Purism is trying to offer those web services on an ethical and transparent basis where some people who care deeply about privacy, security and freedom will pay and receive extra services, but the rest of society can use a number of these services for free. The majority will chose not to pay, but some will, and those who do pay are basically subsidizing the system so that the majority can use web services for free.
I have no idea whether the Librem One business model will work or not, but I support Purism because it is willing to take the risk and try a different business model for how to provide public web services. Let’s run the experiment and see whether paid web services will work, rather than automatically assuming that it will fail.
One of the things to keep in mind is that the cost to run servers and paying sysadmins to manage those servers falls on a marginal basis as the number of users grows. Purism will pay a lot per user if there are only 5000 users in Librem One, but the cost per user will be tiny if Librem One grows to 50 million users. What this means is that as Librem One grows, the number of free riders can grow for every paying user, and it will still be profitable.
Let’s imagine that currently Librem One needs 1 person willing to pay its $8 per month fee to finance another 10 people who won’t pay to use it. Because a lot of the administration costs are fixed, as Librem One grows, you will probably get to the point that you only need one paying customer for every 100 or 1000 free riders. Because it costs less per capita, Purism will be able to lower its prices over time. For the service that it currently charges $8 per month, it will probably be able to offer the same service for $4 per month in the future, and at lower prices you will have more and more people who are willing to pay for the service.
Renting an online VPS used to be very expensive, but today companies have figured out how to administer VPS for almost nothing, so they can offer them for as low as $3 per month, and I suspect it is similar with administering web services, because a lot of the cost is figuring out how to automate everything so you don’t need much human intervention and one sysadmin can manage thousands of servers.
You shouldn’t be criticizing Purism if you don’t understand the details, because you don’t understand the magnitude of what Purism is sharing with the world. Purism’s SPC charter says that the company will release all source code for the software that it develops and the schematics for the hardware that it designs.
Look at the source files that Purism has published for the Librem 5 dev kit under the GPL 3.0. They published everything except the .gbr (Gerber output files for manufacturing), .drl (drill files) and .pos (position files for automatic insertion machines).
Do you understand how much detail and information Purism is giving the world on day one? Anyone can take their .sch files, load them into KiCAD and start modifying the design. With a little work, you can recreate the .gbr, .drl and .pos files. Purism will allow any company to take its source files and create knock-off copies of the Librem 5 and legally sell them, but they just won’t make it super-easy for them to do so for the next 3-5 years.
There are 1.4 billion PC users in the world and 1.56% of them use Linux (according to StatCounter), so that works out to 22 million Linux users. If you convince 1% of them to buy the Librem 5 per year, that works out to 220,000 phones per year. Add in some more for the tinkerer crowd. Then add in the hard-core Libertarians who use cryptocurrencies and are paranoid about the government. Then, add in the environmentalists who are concerned about planned obsolescence. Purism can be a successful company just selling phones to niche markets.
Now if you look at what percentage of phone users would like to stop sharing their personal data with Google, Facebook, etc., you probably are talking about 2% of the 3 billion smartphone users in the world, or roughly 60 million. If Purism convinces 1% of those to buy the Librem 5 per year, that works out to 600,000 phones. The growth potential for the Librem 5 is enormous.
Do you even understand the free software/hardware movement? Nobody in the movement is against Purism making a profit. People who care about user rights and digital freedom want to Purism to be enormously successful as a company. I can’t speak for everyone who helped crowdfund the Librem 5, but I give Purism my money because I believe in the goals and practices of the company. I wanted to help finance a company which has the mission of fighting for my digital rights, my privacy and my security. Part of Purism’s mission as a company is educating the public about these issues, lobbying the government to change regulations concerning personal data collection, and pushing for hardware that is works with FOSS up the supply chain.
Todd Weaver never claimed that Purism is doing all of this “with no benefit to themselves.” Did you even bother to watch the interview where he explains the Purism business plan?