Open source obligations

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.

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TOPICS: Google
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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.

Topic: Google

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  • What makes that an open source responsibility...

    ... in particular? First do no harm is an old adage in medicine. And someone who does not advocate open source can consider protecting privacy important.

    I do not think it was your intent, but your implicit message is that open source advocates are required to be more holy than the ordinary run of humans.
    Anton Philidor
    • You touched on it

      "I do not think it was your intent, but your implicit message is that open source advocates are required to be more holy than the ordinary run of humans."

      Actually, I think that may have been the intent. A lot of open-source supporters see themselves in a moral/ethical struggle. As such, they have a responsibility to act in a morally/ethically better way than those they are "fighting". If the fight against Microsoft truly is a fight against "Evil", then there is a responsibility. You can't beat the devil by being just as bad.

      Carl Rapson
      rapson
      • Ah-hem - yep you really did step in it good

        And added a point to Anton's post.

        There is a zealotry in some (most? dunno) open source advocates - they are engaged in a fight of good against evil in regards Microsoft.

        Stated baldly, this is a looser position. It certainly cheapens the concept of 'Evil' - my guess is that while Bill Gates/Steve Ballmer pick your choice of MS upper ecehlon might not be your ideal in terms of corporate governance - they are absolute angels with compared to truly evil people. Same goes for Microsoft.
        quietLee
        • Defining evil

          Before you can talk about who is evil or not, you need a working definition of evil. I'm not talking about a seat-of-the-pants "I know it when I see it" kind of definition, I'm talking about a model that you can make hypothesis' from (the scientist in me talking).

          I've addressed this in my "blog" before, but basically it comes down to this: Predator - scavenger - prey. Most living things are "prey" - there needs to be many of them to support a few predators. Since there are few EFFECTIVE predators of humans (hippos are number 1!), I look at personalities with the same breakdown of numbers. Most people are "good" (unlike what the bible says). The sheep and flock and shepherd analogy is very common in any human subpopulation. Since the prey don't like to be killed, they demonize the predators. The predators become "evil" (scavengers becomming "neutral"). Evil (predators) are shunned and excluded because of their unpredicatable (and harmful to prey) behavior.

          So a "type A" personality is a person that will usually be labeled as "evil". You don't have to be Geoffrey Dallmer to be evil. Anything that is done to the group that sows discord (harmful), is labeled as evil. THIS is what Open source advocates are trying to prevent - do no harm (for the group is "good"). I just don't see this same paradigm when it comes to Windoze advocates. Their approach is akin to "every man for himself" - which is harmful for the group (usually happens when a predator is attacking - the group scatters).

          http://thesolver.servebeer.com
          Roger Ramjet
          • As prey, then.

            A predator in nature attacks without empathy or a feeling of responsibility for the prey. Why should a wolf try to avoid pain for a sheep or try to protect the sheep from harm.

            There are people like that. They're called sociopaths or psychopaths, depending on the context. They are not misunderstood; with luck, they're identified promptly, before they do too much damage.

            They can also be identified in companies undergoing massive changes, such as significant downsizings. Their delight makes them unusually effective compared to people affected by fellow-feelings.

            Back on topic, an aggressive person can be impatient, even be willing to do damage for a good cause, like a surgeon. (I worry about surgeons getting too inured to their jobs. But I suppose that, as when I think about dentists, I'm being subjective.)

            Handling the aggressive individual is problematic, as the Roman Republic found out with Sulla and Caesar. Sulla proved not just aggressive, but murderous. Caesar did his best. Caesar did more damage to the Reublic than did Sulla.
            These are complex issues, and the discussion gains clarity when terms like predator and prey are excluded. They distract.

            As far as the role of each person, the Adam Smith model is a good metaphor. Many individuals each seeking his own best outcome produce progress for the group. That system works much better than a collective, where the group as a whole must choose a direction.

            But each person must assure himself that the direction his actions further or encourage are not reprehensible. Even most Windows users will agree with that.
            Anton Philidor
          • Deep but not broad

            The salesman that lies to close the deal is not a psycho - but he is being "evil". I was also not interested in the motivations of predators, just that the majority (prey) consider them evil.

            [As far as the role of each person, the Adam Smith model is a good metaphor. Many individuals each seeking his own best outcome produce progress for the group. That system works much better than a collective, where the group as a whole must choose a direction.]

            The herd may be too large for everyone to drink at the riverside. Are individuals that drink being "evil" to the others? Also, groups DO work as a whole and choose a direction - Terry Shiavo as an example.

            [But each person must assure himself that the direction his actions further or encourage are not reprehensible. Even most Windows users will agree with that.]

            That is in a perfect world. The predators will not follow this "rule", while the prey may be ignorant about their cause/effect.
            Roger Ramjet
          • Groups choosing direction.

            If ever there was a case about groups going in different directions, it's the Terry Schiavo case.

            Consider, the President and Congress and the Florida Governor and Legislature lined up on one side and the Courts on the other.
            People who give the highest priority to the right to choose what happens at the end of life conflicted with people who give the highest priority to life itself or to the preservation of the disabled.
            Closest of all, the woman's parents battled with her husband.

            If ever there was a case of society having to deal with conflicts arising from competing, conflicting values, the Schiavo case is it.

            The resolution of the case affirmed the primacy of courts in resolving conflicting values which are both embodied in law, and gave weight to the individual's choice over that of the group.

            A private problem became a societal problem, and the choice was made without any effort to create unity, to have the group as a whole choose a direction.


            I could also discuss other points, but let me confine myself to the observation that you can use the term predator to mean either an aggressive person or a monster, but not both without being very confusing.
            Anton Philidor
          • Predator

            A predator is not interested/influenced by a group. You can call it self-centered, but its more like self-sufficient. A tiger has to do everything for itself - eat, stay warm, find shelter - whereas prey can rely on each other - one individual finds food and all others benefit.

            The GW herd thought that Mike Shiavo was evil for trying to stop feeding his striken wife. The "liberals" thought GW was evil for . . . well, just about everything.
            Roger Ramjet
          • Perversion of language

            Words are supposed to mean something - and concepts are not supposed to be subjective.

            To equate your view of how some personality types may or may not be evil cheapens the language, and does nothing at all for debate. You are expecting others to learn what your goalposts are, and then still debate apples to oranges and still try to come up with a meaningful discourse.

            This of course is a total waste of everyones time.

            BTW - by following a strict interpretation of your definition of 'evil' one must lump in Martin Luthor, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr., all the original signers of the the Declaration of Independence - as they sure as all get out 'sowed discord'. I don't think that this is at all what you intended - but your bias is blinding you.
            quietLee
          • Semantics

            [Words are supposed to mean something - and concepts are not supposed to be subjective.]

            Are you talking about ENGLISH words? Where "sick" now means "cool"? Semantics shift around ALL of the time, you are out of touch if you think you can put a stake in the ground.

            [To equate your view of how some personality types may or may not be evil cheapens the language, and does nothing at all for debate. You are expecting others to learn what your goalposts are, and then still debate apples to oranges and still try to come up with a meaningful discourse]

            I suppose that insulting dismissives could be misconstrued as meaningful discourse - so your post would qualify! A scientist creates a model, and then designs tests for it. He releases it into the public arena, so that others can test it too. I suppose that refusing to consider it would be a "test", but not a scientific one.

            [This of course is a total waste of everyones time.]

            Hmm, equating your views and cheapening the language?

            [BTW - by following a strict interpretation of your definition of 'evil' one must lump in Martin Luthor, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr., all the original signers of the the Declaration of Independence - as they sure as all get out 'sowed discord'. I don't think that this is at all what you intended - but your bias is blinding you.]

            Do Catholics consider Martin Luther evil? How about Jews and Jesus Christ? What about rednecks and MLK Jr.? The British government and the Founding Fathers? YES these people have ALL been "considered" as evil. This IS what I intended - bias being .7 volts . . . ;)
            Roger Ramjet
          • Yep

            Got your meaning the first time. Please - if it makes you happy to belive that the world is flat, who am I to contest your personal view? It is how you perceive it to be, it follows your personal views of how the universe works, and it fits inside the framework of your observations.
            quietLee
          • Confusing

            "YES these people have ALL been "considered" as evil."

            But history has born out that these people WEREN'T evil. They were merely labelled so by those who either feared them or had something to gain. Are you saying that it is possible that history will prove that Microsoft is not 'evil' also?

            Carl Rapson
            rapson
          • Point-in-time

            My definition of evil is point-in-time. Historians can manipulate definitions over the course of time.
            Roger Ramjet
    • Obviously the writer doesn't frequent open source forums

      Visit any open source forum and start talking about using it in a Windows world and you'll be called all sorts of names. Heck just mention Windows and the zealots come a screaming.

      In a world of "do no evil" the majority of the zealots simply do not belong.
      No_Ax_to_Grind
      • Don't confuse speaking with acting

        It's one thing to spout off in a forum. It's quite another to actively interfere.

        Do people in the open source world interfere with efforts to use open source in a Windows world? They do not.

        Some don't like it. Some talk it down. But interfere? Nope.

        But it doesn't go the other way, does it? And that's considered OK. Antagonism to open source is OK, but you don't get the benefits of the community if you act in that way.
        DanaBlankenhorn
        • Perception is and always has been everything.

          Not to be mean but it seems to me many (most?) open source people simply do not grasp how important perception is. Facts rarely if every out weigh perception. Now you can say that people are stupid (use your own word) but that is simply human nature.

          Your statement that they don't "interfere" is meaningless isn't it? I mean if the goal is to "win them over" it will take a great deal more than "not interfering", it will take a LOT of positive input from the community as a whole. Unfortuantely this community seems to attract the socially inept and once there the community does nothing to counter act their influnece.

          Many have said it before me, open source needs a real marketing plan and effort and somehow I don't think telling people they are stupid (whatever word you like) because they use XYZ is a great way to market anything.

          If as you suggest the open source community has an obligation (your words) to "do no evil" then the most apparent place to start is changing the publics perception of the community. Personally I think insulting someone over their choice of products does more "evil" than you are willing to admit.

          Oh, as an FYI, I don't agree with Windows users being antagonistic when some one asks for help either...
          No_Ax_to_Grind
      • You will find that in any forum...

        no matter what the subject. The problem with anonimity is that some people see it as allowing them to be less civil. They would say things in text that they would never say to your face. Me, I am the opposite. I will say things to your face that I would not (or try very hard not to) say in a text forum.

        Speaking of which, aren't you supposed to be having a fight today :)
        Patrick Jones
        • Simply not true.

          Visit any of the MS Office news groups, you don't see people calling others names or telling them they are stupid. That seems to be the domain of the open source zealots. (NOTE: Zealots, not everyday users but they are so vocal it turns most people off and they never try it again.)
          No_Ax_to_Grind
          • I am going to have to throw the BS flag on that.

            I have seen it in Microsoft newsgroups. They get in flame wars too. And yes, I have even seen the much touted MVPs get into them.

            If you want to see the ones that are really bad about it, visit any of the warez groups :)
            Patrick Jones
          • Never seen it.

            Care to point out the news group this happens in? Oh and warez, sorry, that truly is the colection point for the internet sewer...
            No_Ax_to_Grind