Ben Werdmüller

Some thoughts on Brendan Eich and Prop 8

Reading time: 4 minutes

I'm trying to decide where I stand on Brendan Eich and Mozilla.

A quick recap: Brendan Eich, inventor of JavaScript and co-founder of Mozilla, became CEO of the corporate arm recently. Unfortunately, he also donated $1000 to Proposition 8, the Mormon-sponsored movement against marriage equality. Mitchell Baker remains Chairperson of the non-profit. She is also the former CEO of the Corporation.

Obviously, as both an educated person and a functioning human being, I'm in favor of marriage equality. I'm happy to put it in those terms: I have never seen an intelligent argument against it. I therefore feel very unconflicted about saying that I'm appalled by Eich's donation to the Proposition 8 campaign.

Here's where I'm conflicted. Eich made the donation, not Mozilla. Mozilla has, at least until hiring Eich as its CEO, been very clear about promoting diversity in all kinds of ways. They're good people, fighting for our rights by creating respectful software. I know many people at Mozilla personally, and they're brilliant. People I'm glad are on our side.

I don't like the idea that my own political beliefs might affect my hiring potential. Freedom of thought is important as a principle. Furthermore, it's not like Brendan was hired off the street: he's been instrumental to Mozilla's progress over the last few decades. He created JavaScript, which helps power the web. I feel like his personal political beliefs, as repugnant as I find them, should not necessarily affect his ability to be professional and run a company.

Where that would be different is if his political beliefs informed his management decisions. That's a tough line to walk; I know my personal beliefs would encourage me to, for example, provide equal benefits for same-sex couples. There are pragmatic, data-driven reasons to take these measures, but it would also be drawn from my own values. Elsewhere, we've seen that the management of Hobby Lobby has made terrible, likely illegal decisions based on their personal beliefs. Mozilla actually has great diversity policies, and is ahead of legislation; there's, so far, no sign of Eich's own beliefs regarding marriage equality showing up in company policy. However, there is obviously a danger that this might occur.

I'm inclined to think that he should be allowed to be CEO of Mozilla and prove his commitment to diversity through his actions.

However. His donation is obviously a terrible signal, and it smacks of blind idealism to suggest that a CEO's personal beliefs don't reflect on the company he or she runs. The reality is that a CEO of a major corporation is scrutinized in all kinds of ways. Mozilla doubtless knew this, and doubtless decided to proceed anyway because of their blind idealism.

I've seen many people say that they'll stop using Mozilla software because of Eich's beliefs. For any corporation, these issues have to be the bottom line. He is actively harming Mozilla by not making a proper statement on these issues and making things right. (I suspect he has non-public reasons for not doing this, which I won't speculate on here.) People are actively choosing to use software that demonstrably spies on you over software created by a company whose CEO has distasteful personal views.

Unfortunately, for a while Firefox was slower and more bloated than other browsers. That's no longer true, but the stigma has remained, and it's been losing out to Chrome in particular for a while. I strongly believe that you should be using Firefox over Chrome, for both ideological and technical standards-based reasons. Firefox does not spy on you, and its complete code can be inspected. Given everything we know about the NSA, GCHQ and corporate surveillance, I think it's a travesty that these issues are playing second fiddle to an idiotic $1000 political donation.

For this reason, I'm also inclined to think that Brendan Eich needs to either step down or step up and make a real apology, both for the good of the organization he represents, and the rights of users on the web.

Like I said, I'm conflicted. Principles vs pragmatism. It's not clear-cut for me.

Update: It's also worth mentioning the Ascend Project, which aims to promote underrepresented populations in open source.