Using Open Source from Giants

Is it fair and correct to use Open Source projects from Palantir, Facebook, Google?

Today I read a thread on Twitter about using open source software from companies that we think do not have an ethically correct business model.

[…] Have you ever decided NOT to use an open source package for a library/framework/tool, etc. because you did not agree ethically with the practices of the parent company developing it? […] — Monica Lent

Let’s think of Palantir, author and maintainer of the most popular TypeScript linter package on npm and GitHub. Who’s Palantir? It’s a company that exists to earn money with collecting data from people and selling it to state authorities, military services, a software for employee surveillance, and partnered (partners?) with ICE, the U.S. entity that separates immigrants and forces them out of the country.

Now, is it fine to use a software package that is maintained by a company that partners with nearly all the evil we can imagine, a company that lives and exists only by exploiting people’s privacy?

Some say yes, mainly because they feel like by using the software they exploit the company. They gain something but return nothing back. This, however, isn’t entirely true.

Facebook has a good reputation under developers as they like React. Countless developers praise the goodness of these framework, they embrace people who work on it, they want others to use this as well. But people who are paid for working on React also have a main job: Helping Facebook to make money. If we all use Facebook’s technology, the company can do many things with it — but apart from that they mainly benefit from the reputation — and gain users for their main platform.

If using open source packages really means ‘profiting from other businesses’, as some of the replies in the Twitter thread say, we have a different problem. If this is our attitude to open source, Open Source shouldn’t exist. If it’s about exploiting other people, other companies, the model is broken.

We can’t always evade the bad companies — I myself am working on React projects as I’m a freelancer and I need to earn money somehow. But we should be aware of the implications of recommending a piece of open source software.

We can choose deliberately.

Written on as Note