COVID19 brings more proprietary software to italian public schools

Because it costs less, of course. But…

COVID19 brings more proprietary software to italian public schools /img/zoom-security-nightmare.jpg

Among its many disruptive effects, Italy’s lockdown (see my first-hand reports here) has also caused an acceleration of the adoption of proprietary software programs, or online service, among italian public (and private) schools. It would have been hard to do otherwise, because the lockdown really took the whole country by surprise, almost overnight.

At the same time, probably the emergency does not mean much: without the lockdown, things would have happened much more slowly, but it is hard to believe that they would have gone differently. This is the real problem that prompted an official request to the Italian Ministry for Instruction to stop such adoption. Quoting italian newspaper Il Manifesto, the reason for the open letter are that

“we are paying “free of charge” communication services with invasive profiling by foreign companies. As proved by scandals like Datagate or Cambridge Analytica, this allows both governments and so-called Big Tech to influence preferences and actions of all citizens. Therefore, it is important to promote services based on Free/Open Source Sofware (FOSS), and a greater protection of personal privacy, data security and the italian software industry”.

Below, I summarized the main points and complaints of the open letter written by professor Angelo Raffaele Meo, a pioneer of FOSS in Italy. It is very easy to see how they are valid in every country, not just Italy, with or without pandemics.

Dear Minister…

the company that provides the well-known “Zoom” videoconferencing platform has been criticized for “security deficiencies and inadequate design choices”, for its data sharing and privacy policies and for lack of transparency. This has led some governments, such as Germany, to ban the use of Zoom. Instead, in our country, some school offices have recommended its use, making of that platform one of the most popular in our schools.

…What happened with Zoom could happen at any time on any other proprietary technology. For this reason, we believe that in Public Administration applications that involve the processing of personal data, and in particular in applications for schools, the use of products whose source code is not known should be prohibited by law.

With this message, I would like to point out to you the inappropriateness of the suggestions, on your Ministry’s official website, to proprietary educational platforms… controlled by web giants (such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon), where data and metadata of our students end up. I also remember that schools are required to decide what software and software services to buy only after having carried out the comparative assessment required by art. 68 of Legislative Decree 82/2005, which imposes to prefer FOSS sofware, whenever available and usable: it would be important that the Ministry supported schools in fulfilling this obligation.

Furthermore, I kindly ask you to work towards the promulgation of a law which:

  1. Forbids the usage of proprietary software in Public Administration applications that involve the processing of personal data
  2. Mandates the use of standard, really open file formats
  3. Allows the use of cloud ICT infrastructures only if they are private clouds, controlled by the Italian public administration

Please note that free platforms, with functions and performances comparable or superior to those of the most well-known proprietary platforms, are already available online. For example, in the space of a few days, some technicians from the Polytechnic of Turin have created, using such platforms, a full distance learning platform that serves over 600 video lessons to 10,000 students every day.

As a result of the infamous choices of the last decades, Italy has practically abandoned the information technology industry [Now, however, the exceptional development of the recent years] open up an important opportunity for the italian economy. Please seize it!

**Image source: Zoom is a Security Nightmare

(This post was drafted in June 2020, but only put online in August, because… my coronavirus reports, of course)