A Social Purpose Company Challenging the Status Quo: Purism’s Hardware and Software Ecosystem is Designed to Respect User Rights

A Social Purpose Company Challenging the Status Quo: Purism’s Hardware and Software Ecosystem is Designed to Respect User Rights

TL; DR: Purism, a social purpose corporation based in San Francisco with a presence worldwide, hopes to change the future of technology through products designed to respect your digital life. The company’s convenient hardware and software bundles and intuitive kill switches make it easier than ever to access ethically sound computing. With the Librem 5 Phone set to hit markets later this year, Purism aims to provide all the tools users need to participate in a digital society without compromising freedom, security, or privacy.

As a father raising two daughters in 2014, Todd Weaver began to grow weary of the increasingly exploitative tech industry and its prioritization of profits over user privacy. Fortunately, as a seasoned and multilingual programmer, he knew he could do something about it.

So, later that year, Todd launched a crowdfunding campaign to form Purism – a hardware and software provider committed to delivering products that people can trust.

Purism logo

Purism wants users to have the option to participate in a digital world without sacrificing privacy.

“I’ve always had a passion for freedom and security — as well as a frustration with the tools available in the marketplace,” Todd said. “I wanted to offer convenient tech products that would allow people to have their rights respected.”

He kicked off the effort by building the Librem 15, a high-end, Intel-based laptop intended to replace desktop units. “We started there, knowing it would take incremental steps to build the laptop, hardware, operating system, and associated software store,” Todd said. “We knew that if we delivered on those pieces, we could start an overall movement around secure devices that are also respectful of privacy.”

Since then, the company has continued to expand its Librem range with an overall focus on freedom, security, and privacy. To ease adoption, the company now offers bundled software packages and intuitive hardware kill switches that make it easier than ever to gain control over your digital life. With the Librem 5 smartphone on schedule for release later this year, Purism is one step closer to supplying all of the tools users need to participate in a digital society without sacrificing their rights.

Rooted in Ethics: A Focus on Freedom, Security, and Privacy

Todd said Purism has enjoyed triple-digit growth year over year since its inception in 2014. Based on the public’s initial reception of the Librem 15, the company knew it was on the right track for continued growth. But instead of turning to venture capital, Purism held tight to the crowdfunding method to support the development of a more portable laptop with a 13-inch screen.

“We also ran a crowdfunding campaign for the Librem 13, and we crushed our goal, which allowed us to deliver a high-end product while building credibility within the B2C space,” Todd said.

Purism laptop

Purism’s laptop and upcoming smartphone were designed to ensure user freedom.

As a social purpose corporation, Todd said Purism pledges to ensure security, privacy, and freedom for the users of its products — a devotion that trumps profit maximization. In addition, the company will produce hardware and software that conforms to the free software movement, also known as Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS). The FLOSS philosophy dictates that Purism source code is available to the public and allowed to be modified — granting users additional freedoms.

“We’re looking to change the security scene for the better, and forming as a social purpose company means that we are putting our social good above maximizing profits,” Todd said. “That gives us tremendous street cred because there’s a legal binding statement behind what we’re doing that can be verifiably confirmed against our articles of incorporation.”

With the entire company — from the board of directors to employees — on the same page, Todd said it’s much easier to achieve goals. “Everyone involved is in the same boat, which means we can row very efficiently to our intended destination,” he said. “And that’s proving itself, time and time again, to be the right approach to take.”

Enterprise Servers and a Tamper-Proof Booting Process

The Purism team believes the company’s early success is the direct result of its credibility. “We pin all of our growth on the fact that we’re building a brand of trust,” Todd said.

The trust factor is also at play when Purism sells products, such as servers, to enterprise-level companies and hosting providers. “We follow the same philosophy with our servers as we do with our laptops, which means full transparency,” Todd said. “After all, a high level of credibility is extremely important.”

Todd said hosting providers are frequently interested in Purism’s servers due to the company’s reputation for transparency. “We support running a liberated stack, which is a core boot, plus a disabled management engine, plus a neutralized management engine,” he said. “We’re unique in being able to provide this fully secure, low-level stack on top of hardware that can be verified.”

Librem Key

Purism’s unique Librem Key makes it easy to know whether someone’s been tampering with your system.

To complement these offerings, Purism’s Librem Key makes encryption, key management, and tamper detection both convenient and secure. The USB security token, designed with portability in mind, provides multi-factor authentication and allows users to store private GPG keys in a tamper-proof setting safe from attackers who may compromise your laptop.

Furthermore, with PureBoot, Purism’s high-security boot process, users can simply insert their Librem Key and turn on the computer to determine whether an attacker has compromised their system. “When you boot up your device up, it’ll blink green if it has not been tampered with, and it will blink red if it has,” Todd said. “We’ve even had hosting providers that put webcams up to show the key lights on the front of the server — it’s a growing area of demand.”

Retain Control Over Your Digital Life with Hardware Kill Switches

Todd said Purism is also laser-focused on usability — because being in charge of your digital life should be a convenient process. To put security at the forefront, Purism products come with physical hardware kill switches that control the camera and microphone as well as wireless and Bluetooth connections. These switches provide the peace of mind users need to know they’re safe from prying eyes — no tacky camera sticker necessary.

“These are actual physical switches — one that severs the circuit to your webcam and microphone and another that severs the circuit to your wifi and Bluetooth,” Todd said. “It’s as simple as a light switch, which underscores Purism’s overall goal: to solve problems at the root level.”

To that end, Todd said Purism is actively involved with, and frequently seeks feedback from, its user community and partners. “We work with software development groups like GNOME, and by having these partnerships, we get a constant stream of constructive feedback,” he said. “And then we also put out polls, gather responses, and then form an opinion that’s rooted in our values.”

Todd said every decision ultimately circles back to the social purpose corporation’s guiding tenents of security, privacy, and freedom. For example, the company was recently tasked with selecting a CPU for use in a new product. When the leading market providers failed to comply with Purism’s core mission, the company took its search elsewhere.

“We follow a powerful, user-driven approach that’s firmly grounded in the pre-established rules we play by,” Todd said.

The Librem 5 Phone, Powered by Linux-Based PureOS

Next on Purism’s agenda is the release of Librem 5, the world’s first ethically sound, user-controlled smartphone. The device, which will offer unprecedented control and security through PureOS, the same open-source operating system that runs on Purism laptops, is set to hit the market in the third quarter of 2019.

“With the launch of the Librem 5, we’re providing all of the things you need to participate in a digital society in a convenient smartphone package,” Todd said.

The fully functioning phone will allow users to make calls, browse the web, check email, participate in chats, send SMS messages, and take photos — just like an iPhone or Android device. But unlike those devices, the Librem 5 will address widespread concerns regarding privacy and digital rights.

“We’ve shipped the development kit and have already seen applications being released,” Todd said. “We have a tremendous amount of momentum behind us, and now it’s just a matter of time before we start seeing more and more applications being written for the mobile operating system.”

Christine Preusler

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