Richard Stallman: Publishers should let readers buy articles anonymously

Richard Stallman, known for creating the GNU Project and initiating work on the popular Emacs text editor, has proposed that online publishers should allow users to buy individual stories, anonymously. Stallman took the opportunity to mention that the GNU Project is working on a new piece of software that will allow his suggested anonymous payments.

GNU Taler (Taxable Anonymous Libre Electronic Reserve), the software the GNU Project is working on, saw its first alpha release in June. With the 0.0.0 release, the following functions work:

  • Exchange implements the full Taler protocol, but does not integrate with traditional banking systems (only with Taler's own “bank”).
  • Wallet can withdraw and spend coins, but does not yet handle refreshing, refunding, synchronizing, or export of cryptographic proofs. Some error handling may be insufficient. The wallet was only tested with Chrome/Chromium.
  • Merchant backend can generate contracts and handle payments, but does not yet offer full back-office support for tracking payments received. Frontend examples are available in Python and PHP.
  • The bank can manage accounts, allows the wallet to withdraw funds and can receive payments from the exchange.

The key open issues include:

  • Wallet transactions are sometimes linkable because refresh is not implemented.
  • There is no auditor, and hence components do not properly support auditors either. As a result, a dishonest exchange could embezzle funds.
  • No integration with “real” banks, so only toy currencies are available for now.
  • Documentation, testing, error handling and usability still need to be improved.

There are many reasons people may turn to ad-blocking, including security reasons and data caps, Stallman, however, comes at it from the perspective of privacy. He doesn't think that subscribing to a publication is the correct course, saying:

“Magazines such as Forbes and Wired began denying access to visitors running ad blockers. It seemed they were saying that if readers don't like ads, and don't want to let ad networks track them, then readers should subscribe to the publisher and let them track their personal interests instead. Yet this “solution” is another for of the problem – no thank you!”

By adopting GNU Taler, Stallman hopes that readers will be able to pay for stories individually in an unlinkable anonymous fashion so that reading habits can't be tracked. Elaborating on this idea he said:

“The system should be unlinkably anonymous, meaning that if you pay for one story today and another story tomorrow, the publisher's site can't tell that those two transactions were both done by the same person.”

GNU Taler is just getting off the ground and so the struggles surrounding ad-blocking will ensue for a while to come. It's highly likely too that there are still issues that people can find with this approach due to the multi-faceted nature of the problems that exist around the question of ad-blocking.

NOTE: If you use ad blocking software we would greatly appreciate it if you whitelisted Neowin. Advertising enables us to continue the Neowin community. Neowin also offers subscriptions which remove advertising without the need for extra software.

Source: The Guardian | Image via Aitnews

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