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Big Tech Is Coming For Your Code

Big Tech Is Coming For Your Code

Photo by Tim Scalzo on Unsplash

When Facebook was new, my friends often insisted I come onto it. I resisted. I was inherently reluctant to post my life events on any social network, just for the sake of it.

As Facebook became more mainstream, I observed a lot of valuable information, and communities began to solely exist there. This was the start of what would someday end as FOMO. I quickly signed up, put up the bare minimum profile, and sent Join requests to the groups I was passionate about, without posting anything on it.

Fast forward to today: Almost every 3rd human being on Facebook regrets what he/she posted there. How much their network knows about them, how much Facebook knows about them, and how much did they make from knowing it?

We are at a point of no return.

How We All Got Here?

Firstly, it was: Your life events, your conversations, your emotions. You shared it because you felt like you had to. It was your vulnerability that was being played around. Your content became a commodity among advertisers without your knowledge. Getting paid was beyond imagination.

Since the last 3 decades of Internet, it has been a race to grab user generated content.

Next , it was: Your creations, including articles, videos, podcasts. The difference here was: You could expect to get paid but by draconian platform rules. Example: Youtube paying past 1000 subscribers (recently changed, but not quite effective for small creators).

The ratio of content creators vs content creators that got rewarded was, as you guessed, >1000x. Google bought Youtube for $1.65B. Youtube makes that much in around less than a month today. Do your math.

Since the last 3 decades of the Internet, it has been a race to grab user-generated content. The last bastion to fall is Code.

It All Began With Open Source:

I do not want to blame the open-source movement here. It was the best thing that happened to the development community to distribute the power of old-school monoplistic tech megaliths.

Having realized this, though, tech megaliths slowly cozied up with the open-source. They put their own great creations on GitHub, letting communities have a say in how things could be improved. Linux and all its variants became pioneers. Initially, Google was the de-facto leader with Android repository.

Google and Facebook happened to release the two most popular cross-platform dev frameworks: Flutter and React Native. They had an ulterior motive, though. Since they both were advertising companies, it was vital for them to be a huge presence on all mobile hardware, at once. Creating a cross-platform framework and open-sourcing it helped them achieve three goals:

Quickly develop and publish apps on all platformsTest and improve their frameworks through gigantic feedback from open source communitiesActively engage and expand their own fanbase, for purposes such as branding and recruitment.

Microsoft came in late, but when it came, it reigned. Recent years saw Microsoft at the top of open source contributions. Amazon and Facebook also followed.

Apple made its biggest open-source move in the form of Swift — its most popular programming language so far.

Now-

Having known what the power of communities can do to other forms of user-generated contentHaving tasted the fruits of their own open-source endeavors,Having known how to entice developers

companies want to scoop their dev-customers into their own ecosystem. And that’s not the end.

Everyone Wants Your Code:

In WWDC 2021, Apple announced XCode Cloud. XCode Cloud allows your Apple platform-related code to be hosted on the Apple cloud. You can collaborate with your team, and also have continuous integration including build and deployment options.

This means that your Apple code does no longer have to be hosted on your private repo — be it in your private GitHub, BitBucket, GitLab, or any of your repository choice.

Apple is actually very late to the party.

AWS already has this solution in the form of CodeCommit, CodeBuild, CodePipeline, and Codedeploy. All your cloud code no longer needs to be on GitHub or your private source control.

Microsoft purchased GitHub and made it completely free even for private repos since 2018. At that time, they must have a definite plan on how to monetize big with open source.

Just before WWDC 2021, on June 6th, VSCode announced remote repositories extension. This will make cloning repos completely unnecessary! It will be blazing fast to edit code in VSCode and having it synced with remote in real-time.

Needless to mention, since its release on 6th June, it has 12000+ downloads as of this writing.

Where Does the Vulnerability Lie:

When Microsoft bought GitHub in 2018, there was some developer exodus from GitHub to BitBucket — fearing for the privacy/ownership of their repos due to notoriety attached with Microsoft.

As two age-old gems of wisdom state:

If something is free, it is too good to be true.If something is too good to be true, it probably is.

Clubbing them together: If something is free, you are the product.

Big tech’s investment decisions span across decades. When they offer something for free that would otherwise cost money or was impossible so far, they definitely have a plan to make you pay for it, on their own terms. Unholy lenders and unscrupulous credit card companies have been doing it for ages.

Your code is a product for you. But it is content for the companies who provide free servers to manage it.

Your code is user-generated content, same as your photos and posts are for Facebook and Instagram!

True, that you “own” it fully with legal protection from Terms & Conditions. But what it means to “own” your code? If someone copies your following function, it’s theft:

int sum(int a, int b) {
    return a + b
}

But if they simply copy what is between the brackets, with variable names altered, you don’t have a case! Again, this discussion only holds if you know it was stolen. Have eyeglasses that could see beyond the firewalls?

Again, you may say much more code is available online already, and you have benefitted from it, too. The last thing a big tech company would want is to copy code from indie developers and small companies, suit it to their own needs, only to invite lawsuits. It’s terribly inefficient.

All of that is true. But how about stealing code that is known to work for a million users and also makes money from most of them? It is not new in the tech world to copy features. Facebook did it to Snapchat. Apple and Android have Sherlocked many of their app publishers to make their own apps better.

Ideas are cheap. But what’s the guarantee they won’t steal your superbly attained execution?

All big tech companies have their AI divisions running on full throttle. AWS, Azure, and GCP have their in-cloud AI engine offerings that could be used on any codebase they own, at their own will.

Analyzing content that is stored in the textual format is perhaps the best use case for AI which can yield the highest ROI. More so, if the content has a predictable format. Chatbots, recipes, and horoscopes are the first successful use cases of AI-driven software products not without reason.

With enough streamlining around the ideal code practices, Code is the most suitable food for AI.

Microsoft, which owns GitHub, also happens to own OpenAI, the developer behind GPT which is known to be highly powerful in natural language processing & text processing. As of today, it is difficult for GPT to write a novel, but it would be damn easy to infer from a piece of GitHub repo what the repo really does!

With so much reuse and package-based development throughout the open-source community, code has a much higher degree of predictability than any other form of human writing.

Compared to others, Apple is the new entrant. It is not clear how it uses AI along with its iCloud offering. In recent years, it has been the staunchest supporter of privacy, along with its insistence on storing little information about users and processing as much as possible on the devices themselves. It will be interesting to see how much XCode Cloud could bring developer offerings into Apple’s ecosystem.

Conclusion:

Good artist copies, but a great artist steals-Steve Jobs

No code movement is on the horizon. Most no Code SAAS companies provide drag-drop templates to ease the creation of websites and apps en-mass, by leveraging the best practices existing so far.

Big tech is a level ahead. They already own most of the world’s codebase or are in the process of acquiring it. With the strongest weapon of AI at their disposal, they could stop at nothing to steal smartly, create on-demand codebases from hapless developers’ repositories, bypassing all legal and moral boundaries.

The best thing developers could do is to shield themselves with IPs. Again, these are muddy waters filled with lawyers and lobbies.

Or prevent themselves from being sold a small productivity feature in lieu of a handover of a lifetime.