How Free Software Advocate Richard Stallman Stays Private Online

by Tracy Knauer •

Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation, probably takes the cake as one of the most privacy-conscious Internet users around. For that reason, it’s worth taking a look at his strategy for staying private online, which he has described on his personal website.

Privacy is not Stallman’s only reason for promoting free software. He has lots of other ones, too. But as a man who prefaces his personal email with a warning to the government censors whom he assumes to be reading it, he is clearly concerned in a major way with online privacy.

When using the Internet, Stallman says, “I generally do not connect to web sites from my own machine.” Instead, he has a proxy program (which is presumably running from a different computer) download Web pages and then relay them to him via email.

That would prevent websites from logging his connection and IP location — although it might still be possible to track Stallman’s browsing trends if all of his Web activity is funnelled through the same proxy program, which presumably has a unique signature.

Stallman says he runs text-based Web browsers most of the time, but relies on IceCat, a Firefox derivative, occasionally. And he uses Tor to protect his identity.

Lastly, Stallman also reports not paying for anything online as another way to protect his identity. (It’s not clear whether he is aware of credit cards that let you make online purchases anonymously.)

Stallman doesn’t mention whether he uses Internet applications other than those directly related to the Web, such as chat clients.

Stallman’s online privacy setup is clearly not for everyone. He’s a guy who is content to do most of his work from the command line, and who apparently uses only a limited range of websites. Still, some of his ideas — such as using a proxy program to download Web content and then deliver it via email — are interesting, especially because few other privacy advocates have pursued Internet privacy solutions such as that one.

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