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DO NOT update Audacity

July 6th, 2021 at 3:35 AM by Kugee
Category: Software

Since Audacity first released 21 years ago, it's grown a reputation as one of the most well respected audio editing programs among amateurs and professionals alike. A free, highly functional multi-track audio editor that does its job well is all most people ever ask for, and Audacity has always lived up to that. Audacity is also well known for being cross-platform, so you can run it on any Linux box just as easily as you could have on Windows. It's for everyone!

The first time I used Audacity was back in 2010 or 2011. Even though I had GarageBand on my Macs at that time, I didn't really have a good audio recorder for any of my computers running Windows, and GarageBand's export process felt tedious anyway. Windows XP's sound recorder was already terrible for keeping the same "60 seconds at a time" limitation which carried over from the 16-bit era, while the one from Vista, 7, and onward did away with that but also the slightly advanced editing functions. Audacity went beyond solving both of these problems.

One of my earlier notable uses of Audacity was ripping some audio cassettes to individual MP3 tracks. It was kind of cumbersome as Audacity seemed to crash on Windows if I captured for too long, and I had to get a separate extension due to software patent issues, but it was pretty cool nonetheless. Through that, I found out "hey, Teena Marie is a pretty good artist!"

With hundreds of millions of downloads on record, there's no question about it: Audacity has served countless users well. It would not be unusual to hear of it being a gateway to a professional music career for many individuals. After all, if programmers can get together to create a free solution for everyone, that may be the start of many, many special things to come.

The Coup

The freedom programs like Audacity provide is not universally renowned, as much as we'd like to think it is. Some entities refuse to accept the fact that free software is a necessity in this now internet-driven world. Without it, most of us would either be having our cash sucked dry or stuck in the dark ages of relying entirely on default Windows programs for our creations - that is, the same annoying white on blue titles would probably continue to be ubiquitous on YouTube today just like they were in the late 2000's.

One such company "Muse Group" is as clear-cut of an enemy of free software as one can get; it hijacks free audio software and bastardizes them with freemium tropes. Unfortunately, Audacity has been forfeited to this monster, and now the consequences are readily prevalent. Recently, Audacity implemented telemetry of all things, which means the program can and will forward your activity on the program to law enforcement and private interests. I don't know how anyone could think this is a good idea given the former has rightly come under fire last year for their fucked up ethics, but that's the direction this once trustworthy program is taking now.

It doesn't matter if you never break the law (you probably do anyway without even knowing it). This is incredibly dangerous for all users of this program. Lately, telephones have beaten down the idea in the heads of many that privacy is not something anyone is entitled to, but make no mistake, privacy is something to be treasured as integral to your own safety. Can you really trust giant organizations to keep your personal data away from the wrong hands when they don't even bother serving your best interests?

Audacity now also forbids users under 13 from using the program, to which everyone responds with "WHY?" There was no reason to impose such a restriction, at least until they implanted telemetry, but the telemetry was not needed either, so it's fucking stupid all around. Today's zoomers are surrounded by technology all around, many which were sadly raised on iPads. Audacity should be a safe platform for users of all ages to do any kind of audio-related work, whether for learning or production... why should those under 13 suddenly be singled out from an otherwise great program that's offline by nature?

As many have pointed out, this restriction is a direct violation of both versions 2 and 3 of the GNU General Public License, anyway. I'd like to think a lawsuit will soon be headed in Muse Group's way, but the state of technology as it is does not leave me too hopeful.

There could be no better appropriation for Dubya's infamous words than on software companies like Muse Group. Muse Group is destroying everything Audacity stood for because they hate freedom, and they are determined to ravage it for their own capital interests. What they pulled is nothing short of a coup, if not worse.

Wow! Trendy YouTubers Doing Software!

At the same time Muse Group took over, music YouTuber Tantacrul put up a video bragging about how he was assigned control of Audacity's design going forward. To say the least, I'd rather not watch it because of how disgusted I am with his complacency in Muse's corrupt privacy policy.

YouTube culture has sunk to a new low, where popular channels will now pass off the idea that it's okay for tone-deaf companies to violate everything free software stands for and force their audiences to like it. Tantacrul is merely a puppet, of course, but he chose this path, even without the telemetry shit in place, he still has control over the design, and that can't be good for anyone. Admittedly, Audacity doesn't have the most optimal interface, but it is tried and true, and I fear the worst for it now. It's gonna fall victim to flatassery and overcomplication, isn't it?

Tantacrul will hide behind his "I only do the UI parts" excuse all day, but make no mistake, he's played an active role in Muse Group's damage control. What did he and his channel moderators do about the recent backlash to Audacity's new privacy policy? Delete all the negative comments, of course! I found myself needing to make their censorship job harder by gathering an effort to amplify the message on the aforementioned video. Below are a bunch of screenshots of comments we posted which were deleted.

Comment from Kugee targeting Tantacrul's dipshittery

Critical comments from three users - Doesn't it now send all your data to Russia though?

A thread coming in before criticism gets deleted

Comment from HarpingOn concerned about plugins becoming a subscription service

More critical comments mentioning the privacy policy in different languages

Comment from PecNec warning users to stick to version 2.4.2 in Italian

It's fucking disgusting how so many YouTubers will forfeit any last shred of integrity they once had, if any, just for temporary power and monetary rewards. I don't fucking care if Tantacrul's not responsible for the privacy policy; he enabled this shit, and for that he will go down in noterity as one of the worst YouTubers of all time. This cannot be disputed.

I should bring up that it's not just him that's doing the censorship, though. Audacity maintainers on the Microsoft-owned GitHub website are also employing dirty tactics to try to detract attention from the bullshit Muse Group is pulling, going on the same "he's just a designer" excuse and similar invalid or irrelevant tangents, and often just silently closing issues pertaining to the antics rather than even trying to make a slightly valid case for themselves.

Can't we fork, though?

It's a good thing Audacity's code has been built on GPLv2 for as long as it has. I have no doubts that Muse Group will try all it can to move away from that license as they exploit the free, voluntary labor of so many developers for their own interests, whether through a legal route or brute force criminality. Already, a number of people have forked Audacity and stripped out all the telemetry functions as well as that age restriction which violated the license.

Even so, successful forks are difficult to pull off because they require a lot of community support to be sustained. Which one will we get behind? It's hard to say. As of now, it would be best to stay on Audacity 2.4.2, the last safe version which didn't have any such telemetry to begin with. If we can agree on a single fork to use rather than making a hundred different ones, I'll let you know what to use in a blip later if I remember, though I tend to not pay very much attention to what goes on with modern hardware and software.

Even if a successful fork is made, that doesn't change the fact that many users will still end up being subjected to Muse's Audacity with its malware in place. Imagine if other widely used FOSS programs got hijacked in the name of capital growth... OBS Studio, Blender, VLC Media Player... the results would be FUCKING DISASTROUS.

Things have come a long way for free software. I'm convinced Linux could prove to be a more viable replacement for Windows than it ever was before thanks to WINE advancing far enough to run recent Adobe programs; I still need to use CS6 pretty much all the time, but the cross-platform Olive Video Editor seems it may one day be the Premiere killer. We can't allow greedy entities to fuck it all up for us in the long run!