This post marks the third in my series about the sad saga of Purism and the Librem 5. If you haven't read the first or second posts yet, I highly recommend that you click here and then click here. Give them both at least a quick skim before reading this one as they contain important background information that is required to appreciate this one.
After mulling over everything I had seen along with what my source had shared with me, I decided that I had a moral duty to spread the word as far and as wide as possible while protecting the identity of my source as best as I could. I resolved that the best way to do this would be to create threads with specific questions directed towards Purism which would help to shed some light on some the questions I now had. I created two threads, one on the Purism forums and one in the Purism subreddit.
These threads did not go well. I severely underestimated the negative feedback I was going to get for daring to ask Purism a few basic questions. The most inflammatory one appeared to be the financial question I asked which strongly implied that the project had devolved into a Ponzi scheme. Regardless, nobody from Purism was willing to answer a single question and the community refused to use their collective influence to hold Purism accountable. This is when I decided to get a refund. Prior to this, I felt that getting a refund would be immoral because I was acting on information that most people were not privy too. However after experiencing the combined negative kickback from both communities after I attempted to share the truth, I changed by mind. At this point it seemed clear that I was no longer going to be stealing from Peter to pay Paul as these people had now made a conscious decision to stay the course with Purism regardless of what facts I presented them with.
To Purism's credit, I formally requested my refund on October 2nd and received it on October 4th. I did this by emailing email@example.com and giving them my original order number along with my formal request for a refund. Since then I have remained silent on the Purism forums with a single recent exception in which I answered somebody's question about whether or not they could get a refund. I have remained active on the subreddit while the situation continued to evolve, despite my initial inclination to stay away, and the ranks of disaffected ex-backers have begun to slowly grow in line with the level of turmoil. The interview given by ex-Purism CTO Zlatan Torodic to Michael Larabel of Phoronix is a particular highlight as it marks the first instance in which an ex-executive at Purism publicly spoke out against the actions of the company.
My failure to get the message across on the subreddit and the forums led me to write this series of articles. The only platform left available to me to make the complete case was my own. So here we are. I'm making the case and presumably at this point I have either succeeded or failed at convincing you. Regardless of the outcome, let me just say that I appreciate you taking the time to read through my collected thoughts on the matter.
I have shared all of what I know, most of what I've heard and taken you through the thought process and the resulting conclusions. The obvious question that remains is: What now? That's hard to say. As of this moment, Purism has missed their Aspen Batch shipping window, which closed on October 22nd according to the original schedule they posted. Purism took the time to officially confirm in this post what we had already figured out: No Aspen batch phones were sent to paying customers despite their earlier claims to the contrary. They also pushed the start date for Birch back from October 29th to November 15th. As of right now the bulk of the community seems to believe that this post means Purism has come clean. For the time being, their faith has been rewarded and restored.
To the rest of us who have been paying attention and digging through the data, it seems likely that Birch will just end up being more of the same. This is because the inherent issues which gave us the lie known as Aspen cannot and will not be fixed in a matter of mere weeks. This means that the community will soon be subject to another agonizing round of abuse in a month's time when it again becomes clear that nobody or even just a small handful of carefully curated people outside the company have taken possession of a Librem 5.
Unless Purism adopts new tactics, they are eventually going to run out of money and time. If that comes to pass, it means that the situation will have to be resolved via a declaration of Chapter 11 which will lead to thousands of deluded, though ultimately innocent, backers losing their money. Sadly the best way to push back is to spread the word that the Librem 5 is not a safe bet and to explain why. Some of you out there will surely argue that doing this only seals the fate of all those involved while staying course might still result in a win for everybody. Ultimately the key here is to come to terms with the fact that short of a refund, your investment has already been lost. By sitting back and letting this drag out, even with your newfound knowledge, you are condoning the approach that Purism is taking.
No amount of marketing, hype and rosy outlooks can change the stark reality of this situation: This mess cannot be fixed. I would personally like to see Purism do an about face and reconcile with disaffected members of the community by providing a full, raw, honest and open accounting of the actual Librem project rather than just clamming up and hoping for a miracle. It is important that they know this and that we as a community extend an olive branch to them if and when they attempt to do this. In my opinion, it is never too late to seek redemption.
The real question that I'd like to touch on is: How did we get here and why do so many strongly insist that Purism's behavior has been ethical? How we got here is actually very simple. It's the same way we got here when it comes to every other tech company on the planet. We the customers let them get away with a myriad of tiny offenses and somewhere along the way all of that begins to snowball into a series of major offenses. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple didn't start off as objectionable. They all actually started off as small groups of like minded people who shared an urge to build things that fulfilled the needs or their customers and enhanced their lives. But over time when faced with the various tiny liberties taken by these companies, the customers made a conscious choice to look the other way. From the perspective of the individual customer, the benefits of doing this far outweigh the downside presented by the tiny problem they are currently evaluating. The inevitable end result is that these sins add up over time and the whole can easily begin to outweigh the threat presented by the sum of its parts.
When it comes to explaining why so many community members still feel that Purism's behavior is excusable, that is a tougher nut to crack. My theory on it is as follows: The promise of the Librem 5 phone is very alluring. As customers we are all tired of being abused and victimized by the likes of Google, Apple and the ever growing ranks of greedy and ethically challenged mobile application developers. The unintended side effect of this was it made Purism effectively untouchable as they are offering something we simply cannot obtain anywhere else. To be blunt /u/whitelinge on reddit put it far better than I ever could, so I'll just quote part of his post on the topic:
Let's assume the company is in jeopardy. Let's assume the project is over-promised and will be late and under-deliver. Let's assume the CEO is a fuckup and the Marketing Director is a liar. None of that is as bad as NO smartphone alternative to Google and Apple, let alone an open and privacy-focused alternative. I'm a Linux user and I very much want a Linux phone. And there has been so, so many false starts and near misses over almost a decade. My patience and goodwill for Purism and the Librem 5 is effectively infinite. It's not over until they shutter the doors or can the project. Until that happens I will continue to hope they limp over that finish line no matter what.
I sympathize with fellow members of the community who currently live in the space between the rock and the hard place that whitelinge occupies. However there are now so many signs that Purism isn't competent enough to be trusted with a phone, much less our privacy, that I cannot in good conscience do business with them. So let me make my ultimate position clear: Even if I am wrong or say Purism gets a huge cash infusion from an investor which allows the Librem 5 project to be completed, I will not purchase one. I refuse to reward Purism in light of the tactics they have and continue to employ.
If there is a moral to this tale, then I say let it be this: Truth can only be denied for so long. The further you run from the truth, the more painful your reunion with it promises to be. This fundamental rule applies to everybody and everything whether they be customers, backers, investors, executives, corporations, politicians or governments. Don't believe me? It is this core idea that compelled my various sources, Zlatan, myself and numerous other members of the community to take action. While our short term reputations suffered inside of these echo chambers, I'm happy to say that our principles have not. Phones may come and go, but good principles can and should last a lifetime.