Got a query from a journalist today working on a major story about a certain large corporation that’s been much in the news lately. Seems the corporation’s founder has been talking up his organization’s allegiance to “the hacker way”, and she not unreasonably wanted my opinion as to whether or not this was complete horse-puckey.
So as not to steal the lady’s thunder, I won’t reveal the identity of Corporation X. I will, however, repeat a version of my answer with its identity lightly obscured – because I think these are questions we should ask any corporation that talks like that.
I have never used Corporation X’s website myself. Therefore, rather than directly opining about what Corporation X espouses, I’ll suggest some criteria your readers can apply for themselves.
As a user of Corporation X’s site, do I have control of the data Corporation X keeps about me? Concretely: can I examine and modify that data using tools of my choosing which are built for my needs?
Does Corporation X act as though I own my on-line life, or as though it does? Concretely: Can I control what data it shares with other users, with advertisers, and with business partners?
Does Corporation X behave like a tool in my hand, or a firehose designed to spew at me in accordance with other peoples’ agendas? Concretely: can I write my own client to present a filtered view of the Corporation X data stream, or have other people do that for me?
No prize for guessing that “the hacker way” is to give control to the individual, to respect his or her privacy, to create tools for autonomy and liberty, and to encourage creative re-use of software.
And yes, one of the most basic questions is “Does Corporation X publish the source code of its user-facing software in a form that can easily be understood, modified, and reused?” Because if the answer to that question is “no”, it is very unlikely that users will or ever can have the control of their on-line lives that they deserve.
UPDATE: Now that the article has been published, I can confirm that “Corporation X” is indeed Facebook.