Students of Roskilde University ("RUC") have no choice but to accept, become dependent on, and support these corporations:
- Microsoft Corporation
- Google Inc
- CloudFlare Inc
- Facebook Inc
- Mathworks Inc (students of statistics)
At RUC there is no escape from Microsoft. Mathworks is only avoided by students who avoid taking statistics.
E-mail service that establishes trust in Microsoft (and how it evolves into loyalty)
RUC has outsourced e-mail service to Microsoft. Students are obligated to access their Microsoft-served e-mail in order to receive official correspondence from school staff. There is no opt-out mechanism.
Regular exposure to MS corporate branding in the student's UI establishes brand awareness using freemium
. Students become accustomed to the look and feel of the Outlook UI, making them more likely to develop trust and cling to that interface more in the future. It's through repeated forced bonding with Microsoft's UI that leads ultimately to fostered loyalty.
The loyalty is deepened further when the student grapples with idiosyncrasies like booking a room because the struggle leads to the user acquiring vendor-specific knowledge. The user is rewarded when their skill with the tool advances as they become more efficient with overcoming flaws and anti-features; as if they filled up a Starbucks loyalty card and got a payout. Unlike a loyalty card these advancements continue rewarding the user as long as they keep using the tool. When the user faces the decision to use an alternate tool they are less inclined to give up the vendor-specific knowledge that has accumulated.
So overcoming non-intuitive aspects of a UI actually leads to more loyalty. The university sharpens this effect by trapping the student on the tool. Whereas being outside an organization includes freedom to switch tools anytime a use-case becomes non-intuitive.
RUC has disabled IMAP access, thereby crippling students who would prefer a vendor-neutral standards-complying mail user agent ("MUA") or an MUA of a different vendor. Forcing Microsoft's non-standard protocols and favoring Microsoft UIs creates biases that raise the barrier to exit. Diligent motivated users who install Evolution or hack together a davmail proxy can escape -- but these users are a small minority and ultimately still forced to share their email contents with Microsoft and to feed Microsoft's bottom line.
And what about independence? If the university can't handle being independent from corporations itself aren't students therefore conditioned to lack confidence in overcoming corporate dependency?
When a self-sufficient student or outsider who runs their own residential mail server tries to send an email to an outlook.com/ruc.dk recipient, they are blocked. Microsoft has configured their mail servers to force individuals to be dependent on a corporation for email delivery. RUC has aligned with a corporation who pushes corporate loyalty even beyond the school, dragging outsiders into the Microsoft loyalty program and causing collateral damage
to those who don't comply with Microsoft-dictated policy on how email must be transmitted in order for MS to accept it.
Document preparation: Office 365 or Google Docs (LaTeX discouraged)
Students are free to choose their document preparation tool, but professors and supervisors discourage the use of LaTeX. Scientific papers are produced within group projects with supervisors serving as mentors. Some supervisors are reluctant to learn LaTeX or review LaTeX code. Consequently professors urge students to avoid LaTeX to accommodate limitations of supervisors.
RUC equips students with MS Onedrive accounts and one writing tool: MS Word, which is supplied with gratis copies of Office 365. This implies that using MS Word with its co-authoring feature and Onedrive is the only approach on which students can expect official school support. Note that Office 365 is unavailable to Linux users who are therefore limited to the feature-poor in-browser Word app should a Linux user end up in a Microsoft-aligned group.
Some groups opt for LaTeX (vendor-neutral) and use Overleaf (a service of Writelatex Limited) for collaboration, but this choice comes with risk. If just one student in the group opposes the steep learning curve that LaTeX entails, that student likely already has vendor loyalties that they developed in post-secondary school and they will fight hard to avoid the effort of learning something new. RUC basically has the back of students who resist LaTeX, which bends groups in the direction of a corporate solution that builds vendor loyalty.
Google Docs is seemingly the most popular choice. The school discourages use of the most suitable vendor-neutral technology so students gravitate toward Google Docs.
All realtime collaboration options (msword, gdocs, latex) have stumbling blocks and idiosyncrasies. The LaTeX variety of issues lead students to learn something useful about the language or text editor, which furthers their knowledge of technology in a generic way that can be useful in the future. The MS Word and Google Docs varieties of issues lead students to learn about workarounds for specific flaws and limitations of those particular tools. This vendor-specific knowledge is not generally portable to other tools. It's without foundation and does not generally form a basis for building more knowledge. It's knowledge that bonds the user to the tool. The increased efficiency of knowing workarounds for vendor-specific tools serve to heighten vendor loyalty. The user becomes less inclined to migrate to a competing tool later because it entails wasting the knowledge that has no other applicability while inviting new issues to tackle.
Proprietary software labeled as "Free Software" helps propagate brand loyalty
RUC distributes gratis copies of licensed proprietary software under the heading "Free Software". "Free
" has two meanings in English: freedom and gratis. The software industry specifically assigns "free software" special meaning: software that gives the user freedom
. The software offered by RUC under this heading is quite the opposite of the industry-accepted term. Microsoft Office 365 and Matlab are commercial proprietary binary blobs that deny students the academic freedom of looking at the source code. The distinction between gratis
when discussing software is paramount. RUC's use of the term misinforms the students they are tasked with educating.
Use of the word "free" has a bigger problem: it's one of the most powerful forces in neuromarketing used to manipulate consumers according to Dan Ariely's study published in Predictably Irrational
. RUC has refused to correct the heading on their English website from "free software
" to "gratis proprietary software
". RUC is exploiting the persuasion of the word "free" to maximize the number of students who will install software that will induce brand loyalty.
Research material jailed in corporate walled-gardens of Google and CloudFlare
Library research is sacred and central to academic coursework. One of the primary sources of information available to RUC students is Google Scholar ("GS"). GS is a walled-garden that blocks access to full text if the student is not signed on through the school. RUC recently started blocking Tor
. So RUC students who opt to use GS have been forced to give up the only mechanism that protects them from website visitor tracking ("WVT
") in this instance. Although a RUC user id has always been potentially disclosed to Google Scholar through the callback authentication mechanism, students could previously use to Tor to avoid exposing their IP address and browser print to Google, which Google can use to cross-reference logged-out searches. Now avoiding that privacy abuse requires abandoning Google Scholar.
With conventional web searches we can easily give up Google because there are good decentralized alternatives like Searx
. But Google Scholar has weak competition at RUC and librarians encourage its use. Simply getting the list
REX is rich in search results and makes it viable to avoid Google Scholar. However, REX does not contain the full text of articles and REX does not serve as a proxy either. REX supplies students a link directly to the external resource that has the full text. These external sources are often dominated by privacy abusers, most notably CloudFlare Inc (an adversary of the Tor community). A substantial number of REX-indexed articles are served by Proquest
, who currently subjects users to CloudFlare's IP logging in violation of the GDPR.
Privacy is not the focus of this article, but it's related to the loyalty problem. Because CloudFlare is a privacy abuser
, ethical informed students may opt to boycott CloudFlare. Students should not be forced to patronize a privacy abuser who surreptitiously collects their IP addresses and who has taken centralized control of over 10% of the web while undermining network neutrality. When Copenhagen Library leads students to a CloudFlare-controlled private walled-garden, it creates a conflict of interest between academic research and the ethical need to boycott bad players.
CloudFlare goes unnoticed to most people and students would not be developing any kind of brand awareness or loyalty to them. However, students need not just to be free from loyalty but also need the freedom to be proactively disloyal. Putting CloudFlare in reckless control of our academic resources is a bad idea. When we encounter CloudFlare in the marketplace as consumers, we can simply vote with our feet and take our business elsewhere. But this academic intrusion is not solved by students voting with their feet because while research potential is lost public money is still going toward the detriment of freedom.
Europe's Plan S
initiative will require
government-funded research to be made available to the public on the date of publication by the year 2020. However, Copenhagen Library is dependent on publishers who will continue to jail scientific journals in the private corporate walled-garden of CloudFlare Inc.
Copenhagen housing crisis and Facebook's role in it
There is an acute housing shortage in the whole Copenhagen region resulting in apartments with waiting lists as long as five years. There is also a shortage of on-campus university-administered student housing that's so severe that Roskilde University has restricted the units exclusively to exchange students. Permanent full-time students are ineligible for these rooms.
The school provides no service to help the 8000+ permanent students secure a place to stay amid the shortage. Students are given no information about how to directly get in contact with owners of apartments in close proximity to the university. RUC publishes a list of commercial profit-driven brokers who charge students a fee for helping with the hunt for housing or roommates. In some cases the fee is not based on placement so a student could pay fees to simply communicate with a prospective roommate or landlord without actually acquiring housing - which is a very likely scenario.
Students are made dependent on a dozen or so private corporations before school even begins. RUC pays a premium to one of them ("Housinganywhere") to give RUC students VIP treatment (which in this case entails answering e-mail from students), and Housinganywhere falls short of responding to e-mail.
These brokers have no obligation to get a student a booking. Students often arrive homeless or become homeless mid-term. This illustrates the inherent problem of outsourcing to private corporations something as essential as student housing particularly when resources are severely limited.
The brokers' objective is to maximize profit not maximize student placements. One of the brokers charges nothing to the students but designed their website to deny service to students who don't have a CPR number (a number that can only be acquired after
establishing a residence), so students entering Denmark for the first time are blocked from using the one broker who charges them nothing.
Another corporate artifact is age discrimination. Some buildings try to cater for students and to keep the rentals marketable to students they impose an age limit. Every "dorm" in close proximity to RUC imposes age restrictions so older RUC students are pushed out of the city to suit corporate policy.
RUC and the housing specialists and brokers RUC endorses have come up short. Enter Facebook. Facebook is the hack by which students find housing. Facebook secures student loyalty in this case not by clever marketing but simply by actually serving as a hack to an otherwise ill-served need.
Facebook invasion into official school communications
Of all the corporations RUC fosters loyalty for, Facebook is the most insidious. Facebook is a cocaine addiction compared to others. Copious articles try to help people break away
from Facebook. The stranglehold of Facebook loyalty has driven Cornell University to study it
Facebook is used to make announcements to RUC students and the internal website is littered with Facebook references. In particular, there are social events that are officially school-sanctioned which appear exclusively on Facebook.
Some might say "fair enough" because social events are non-essential and purely for entertainment. However, RUC has organized all the coursework around group projects. A culture of social bonding is considered important enough to justify having school-sanctioned parties on campus. The organizers have gone as far as to strategically separate student parties and to discourage intermingling across the parties so that students form more bonds with the peers they work with academically. Social bonding is a component of the study program.
Announcing these social events exclusively on Facebook creates an irresistible temptation for non-Facebook users to join. It also destroys any hope of existing FB users who want to break away from Facebook from doing so. Students without Facebook accounts are naturally in the dark. Facebook non-patrons may be able to catch ad-hoc hallway chatter about school events but this is a reckless approach.
When the official class schedule is incorrectly published students who discover the error in advance announce it on Facebook. Facebook then stands as the only source of information for schedule corrections, causing Facebook non-patrons to either miss class or show up for a class that doesn't exist.
Unofficial student-led seminars and workshops are sometimes announced exclusively on Facebook. These workshops are optional but academic nonetheless.
Sometimes information exists on the school website and is duplicated on Facebook. The information becomes very well buried on the poorly organized school website because the maintainers are paying more attention to the Facebook publication that they assume everyone is reading. Specifically the study abroad program has two versions of the document that lists all the foreign schools for which there is an exchange program. One version is obsolete showing schools that no longer participate. Both versions appear in different parts of the website. The schedule of study abroad workshops is so buried that a student relying on the school website is unlikely to know that the workshops even exist. Removing the Facebook distraction would perhaps mitigate the website neglect.
RUC does not instruct students to establish Facebook accounts. There is simply a silent expectation that students have them. Some of the above mentioned problems can come as a surprise because Facebook excludes non-members from even viewing the content, so non-patrons don't even have a way to see what kind of information they are missing. There is an immense undercurrent of pressure for RUC students to become addicted patrons of Facebook's corporate walled-garden.
VPN depends on GSM
RUC's VPN service requires two-factor authentication ("2fa), and the possession factor is met exclusively by SMS messages. There is no opportunity to opt-out of 2fa and no possibility to use an alternate mechanism. Phones and service are also not provided. This forces students into the marketplace to buy phone equipment when most phone vendors have a long history of unethical conduct. Many GSM service providers have the same problem.
If a student can manage to find non-controversial hardware and service they are still subject to needless tracking that's inherent in GSM technology while being pushed into establishing loyalty for the corporation, baited by the lower pricing of phones and plans that are marketed with contracts. A student should be able to reject all GSM hardware and service vendors without being denied access to the RUC's VPN service.
The FabLab uses Telegram Messanger
. Offering to collaborate through a service like this is an advancement away from corporate dependency in principle because it enables voice communication without GSM service. However, Telegram is centralized and requires users to disclose their mobile phone numbers (which they may not have) just to register for an account even if it's only going to be used on a desktop. Some Telegram competitors have figured out how to offer gratis account registration without imposing GSM service on the user.
The statistics class is structured around MATLABtm
, which cannot be installed without registering at Mathworks website (under Dynatrace tracking mechanisms), signing click-through agreements, and disclosing an email address. The email address is later used to promote Mathworks' products and to ask students to help Mathworks with product promotion to others.
Students would normally be charged for a MATLAB license but RUC pays a high premium to ensure students pay nothing. This creates a brand awareness using freemium
scenario. Mathworks marketing tries to draw students to more Mathworks products. Students have little choice but to become entrenched in acquiring vendor-specific knowledge on MATLAB to get through the class. This creates a bond and potential to manifest into brand loyalty.
Microblogging centralized on Twitter - loyalty required (new section)
RUC uses Twitter exclusively for microblogging. Without a Twitter account students are only permitted to read RUC's timeline and cannot participate in any discussion.
Students must become loyal to Twitter Inc. if they want to participate in RUC's microblog. Twitter registration requires Tor users to have a phone number and to disclose it. This forces students to either expose their IP address to Twitter for their records or to trust Twitter with their phone number. Both situations compromise anonymity and as a consequence chills speech. Students are also forced to agree to Twitter's one-sided non-negotiable terms before they can communicate with RUC.
Twitter is a private corporation with ultimate authority over which students may talk to their school and what they can say. Twitter has a right to refuse service to anyone for any reason, and they use it
. My account was locked because (apparently) using an API over Tor is (falsely) treated as robotic use. So here I am among the public
with the need to communicate with my public
school, and this private
corporation has blocked it.
RUC gives Twitter this power.
If RUC wants to foster independence from sketchy corporations and enable students to boycott unethical players:
|RUC needs to replace.. ||with.. |
|outlook.com mail server ||in-house mail server, IMAP service (perhaps consult UCLA for guidance) |
|MS Office 365 ||shell accounts on vendor-neutral OS, version control, emacs+Rudel, Gobby or the like, LaTeX, LyX, Libreoffice |
|Google Docs‡ ||Cryptopad |
|Telegram Messenger ||Openfire or Jami |
|Matlab ||GNU Octave |
|Facebook, Twitter ||Diaspora, Friendica, GNU Social and/or Mastodon (ideally in-house nodes) |
|Google Scholar ||PeerJ (cough..and Sci-Hub..cough) |
|REX references† to CloudFlared sites ||non-CloudFlared sources if they exist, otherwise show an apologetic warning of GDPR breach next to the CF link & state where to complain |
|SMS 2fa ||code card |
|"Free Software" website heading ||"Gratis Proprietary Software" |
(†) actually Copenhagen Library needs to do this, not RUC. (‡) RUC does not push students to use Google Docs; inertia brings students there. RUC should guide students away from that particular privacy-hostile walled-garden.
Call to action (update)
Contact the DPA for Denmark:
Datatilsynet Borgergade 28, 5 Tel. +45 33 1932 00 Fax +45 33 19 32 18 email: [email protected] Website: http://www.datatilsynet.dk/ Member: Ms Cristina Angela GULISANO, Director
- Report that Copenhagen Library sends students to Proquest, a CloudFlare site that logs everyones IP address in violation of GDPR article 5, when students try to access scientific papers.
- Report this to the Library as well, and perhaps ask them to add PeerJ papers to their REX database if they haven't already.
- Report to the DPA that RUC distributes Office 365 to students, and that GDPR is violated as a consequence. Mention these issues.
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