The Ethical Case for Open Source

Tech friends of mine! In light of recent political events (both domestic and abroad), here’s a quick ethical pitch for why you should be advocates for open source (like Linux, Apache, and Firefox) and open data (like Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap).

  • It’s anti-autocratic. There are no single points of failure. Fewer centralized hubs where the state can force corporate cooperation. Harder for a UK-style forced backdoor when the code is open. Dissidents and the persecuted need the security and privacy guarantees that only open source can give.
  • It’s egalitarian. There are no barriers to use. Anyone can translate it. Developing countries can bootstrap their own tech industries off open source. There are countless stories about rural schools using old hardware and open source software on the cheap to provide for their students. An entrepreneur anywhere in the world can start a business without needing to ask permission from a tech giant or buy a single license.
  • It pushes forward Human progress. We will always be able to climb atop the shoulders of past open source giants. Open source and open data cannot quietly get shuttered when a company buys it. And it allows innovation from any quarter. You think Android could have been developed so quickly if they had to also write their own kernel? When we emerge from our current Dark Age, let’s hand the next generation a bunch of solved technology problems. I guarantee to you that the Enterprise will run on Linux.

Here’s the thing though, my tech friends. You need to also be using open source and open data.

Maybe you do not need the above advantages. You do not fear your government’s attention. You can afford the entrance fee for the walled garden and don’t need to worry about who the gatekeeper is.

But you know that there are those that do need the above guarantees. More vulnerable people than you.

There are network effects and normalization at play here. You can vote with your feet and choose which ecosystems and technologies you support with your time, attention, and money. You can make such choices political as well as practical.

And lastly, if you have the time, I obviously also recommend contributing to open source and open data sets.

The above benefits should not be limited to the technically inclined. Let’s keep fixing the warts in these systems and fleshing out these data sets to be more complete and more useful.

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