15 votes

GitHub and US Government developers

35 comments

  1. [2]
    Deimos
    (edited )
    Link
    This was an internal email marked Confidential that was leaked to at least Fight for the Future and (maybe) Vice yesterday. Despite saying "it is important that we share our views on immigration...

    This was an internal email marked Confidential that was leaked to at least Fight for the Future and (maybe) Vice yesterday.

    Despite saying "it is important that we share our views on immigration policy with the world and not just internally with employees", they're most likely only making this public because of the leaks and press inquiries.

    7 votes
    1. skybrian
      Link Parent
      Well, it is important now that people are talking about it. :) But we don't really know what they would have done if it hadn't leaked. Counterfactuals are hard.

      Well, it is important now that people are talking about it. :) But we don't really know what they would have done if it hadn't leaked. Counterfactuals are hard.

      3 votes
  2. Deimos
    Link
    GitHub employees sent a letter (PDF) to the company/CEO today that was signed by about 150 employees in an hour:...

    GitHub employees sent a letter (PDF) to the company/CEO today that was signed by about 150 employees in an hour: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/10/09/employees-ask-github-cancel-ice-contract-we-cannot-offset-human-lives-with-money/

    Sounds like it's been getting discussed internally for a while, so the email and blog post was probably intended to head that off somewhat.

    4 votes
  3. [32]
    ubergeek
    Link
    Why dont they just terminate the license? Its proprietary, and they can.

    Why dont they just terminate the license? Its proprietary, and they can.

    2 votes
    1. [18]
      skybrian
      Link Parent
      I found this part most convincing: I don't want to live in a world where businesses investigate their customers and terminate their licenses for political reasons. Do you?

      I found this part most convincing:

      A world where developers in one country or every country are required to tell us what type of software they are creating would, in our view, undermine the fundamental rights of software developers. Just as Microsoft for more than three decades has licensed Microsoft Word without demanding to know what customers use it to write, we believe it would be wrong for GitHub to demand that software developers tell us what they are using our tools to do.

      I don't want to live in a world where businesses investigate their customers and terminate their licenses for political reasons. Do you?

      4 votes
      1. [8]
        tindall
        Link Parent
        That's the world we all already live in. It's just that they tend to be a lot more willing to terminate their contracts with people who are working towards social change than with established...

        That's the world we all already live in. It's just that they tend to be a lot more willing to terminate their contracts with people who are working towards social change than with established governments. (Because governments don't like that. See, for instance, the recent issues with Blizzard.) I don't think it would be horrible if private companies would check that governments they contract with aren't trying to round people up in cages and not feed them before signing those contracts.

        1 vote
        1. [7]
          skybrian
          Link Parent
          You're missing the part about privacy. How do corporations investigate their customers to see if they're doing something wrong while also respecting their privacy? Or should corporations cancel...

          You're missing the part about privacy. How do corporations investigate their customers to see if they're doing something wrong while also respecting their privacy?

          Or should corporations cancel contracts only when it blows up on Twitter?

          2 votes
          1. [6]
            tindall
            Link Parent
            This is the typical trap of trying to set universal rules with a single example. First, consider that maybe we don't want to live in a world where the main movers and shakers in our society are...

            This is the typical trap of trying to set universal rules with a single example.

            First, consider that maybe we don't want to live in a world where the main movers and shakers in our society are legally required to be motivated only by money.

            Given, however, that we do live in a society dominated by corporate interests, I don't know where the line is between good and bad corporate influence. However, we as a society have agreed that it's within their rights to deny or cancel contracts, and ICEs behavior is so clearly evil that it shouldn't be that hard for them to see that now is a time to use that influence.

            1. [5]
              skybrian
              Link Parent
              Uh, the supposed legal requirement to only be motivated by money is a myth. Company lawyers are not going around telling employees that they better not do anything that doesn't make money, because...

              Uh, the supposed legal requirement to only be motivated by money is a myth. Company lawyers are not going around telling employees that they better not do anything that doesn't make money, because it puts the company at legal risk.

              It's better thought of as an ideology and culture. The people who work at a company are happier when the stock goes up because they make more money (from stock options and other incentives) so this tends to promote working together to make more money.

              But this doesn't stop anyone from looking beyond their paycheck, as you can see from all the internal politics going on at the big tech firms.

              1. [4]
                tindall
                Link Parent
                While there is no statute stating as much, at least in the U.S., there is rich case law regarding the issue, which generally supports the idea that publicly traded companies are exposed to...

                Uh, the supposed legal requirement to only be motivated by money is a myth. Company lawyers are not going around telling employees that they better not do anything that doesn't make money, because it puts the company at legal risk.

                While there is no statute stating as much, at least in the U.S., there is rich case law regarding the issue, which generally supports the idea that publicly traded companies are exposed to significant risk if they don't "maximize value" for their owners (shareholders).

                Obviously the shareholders could decide that they don't care about profit, but that seems pretty unlikely.

                1 vote
                1. [3]
                  skybrian
                  Link Parent
                  Interesting! More discussion here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17084371 I've only skimmed, but it seems the ruling depends on the specifics of the situation?

                  Interesting! More discussion here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17084371

                  I've only skimmed, but it seems the ruling depends on the specifics of the situation?

                  1. [2]
                    tindall
                    Link Parent
                    Indeed. As with all contract law. This is a major reason that "public benefit corporations" and narrow corporate charters are attractive - if an organization's stated purpose is to provide some...

                    Indeed. As with all contract law. This is a major reason that "public benefit corporations" and narrow corporate charters are attractive - if an organization's stated purpose is to provide some social good, the entity itself, and/or its executives, can be sued for not doing so.

                    1. skybrian
                      Link Parent
                      Although minority shareholders do have rights, it still seems pretty clear that for-profit businesses can pursue growth in a wide variety of ways, some more far-sighted than others, and they have...

                      Although minority shareholders do have rights, it still seems pretty clear that for-profit businesses can pursue growth in a wide variety of ways, some more far-sighted than others, and they have a pretty wide latitude for how they go about that. This includes deciding what kind of business they're in, what customers they want to have, and how to treat all the different stakeholders involved. This is complicated and it's not much like maximizing a function.

                      2 votes
      2. [9]
        ubergeek
        Link Parent
        I do want to live in a world where corporations dont allow their products to be used to violate human rigjts.

        I do want to live in a world where corporations dont allow their products to be used to violate human rigjts.

        1. [8]
          skybrian
          Link Parent
          What makes you think you'll always agree with Microsoft on politics? Are you happy with how Twitter and Facebook do moderation?

          What makes you think you'll always agree with Microsoft on politics? Are you happy with how Twitter and Facebook do moderation?

          3 votes
          1. [7]
            ubergeek
            Link Parent
            No, not at all. That's why I don't use them.

            No, not at all. That's why I don't use them.

            1. [6]
              skybrian
              Link Parent
              Ok, how about if companies that you do use start putting political considerations into their terms of service? It's bad enough today when users lose access to things for terms of service...

              Ok, how about if companies that you do use start putting political considerations into their terms of service?

              It's bad enough today when users lose access to things for terms of service violations, but at least it's somewhat rare. If they start cancelling people's accounts for political reasons then we will end up like China's social credit system where people lose access to all sorts of services for political incorrectness.

              The politicization of business transactions seems like an obvious risk to me. Why not to you?

              1. [5]
                ubergeek
                Link Parent
                I dont see it as a big deal for corporations to say,"Our products cant be used to put kids in cages" as being a big political risk.

                I dont see it as a big deal for corporations to say,"Our products cant be used to put kids in cages" as being a big political risk.

                1 vote
                1. [4]
                  skybrian
                  Link Parent
                  Do you really think political considerations will be limited to a single political issue?

                  Do you really think political considerations will be limited to a single political issue?

                  1. [3]
                    ubergeek
                    Link Parent
                    No, but we take each of those cases separately, and vote with our dollars if those corporations go against our personal moral code Again, I dont think setting the bar of "dont let your products be...

                    No, but we take each of those cases separately, and vote with our dollars if those corporations go against our personal moral code

                    Again, I dont think setting the bar of "dont let your products be used to help put kids in cages" is a very high, or controversial stance.

                    1. [2]
                      skybrian
                      Link Parent
                      If we take each case separately, we will have to talk about how companies should police their customers in each case. This will be a never-ending debate. As someone who occasionally attempts to...

                      If we take each case separately, we will have to talk about how companies should police their customers in each case. This will be a never-ending debate.

                      As someone who occasionally attempts to build mostly harmless stuff, I want to do as little as possible about policing my customers. This applies whether it's releasing open source code or something I sell. It's placing a big burden on people who make things, and it's a distraction from actually building stuff.

                      It's inevitable that social forums like Tildes or Twitter need moderation, and there are some things like guns and drugs that are regulated for good reason. Financial products need to be regulated for money laundering. Some things like encryption are borderline and controversial. But I don't want that to spread to every product, however harmless in itself. The idea that you need "know your customer" regulation for a source control system of all things is rather weird.

                      1. ubergeek
                        Link Parent
                        Well, if its libre software, you dont have a choice. Microsoft has terminated licenses for far less amoral reasons than it being used to put kids in cages...

                        Well, if its libre software, you dont have a choice. Microsoft has terminated licenses for far less amoral reasons than it being used to put kids in cages...

    2. [9]
      Bauke
      Link Parent

      Fourth, we believe that this principled approach will also be impactful as a matter of pragmatism. Attempting to cancel a purchase will not convince the current administration to alter immigration policy.

      2 votes
      1. [8]
        ubergeek
        Link Parent
        Denying them the ability to develop software used to violate human rights seems pretty impactful?

        Denying them the ability to develop software used to violate human rights seems pretty impactful?

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          mozz
          Link Parent
          I'm not defending their position, but here's my guess for why they went this route. GitHub & Microsoft are sitting on some massive US gov contracts. I have no doubt that they're being honest when...

          I'm not defending their position, but here's my guess for why they went this route. GitHub & Microsoft are sitting on some massive US gov contracts. I have no doubt that they're being honest when they say that the value of the ICE contract in particular doesn't matter to them. However, pissing off the feds would pose a risk to their business with the US gov as a whole. Donating 500k to charity and publishing some corporate doublespeak is a much safer bet in the long run.

          11 votes
          1. json
            Link Parent
            Business risk vs PR gain. PR can always be gained from other activities.

            Business risk vs PR gain.

            PR can always be gained from other activities.

            4 votes
        2. [4]
          skybrian
          Link Parent
          I can't see how it would have much impact. There are plenty of other ways to host a git repo and track issues, so it doesn't deny them any important capability. It's just a convenience for the...

          I can't see how it would have much impact. There are plenty of other ways to host a git repo and track issues, so it doesn't deny them any important capability. It's just a convenience for the developers.

          2 votes
          1. [3]
            ubergeek
            Link Parent
            An inconvenience for developers means a less productive workforce, wouldn't you agree?

            An inconvenience for developers means a less productive workforce, wouldn't you agree?

            1. [2]
              skybrian
              Link Parent
              It might have some effect but it's not the same as "denying them the ability to develop software" as you said.

              It might have some effect but it's not the same as "denying them the ability to develop software" as you said.

              2 votes
        3. Bauke
          Link Parent
          It seems they don't think that's the case.

          It seems they don't think that's the case.

    3. [4]
      Keegan
      Link Parent
      I don't think they want to hinder something that was being used to stop human trafficking. I think their position on this is completely fair, and at least this way the money goes to a charity...

      We do not know the specific projects that the on-premises GitHub Enterprise Server license is being used with, but recognize it could be used in projects that support policies we both agree and disagree with.

      I don't think they want to hinder something that was being used to stop human trafficking. I think their position on this is completely fair, and at least this way the money goes to a charity instead of an alternative company that may just keep it.

      2 votes
      1. [3]
        ubergeek
        Link Parent
        Except that donation really just cuts their tax bill. They get to get paid out of the tax coffers twice this way.

        Except that donation really just cuts their tax bill. They get to get paid out of the tax coffers twice this way.

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          Deimos
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          A lot of people seem to have a misunderstanding of how tax deductions work and think that donations are free or even somehow cause corporations to gain money. By donating $500,000, they reduce...

          A lot of people seem to have a misunderstanding of how tax deductions work and think that donations are free or even somehow cause corporations to gain money.

          By donating $500,000, they reduce their taxable income by $500,000. Assuming they're paying 30% tax (should be approximately right), that would reduce their tax bill by $150,000. They still come out with $350,000 less than they started with. How would that be "getting paid twice"?

          5 votes
          1. ubergeek
            Link Parent
            Their effective annual tax rate was just over 10%. This allows them to cut it even further.

            Their effective annual tax rate was just over 10%. This allows them to cut it even further.

            1 vote