EU Pilot Project: Public Apps in F-Droid

Great news: someone at the EU understands that public services must not foist Big Tech on their citizens.

F-Droid.org tooted the news yesterday: “EU Pilot project — De-monopolized access to EU applications”

What does this mean and why is it important?

I recently framed a take on this issue as “FOSS Apps Live In FOSS App Stores”. Free (Libre) Open Source Software apps should be distributed in such a way as to be available to everyone, not only to Apple's and Google's users.

The same fundamental issue applies to apps provided by governments for public use. Today, our governments are distributing their apps only through Google's and Apple's stores, and so are requiring their citizens to be signed-up users of these particular Big Tech companies in order to use them. We citizens do not all want to be under the control of such companies: many of us opt out, and many others wish to opt out but find too many obstacles such as this.

The governments must stop doing this.

How are they looking at solving this?

The long EU paper says, under “Item PP 02 23 02”: “The focus of the pilot project includes EU institutions releasing their apps on existing alternative app stores, including f-droid that aims at promoting apps released under open source licenses”.

Saying “alternative app stores, including f-droid” recognises that the goal is to have app stores that are independent of the Big Tech corporations, and that currently there is one well established technology for independent app stores, called F-Droid.

How does F-Droid come in?

To understand better the role that F-Droid will likely play in this pilot project, it is important to understand that F-Droid refers to two things.

First, F-Droid is a curated app store, known for its ethic and strong enforcement of only Free (Libre) Open Source Software, and warnings about anti-features in the apps it distributes.

Second, F-Droid is also an open standard mechanism by which other organisations can set up their own curated app stores¹, and by which people can search and install apps from those independent f-droid app stores in just the same way as from the F-Droid.org app store. (I'll use lower-case “f-droid” as a reminder.) Unlike most well known Big Tech platforms, independent f-droid app stores are absolutely independently governed by their creators: they are not created inside some platform controlled by the F-Droid.org team.

Anyone can use F-Droid on a Google-Android phone and also, importantly, on a phone that is android-compatible but not connected to a Google account and perhaps not running any Google software, especially not their Play Store. Such a phone is also known as “a degoogled phone”).

A citizen using a degoogled phone, or one who does not want to get an app via Google for other reasons, can search and install apps from both the F-Droid.org app store and also any other compatible app stores to which the user opts in.

It is entirely feasible and I would suggest likely that the EU would evaluate running their own F-Droid app store for their apps, either in addition to or instead of submitting their apps to the F-Droid.org store, so as not to be dependent on it, and to have control over their terms and conditions and schedule of distribution.

Hurray! and may others take up the idea too.

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[¹] The f-droid mechanism is quite Small Tech, and open to anyone with technical skills. For example, I run a little f-droid repository myself, with currently just one app in it.


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