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Ethics in web development redux

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the ethics of the tools we use and the things we make.

Today, I need to revisit both of these topics.

A better open source license

In my article on the ethics of open source, I shared the Hippocratic License. This new MIT-derivative from Coraline Ada Ehmke adds an ethics clause that attempts to prevent people from using your code for terrible shit.

At the time, my concerns were around the legal enforceability of a license like this.

My two bigger concerns with it:

  1. Licenses like MIT have a history/pedigree that makes it easy for companies to use them. Many legal departments have MIT on a list of “pre-allowed” licenses. The Hippocratic License is new, and therefore unvetted. That adds a roadblock for developers are bigger companies.
  2. Is it enforceable? What “endangers or harms people” could be up for interpretation, at least in the legal sense. Can that clause actually be enforced? And do people or groups that do terrible, shitty, horrible things care about what the license allows, anyways?

Turns out, Coraline is actually having a lawyer review the license, and will be making updates based on their feedback. Yes!

I cannot wait to use this license on my projects.

When good tools go bad

In writing about the ethics of the tools we use, I touched a bit on Github, who is now owned by Microsoft.

But Microsoft has a contract with ICE that they refuse to break, and thus actively profit from and support separating immigrant parents and children…

Microsoft owns Github, too. Should I stop using them? That would be a hard move to sell.

Turns out, Github has a contract with ICE, too!

In an internal letter, Github CEO Nat Friedman wrote:

In April 2016, the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency began the process to purchase a license of GitHub Enterprise Server. Both the original purchase, as well as the recent renewal, were made through one of our reseller partners. The revenue from the purchase is less than $200,000 and not financially material for our company…

Like many Hubbers, I strongly disagree with many of the current administration’s immigration policies, including the practice of separating families at the border, the Muslim travel ban, and the efforts to dismantle the DACA program that protects people brought to the U.S. as children without documentation. The leadership team shares these views. These policies run counter to our values as a company, and to our ethics as people. We have spoken out as a company against these practices, and joined with other companies in protesting them…

We will donate $500,000 – in excess of the value of the purchase by ICE – to nonprofit organizations working to support immigrant communities targeted by the current administration.

It was a gray area for me when Github was simply owned by a company that works with ICE. It’s another when they directly sell software to them.

I also don’t really understand the logic here:

  1. This deal is not financially important to us.
  2. We disagree with what ICE does.
  3. We’re donating 2.5x what this contract is worth to immigration charities.

The right course of action here seems painfully obvious to me: cancel the license and refund the money. It’s both cheaper and more in line with the stated values of the company.

I’m going to give this a week or two to play out in the hopes that Nat and the rest of the leadership team come to the same conclusion.

Then I need to start exploring alternative homes for my hundreds of Git projects, code snippets, and so on.