There are many of us who hate the way the internet is heading. The way it sometimes looks more like a virtual shopping mall than a place to communicate and share information. Some people do more than just moan about it on blogs like I do – Aaron Swartz was one of these people. Sadly word is now out that he has been found dead in his New York apartment – it appears he took his own life.
Aaron was a brilliant computer programmer from an early age. He was barely in his teens when he co-authored the first specification of RSS, these feeds have helped to syndicate and distrubute everything from video postings to news headlines and even my occasional blog posts!
But he was more than just a talented, geeky programmer – he was something that the internet needs, an activist. Someone who passionately believed in the freedom of the internet. That information should be free and not something to be withheld, bought or sold online.
He was also fearless and took a scary route to protesting, his advocacy of internet freedom led him to facing criminal charges of a potential 35 years in prison and one million dollars in fines.
His crime was allegedly hacking into a subscription only archive service called JSTOR and downloading millions of books, academic papers and documents. The prosecution service alleged he was intending to distribute these for free. We shall never know for sure whether this is true or not however it would probably have not affected his sentence. In developed countries the law doesn’t differentiate much between ‘hacking’ in protest or for criminal gain, Aaron Swartz was certainly not following the path to riches.
His friends say he was driven by his passion for freedom online, if he’d directed his intellect towards material gain, he’d almost certainly been fabulously wealthy. Fortunately we’re not all made like that but sadly Aaron it appears couldn’t cope with the incredible stress of the route he’d selected.
RIP Aaron Swartz