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Good Code Gone Bad

Jul 23, 2017 at 11:10 PM

This is a cautionary note for free software fans. Small software projects, coding tools, and libraries are easy take-over targets and a change of ownership can completely change the motivations of the developers behind the project.

After being hired by Kite, @abe33 made an update to Minimap. The update was titled “Implement Kite promotion,” and it appeared to look at a user’s code and insert links to related pages on Kite’s website. Kite called this a useful feature. Programmers said it was not useful and was therefore just an ad for an unrelated service, something many programmers would consider a violation of the open-source spirit. – How a VC Funded Company is undermining the open-source community

Later Kite purchased/ hired the developer of a plugin for the Atom text editor called python-autocomplete and changed the default code engine to one based on Kite’s own cloud based engine which further angried the community:

Kite’s engine required code be processed on Kite’s cloud server, while the previous version did this work on the user’s machine. This is a crucial difference because sending data to the cloud is a privacy issue, especially given the wide-ranging access permission requested by the tool. Developers said they worried that various scenarios could lead to medical data, payment data, and other data that should be kept private being uploaded to Kite.

Furthermore, many private companies have policies against uploading data to third parties, which would make Kite unusable for developers at those companies.

This serves as a good reminder that putting trust in outside tools and developers is a two edged sword. Kite software sounds a little slimey, but this could just as easily have been outright malicious malware. For tools like this, or libraries we include in code the results could be devastating to our users and our business.