Is a $4 million venture capital-funded startup stealthily taking over popular coding tools and injecting ads and spyware into them? That’s what some programmers fear may be happening. It is one of the most troubling scandals to hit the open-source community — a robust network of programmers who work on shared tools for free — in recent memory.
Open source works because everyone benefits: individuals and corporations, both for-profit and not. Countless dollars have been made off things built on top of open-source software, while the existence of free high-quality tools makes it possible to build a product that exists solely for the benefit of the commons. But that balance only works when people stick to the community’s basic decorum of transparency, and that’s where a young San Francisco company called Kite seems to have gone wrong.
It started back in April, when a programmer noticed a strange change to an open-source tool called Minimap. Minimap is a popular add-on for Atom, another open-source tool that lets programmers edit code; it shows a zoomed-out overview, or “mini-map,” of the user’s code, to make it easier to jump around between