Google MyTracks: Crowd-Sourced Collective Brain Drain

MyTracks is a software app for Android devices that was initially developed by Google under a closed license. Here’s a brief introduction to the history of MyTracks from WikiPedia:

The application made its debut on February 12, 2009 under a closed license.[1] A year later on March 28, 2010, Google announced the release of the source code and open-sourcing of the application, stating “The collective intelligence of the development community will create a more powerful, more intuitive, more useful, and more robust My Tracks.”[4]

It’s nice of Google to acknowledge the value of the “collective intelligence of the development community.”

It’s certainly true that community driven collaborative, cooperative, collective, and open-source projects produce great results. MyTracks is a great example of this.

The first major re-haul of the application came on July 13, 2012 when Google released version 2.0 of the application. Version 2.0 introduced a new interface, support for playing back data in Google Earth for Android, improved charts, and additional statistics.[5]

Shortly after all of these beneficial enhancements and features were added to the MyTracks app, Google promptly announced that they would be discontinuing the app as an open source project, and bringing the programming code (developed by the public) back under a privately owned license.

This raises questions about the fairness of a private for-profit enterprise using “the collective intelligence of the development community” for their own personal gain without offering any compensation to those who invested their time in the project.

The kind of people who dedicate their time to developing open source software do so out of a belief in the open source principles, such as the collective public ownership of open-source projects and what they produce.

If the developers involved knew that their contribution would eventually be privately owned by a for profit corporation, would they have contributed so much time helping develop MyTracks?

Considering the substantial contributions of the open source community to the development of MyTracks, should Google be obligated (or feel morally compelled) to give something back?

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