Fwd: Re: On receiving an interview request from Uber

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.org.uk
Sun Dec 18 11:37:30 UTC 2016


[Message was originally a private response, now forwarded to the list with 

> Hi Paul, is it for me to respond?  Hmm I'll give it a shot ...

Sure, but did you not also mean to reply to the list? ;-)

> On Sat, Dec 17, 2016 at 2:26 PM, Paul Boddie <paul at boddie.org.uk> wrote:
> > On Saturday 17. December 2016 20.48.24 Charles Cossé wrote:
> > > I'm all about free software, and paying to develop free software is a
> > 
> > step
> > 
> > > in the right direction, but still ... the likelihood that the software
> > > would even benefit another elevator manufacturer seems unrealistic ...
> > 
> > This is where we come full circle in a discussion that has largely been
> > tangential to what the original message was about. First of all, the
> > freedoms
> > associated with Free Software go far beyond whether only the producers
> > get benefits from such transparency: to focus only on that would be a
> > classic "open source" argument.
> Yeah, my original comment was merely that "it's even worse than undermining
> taxi drivers, Uber is undermining their own Uber drivers".  I know, I am
> one sometimes.  And my main point that was not included was about the
> company giving-away their competitive advantage ... I'd like to see that
> addressed more than the less significant comment that you quoted.  But
> anyway ...

Well, I interpreted the self-driving Uber vehicle story as being a general 
remark about Uber being irresponsible. These vehicles still need drivers, but 
I suppose that it's only a cut in status that those drivers are having to 
accept at the moment. What led the discussion elsewhere was really the remark 
about elevators, and that's how we ended up with a discussion about elevator 


> Are you suggesting that developers at Uber are unethical by virtue of
> contributing to the demise of the taxi industry?  If so, I don't think you
> can go that far and still defend the position ... we all gotta eat.  Recall
> reply #2 re: elevator software put elevator attendants out of business ...
> by such argument that transition would have been unethical and any
> subsequent software, free or otherwise, shares the blame ...

"We all gotta eat" is certainly true, but that's how everybody ultimately gets 
manipulated. If someone can make things so difficult for people that their 
existence has no other purpose than figuring out how they will get their next 
meal, then everybody in such circumstances ends up fighting everyone else in 
the same position: people turn on each other rather than the entity that 
caused them hardship in the first place.

If you want to see this in action just look at things like Brexit: wealthy and 
privileged people cause social and economic difficulties; wealthy and 
privileged people proclaim that foreign people are the problem; unprivileged 
people of one kind blame unprivileged people of another kind for problems that 
neither group caused. The result of manipulating these people will just be 
more difficulties, as history has shown all too often. Maybe it shows that 
people have to stick together and resist the real cause of their problems?

The matter of automation is an interesting one. Just as automation caused 
problems in the Industrial Revolution in terms of putting people out of work, 
so it does now in China and other industrialising nations. And even in 
"developed" nations, jobs disappear because they can be done differently. None 
of that is unethical unless the process of making people redundant is done 
without any consideration of their future welfare.


> > And people working for Uber's competitors experience an erosion of
> > their own working conditions as Uber unfairly competes and forces those
> > competitors to reduce their own expenses.
> "unfairly"?  It may not be particularly palatable (me included) but change
> always sucks for somebody.  Am I wrong?

The question is whether these "disruptive" companies are competing fairly by 
looking after their workers and customers according to socially acceptable 
standards. With the likes of Uber and Airbnb, there's the question of whether 
the insurance "contractors" have actually covers their commercial activities, 
for example. This can make a real difference to whether the customers actually 
get taken care of in case of an accident or emergency situation.

The taxi and hotel businesses are regulated based on long experience with 
matters of safety and liability. The "gig economy" players are evading such 
regulations by pretending that some kind of "sharing" is going on, but in 
reality there's a corporation making money from people cutting corners on how 
such regulated businesses should be conducted. As someone said in a comment I 
read recently, there's a difference between Airbnb and Couchsurfing, which is 
perhaps why one doesn't hear that much about Couchsurfing any more.

I don't disagree that the taxi business needs competition. I live in a town 
where the taxi business is inefficient - lots of idle cars when you don't need 
one, none when you do - and where there was systemic tax evasion and welfare 
fraud conducted by both drivers and the taxi companies. Since the prosecution 
of financial crimes is so lax, I can almost bet that no-one went to prison, or 
at least not for any serious period of time.

But that doesn't mean that competition means less regulation, less 
professionalism, greater risks of corners being cut, taxes not being paid, 
insurance being insufficient, and so on. Maybe Uber has caused established 
companies to improve their services, but the best way to achieve this would be 
to cultivate a fair market where regulation upholds standards, and where it 
also prevents established companies from shutting new competitors out, which 
is most likely what has been happening in most places.


> > When you note that "paying to develop free software is a step in the
> > right direction", it indicates that people still expect Free Software
> > developers to work for less than others or even for nothing, all because
> > some people made a thing out of "open source" being more economically
> > "efficient", and thus introducing a rather similar phenomenon of leaning
> > on the workers to be cheaper at producing stuff so that businesses can be
> > more profitable.
> Well yes, you are preaching to the choir.  I think the developer should get
> as much as possible.  I don't like the perception of entitlement to free
> software at the expense of some developer.  My noting that being paid "is a
> step in the right direction" doesn't indicate that *I* think FOSS
> developers should work for less.  Not at all.

I'm sorry if you interpreted it that way because I was unclear in what I 
wrote. What I meant was that we shouldn't even need to say that it would be "a 
step in the right direction" because Free Software developers being paid 
properly should be the normal situation. That it isn't, generally, leads to 
the observation that amongst other people in the profession, an expectation 
exists that "open source has no cost", and that expectation was cultivated by 
the productivity argument for "open source" that I increasingly regard as 
foolish and maybe even malicious.

> > So it turns out that those of us wanting to write Free Software and get
> > paid for it actually have more in common with the average Uber driver than
> > one might first have thought. Carsten's objections are both valid ones
> > after all.
> Yup, exactly what I meant, and what I believe I was saying, at least as far
> as what you quoted me on.

So, I think we agree on this. Thank you for your reply and apologies for any 
misunderstandings I may have caused. May I suggest that further discussion be 
directed to the list, however?



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