Open source obligations

Summary:We have a mandate in the open source world generally not to do evil. I think it's the unspoken part of the open source contract. But that's not as easy to do as it sounds.

Google DaVinciWe have often discussed, here, the obligations of open source licensing under the GPL. You can get it, you can use it, you can see it, you can change it, but those changes belong to everyone.

I'm wondering today whether there's another open source obligation, one that goes beyond contracts, that users expect all open source projects to live up to.

Call it transparency, call it fairness, whatever you call it, you know what it is, and when that understanding (for lack of a better word) is violated, well, a lot of people feel violated.

The code is, simply, do no evil.

You have probably guessed by now I'm talking here about Google. As you probably know, CEO Eric Schmidt has stopped talking to News.Com over this, a story where a News.Com writer Googled Schmidt and published the results.

The context of Elinor Mills' story was Google's enormous potential to destroy privacy with their tremendous search capabilities. Search good, privacy violation bad, what do we do about this?

Rather than address the question, which goes to the heart of what Google (and technology) are about, Schmidt took off on her example of googling him. Had she googled, say, herself, the story would not have been as good (reporters aren't as interesting as CEOs). But anyone else could have then taken her hint, googled Schmidt, and done something a lot worse than publish the results. That was her point.

We have a mandate in the open source world generally not to do evil. I think it's the unspoken part of the open source contract. But that's not as easy to do as it sounds.

And rather than getting mad, we all need to think about that.

Topics: Google

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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