2011 Holiday Buying Guide

People often buy expensive electronic gadgets as gifts, but many of these gadgets are bad for your freedom.

Here's our guide to the best and worst gifts:

Video games — With all of the big game console manufacturers supporting and using more Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) in their products, there aren't good options here. But in particular, avoid Sony, since they have been aggressively prosecuting users, and Nintendo, since they claim the right to remotely "brick" some devices.

Video streaming sites and devices — Amazon prime, Netflix Streaming, Hulu Plus, Apple TV and Google TV all, sadly, require Microsoft Silverlight** or Adobe DRM, and so should be avoided. The same is true for devices such as the Roku player and Logitech Revue (for Google TV). Alternatively, consider purchasing a small computer and installing MythTV on top of a free software GNU/Linux distribution; this can easily become your all-in-one DVR and home media center. And while you may not be able to stream many blockbuster movies, we hope that, over time more filmmakers will refuse to allow their movies to be encumbered by DRM, as Nina Paley has chosen to do with her film, Sita Sings the Blues and comedian Louis CK has done with his latest show.

Blu-Ray — Avoid Blu-Ray discs. They cannot be used with free software, and buying them is supporting Old Media's latest system for controlling every step of what users can do with media they buy.

Music players — For music this season, don't look to Apple for anything; all their portable music players support DRM and many devices refuse to work on GNU/Linux without serious tinkering or jailbreaking.

Cars — If you're thinking of buying a new car, be sure to avoid cars with the MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch software. Glitches in this proprietary software have led Ford to issue an update. This means the car can be infected with malicious software and is best avoided. Lastly, beware of GM cars with cell phones built-in, because cells phones are so easily used as tracking devices.

SmartphonesReplicant, the project to produce a fully free distribution of Android recently added more phones to its list of supported models. The list of supported phones are as follows:

  • Htc Dream / G1 / ADP1
  • Google Nexus One
  • HTC Magic / G2 /ADP2
Here at the FSF, we scored a bounty of HTC Dream phones, and many of us use them as our day-to-day cell phones. These phones are still problematic, because they include a proprietary firmware that could monitor all activity on the phone, but the ability to have a fully free application environment is a great step forward.

Ebook readers — All the ebook readers sold through Amazon and Barnes & Noble use DRM and proprietary software. Even if a user manages to only use these devices to read DRM-free materials, purchase of the device includes licenses for DRM and proprietary software.

Laptops and Desktops — There are a couple of companies who will sell you a computer with a fully-free GNU/Linux distribution preinstalled. Some of these companies even donate a small amount of money to the FSF. One such company is Los Alamos Computers and another is ThinkPenguin

Instead of buying gifts that reward companies who restrict our freedom, consider making a donation to a charity that fights for your freedom. You can support DefectiveByDesign.org by donating to the Free Software Foundation or giving a gift membership. Other orgs we are especially fond of include Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons, and Public Knowledge.

You can help us update our holiday buying guide by emailing suggestions to info@defectivebydesign.org. Also, check out the guide we produced last year.

**Moonlight is not an adequate free software replacement for Silverlight in this case because it does not support DRM (with or without proprietary codecs).