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Open-source dev and critic of Beijing claims Audacity owner Muse threatened him with deportation to China in row over copyright

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Software

Audacity's new owner Muse Group has been accused of threatening to land a developer in legal hot water, a move that could result in the programmer being forced to return to China to face a government of which he has been a vocal critic.

The developer in question, Wenzheng Tang, has expressed anti-China sentiments on his GitHub profile alongside a flag of Taiwan. He confirmed to The Register he is a Chinese national. We asked Tang for his approval to report on this debate, out of concern for his safety should he be deported from Canada, where he currently resides, as a result of any legal complaints brought against him.

Tang explicitly acknowledged that risk. "If I am deported back to mainland China, I would at least be jailed," he said in an email that may well understate the consequences of public political opposition to the Chinese government. Nonetheless, he sees value in publicity as a form of defense.

"I would rather put myself in the center of public interest," he explained. "Because of the Streisand effect, I believe a story would indeed help me rather than harm me."

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Another misstep for Audacity

  • Another misstep for Audacity

    While it has often been said that there is no such thing as bad publicity, the new owners of the Audacity audio-editor project may beg to differ. The project has only recently weathered the controversies around its acquisition by the Muse Group, proposed telemetry features, and imposition of a new license agreement on its contributors. Now, the posting of a new privacy policy has set off a new round of criticism, with some accusing the project of planning to ship spyware. The situation with Audacity is not remotely as bad as it has been portrayed, but it is a lesson on what can happen when a project loses the trust of its user community.
    On July 2, the Audacity web site acquired a new "desktop privacy notice" describing the privacy policies for the desktop application. Alert readers immediately noticed some things they didn't like there; in particular, many eyebrows were raised at the statement that the company would collect "data necessary for law enforcement, litigation and authorities’ requests (if any)" as part of the "legitimate interest of WSM Group to defend its legal rights and interests". What data might be deemed necessary was not defined. The fact that WSM Group, the listed data controller, is based in Russia did not help the situation. And a statement that anybody under the age of 13 should not use Audacity at all was seen as a violation of the GPL by some.

    A full-scale Internet red alert followed, with headlines that Audacity was becoming spyware and users should uninstall it immediately. A fork of the project was promptly launched, promising: "No telemetry, crash reports and other shenanigans like that!". Alerts were sounded in various distributions, including Debian, Fedora, openSUSE, and others, suggesting that Audacity should be dropped or at least carefully reviewed. Audacity, it seemed, had gone fully over to the dark side and needed to be excised as soon as possible.

    It only took a few days for the project to issue a "clarification" to the new privacy policy, stating that "concerns are due largely to unclear phrasing" that would soon be updated. The data that is collected was enumerated; it is limited to the user's IP address, operating-system version, and CPU type. The IP address is only kept for 24 hours. The company's compliance with law enforcement is limited to what is actually required by law. The update also pointed out that this policy does not even come into effect until the upcoming 3.0.3 release; current releases perform no data collection at all.

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