More Google Open Source Contribution Woes

Can’t escape Google’s clutches.

So once again on the little grain of sand that is my personal soapbox to gripe about contributing to Google open source projects. After my last post, I left with a satisfied grin having successfully sent a simple, quick, easy pull request to a fun little repo that works to expand upon the shortcomings of the core Dart libraries with neat functionality the Google maintainers deemed were not in line with their core vision for the Dart language or some such. But I digress, after having gone through the rigmarole of finding out just how to contribute to the project, all the bloated tools and hurdles one has to bound just to submit some code, turns out… not even the third party library on GitHub is safe from the grime of Google. (Should have known, given that the organization in which the quiver repo is listed under is Google… but come ON!)

Contributor License Sodomy Agreement

So I know you’re asking “Gee why are you griping once again about something so frivolous?”. I’ll tell you why, Contributor License Agreement.. OF COURSE. Now, don’t get me wrong here, the CLA is simply a little measure on Google’s behalf to protect themselves from litigation if code one contributes happens to be patented or otherwise legally owned/protected by some other means by an entity. So that you, working for a company don’t start pushing your company’s code into some project that essentially makes that code become Google’s intellectual property at the whim of their benevolence (if you can call it that, but I’ll get to that in a moment), and then in turn said company sues Google, you, everyone else and so on.

That’s perfectly understandable, and I am not harping on Google (and to this point, let’s pull in any other organization that uses such CLAs). You make sure that the code that you are submitting is written by you, or at the least you own or are in some other way responsible for that code and have the legal capacity to give that code away without infringement and can otherwise give evidence of such responsibility by way of submission of licenses and any other agreements therein. No problem there. You also get some assurances, that you aren’t entitled to support the code in any way shape or form outside of what you are willing to provide of your own volition, or are liable for any warranty or conditions yadda yadda yadda. Ok sweet, so by giving this code up, you aren’t responsible for it that’s handy for you too.

“…Negative in the Freedom Dimension.”

stallmanRichard “RMS” Stallman, the father of Free Software.

So now you’re asking “Well.. where’s the harm in that?”. It’s not so much the terms of the agreement, although things can be said for the literal handing of your code over and saying goodbye to any rights of ownership you had of that code as it resides in the code base of the Google project you committed it to. That is scary, specially with no guarantee that the code in and of itself can’t be then taken, re-licensed in a proprietary form and all the work that you did to benefit the project and more so the users of the project and community as a whole.

As an open source developer, you expect that the work you do goes to benefit the many, not so much just benefit the organization that happens to maintain the project itself if they decide to be malevolent and zip themselves up in some trashy commercial, proprietary license; Worse yet split the project into a commercial version and “community” version for which the community gets a watered down product to appease them (typically falling into disrepair or being sold to an even worse company and losing it altogether) and the project maintainers get their pockets lined by the sweat of your brow and ache of your carpels.

So yeah, that’s bad, definitely, but could be solved with an openness clause as a term of the agreement and in the license to keep the software from being re licensed in a closed fashion and losing access to the code. That’s not what I’m here to gripe about (well.. maybe I am, but I started this for a much different reason than that).

Answer the freaking question already!!

cla-info The real harm in the CLA? It’s that there is no way to avoid breaching one’s right to privacy and anonymity. The CLA must be filled out with your legal name, mailing address, a telephone number, and country of origin. What sort of lunacy is this? So you mean that no matter what, if I want to contribute to the project I have to divulge my personal information? Another example of just how blatant Google is when it comes to the slurping up of all of your personal details for their corporate ends. Their push to deanonymize the internet like most of the other large ad-driven technology and web companies that exist, so that they can shove their advertisements of which most are unlikely to give two shits about down everyone’s throat by way of their web browsers.

Oh come on!

I bet you’re screaming at the screen “Well, they have to have your information in which to have the agreement be considered a legally binding one.” Ok, yes, I admit that this is indeed true; why not then instead have simply a disclaimer in the license that any contributions to the code that may infringe on anyone else’s legal ownership is of no fault of Google, and given sufficient proof of infringement the offending code can be removed? Word the license in such a way as to protect their interests.

If not that, then why do so many other places (including Google’s other services) have Ts & Cs that don’t require you to give such information to agree to the terms and be bound by them legally? Why can’t we simply have similar verbage for the terms that state something to the likes of “By contributing your code to this project, you hereby agree to… blah blah blah, etc and so on…”. There’s hundreds if not thousands of open source projects out there happily chugging along without the requirement of contributors to deanonymize themselves in order to submit their contributions, or even to agree to much of any terms whatsoever. Why then, Google, if not for your sheer lust to slurp all of the information you possibly can about anyone and anything, do you require such?

Tinfoil hat need not apply.

spies-everywhere

In this day in age, protecting one’s privacy is akin to a “Use it or lose it” type situation. If we don’t remain diligent, then what becomes the norm is people willy nilly giving out their name and other details (I’m looking at you millennials). This leaves those that are privacy-concerned further and further at odds and risk; not only of being barred out of many services (i.e. services requiring the use of valid personal information in which to use the service and adhere to the Terms and Conditions of the service or face removal. For example: Google+ up until very recently to the time of this writing), but also given a bright big tag for the powers that be to pay closer attention to them needlessly. The privacy conscious become the outliers, the ones that look suspicious in the eyes of the “ominous they” (to quote Tirion Lannister). Yes that includes criminals, but we can’t make that distinction otherwise it becomes a slippery slope.

“They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

Shamelessly taken out of context for use to make a point about privacy.

Similar to what has been said about the use of encryption; if no one uses it, those that do use it, whether or not they are completely innocent and/or justified in using it, become targets. So if everyone uses it or a vast majority does, it instead becomes the norm. This leaves little opportunities for those who have legitimate and justified reason to use encryption the ability to do so without advertising themselves as someone to pay attention to when attention is not sought. (Think, oppressed citizens of not-so-wonderful nations exercising their rights to free speech.) This is because when everyone uses it, those that need to use it become lost in the noise of all of everyone else’s traffic.  All of such applies just the same to people wishing to remain anonymous while online. It’s a right, not a privilege, but it only remains that way if we fight to protect it.

</rant>

Stepping off the soapbox for now, I hope I left you with some thoughts to ponder. If you disagree with me, feel free to leave a comment to this post. I moderate comments, but I do not block anything other than outright spam/trolling/illegal activity. Disagreements to my points of view and/or reasons why I’m wrong will not be subject to blocking. I encourage discussion.

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