Which of these two apps is not like the other? Answer: Just open source them. Please.

It’s happening, right on schedule:

First the Stop-and-Frisk Watch app was released, to help citizens monitor the New York City Police Department as it implements its policy of stopping people in the street for melanin posession. But even though it’s a public-interest app, Stop-and-Frisk Watch wasn’t open source.

Now the ACLU has released the Police Tape app, which has very similar functionality, and is intended to be used motorists being pulled over by the police. (As a conservatively-dressed white guy driving a 1994 Honda Accord LX, this never happens to me — but again, many sources report that I could reliably attract more police attention by carrying a larger quantity of melanin when I travel, if I really wanted to.) The Police Tape is also not open source.

Two public-interest apps, very similar in purpose and functionality.

Could they share code? Could the developers profit by talking to each other in open source forums? Could some third party come along and notice commonalities between the two code bases, and even unify them into common code library that other public service organizations could use to build similar apps?

Hard to say, without the code being released under an open source license.

Public-interest app developers: please, please make your code open source! It’s easy. It’s important. I’ll help you do it. Seriously.

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