider it a disaster if the world out there were to become more and more closed, more and more unfairly restricted and more and more centralized. In particular, I would consider it a catastrophe if it were to happen because we, the OSS advocates, are to blame because of our “religious wars.” By the way, I urgently recommend at this point a relevant podcast on this topic: No alternative #31.


We're trying to find a third way here. No more, no less. We are certainly not the first to do that - but this way looks promising. And someone should try it.

Qabel Pressekonferenz 2014

Personally, I want that everyone may be allowed to use, modify, distribute and offer any software for any purpose - except those who have been proven to abuse this freedom to harm others - such as the military and intelligence agencies. To what extent the latter actually adhere to this, remains to be seen: I am firmly convinced that this statement is important (moreover, we are, according to our statutes, which we have imposed upon ourselves, even obliged to do. The goal is already very ambitious - we know that. But if we are already giving it a try, we want to make as few restrictions as possible. Namely, if it were to actually work, then it would have to be a good solution too; there are enough non-solutions out there that have been compromised beyond recognition.
 

Furthermore, I want that this software is consistently developed, maintained and improved. And that those people who feel responsible for this software, who have put all their skills, their passion, into it, can make a living on exactly this software when others obviously need this software, want this software, love this software; that they do not have to become otherwise distracted and thereby harm its development.


These projects must live.


And most of all I want us to have a good, decentralized crypto platform that can be freely used and accessed for any communications services, even for the internet, that is not abused to the detriment of others.


What our license should actually do


In short: everyone can, may and should use, distribute, modify or offer Qabel. However, once any way that money is made from it, then a fee is payable to the project. The license tries to simulate exactly that.
 

If, for example, a provider offers Qabel accounts and bills a corresponding fee for the storage space, backups, support ... then a fee, in turn, is payable to us.


If any organization (be it a company, club, collective) or even a private person offers Qabel accounts for free, then that’s okay and it doesn’t cost anything – there’s nothing arbitrary about it; the license is clear on this point.


On the one hand, we want to safeguard this principle with the QaPL, and, on the other hand, by patenting the underlying Dead Drop protocol, which is to prevent a simple reprogramming and thus its monetization by bypassing the project. Now, it is clear to most of us that the patent system has distinct drawbacks and that it also gives the controlling company (us) too much power. Therefore, we have decided to give away the patent to a charitable organization so that it is legally binding everywhere, just not for non-commercial or military purposes. Meinhard Starostik has kindly offered his services in this regard. More information on him and his, in my opinion, extremely exciting, planned organization will follow shortly.


What else happened


Beyond the many interested companies, developers, students and many applications (which we are also very pleased about), something unpleasant happened: the PayPal incident. In a nutshell, on 06.12., i.e. on the day when Qabel was in pretty much all of interesting media, PayPal turned off the option to receive donations. From about 9 in the morning to 6:40 p.m., it was no longer possible to support our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.


We already feel queasy about trying to select a funding platform that only offers PayPal as a payment method, but had to go this route for certain reasons (tm). According to Indiegogo statistics, we lost €15,000-€20,000 in donations as a result.


What's happening now and what we need now


We will be constantly posting all kinds of news in the next few days and weeks. The technical documentation will be published on GitHub, the individual tasks in terms of programming will be defined and likewise published on GitHub, and legal developments will be published, if necessary.
 

The next big step will be a usable public beta version for normal people. We hope to launch it in about 3-4 months (no guarantee). We are now at a stage where most of the mistakes are behind us and we know exactly what needs to be done. And we are more than willing to do it.


The crowdfunding is secondary: this project is being driven by us no matter what may happen. It will make it a little harder for us if the campaign fails – but it we won’t let it be a showstopper. So far, we have invested a total of about € 200,000 and plan on additional investments of this magnitude up to a genuinely usable product. With the crowdfunding, we want to, first of all, finance the code-auditing when we are ready and, second, get some relief in this extremely large project for a small company like us (praemandatum has about 20 employees).


We have selected this early release date despite the risks to find fellow combatants at an early stage on as many levels as possible and trigger discussions – which has, overall, worked out well. We are very open to suggestions and discussions of any kind, including as regards the license. We are not open to outright hostility, pointless and exhausting flame wars or would-be warnings. What we do is too important for these kinds of things.