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Google Engineer's Controversial Call to Ignore Criticism Rocks Developer Community

(Photo: Unsplash)

Recent remarks from a Google engineer Rick Byers have sparked widespread criticism over the openness of dialogue surrounding Google's controversial Web Environment Integrity (WEI) API proposal.

With a career spanning 12 years at Google and over 6 years at Microsoft prior to that, Byers is no stranger to complex technical discussions and heated debates. However, it's his latest comments that have touched a raw nerve in the developer community.

Byers' controversial remarks centered around his encouragement to the team developing the API to disregard feedback from forums that do not comply with Chromium's code of conduct.

"I have encouraged the team working on this [WEI API] to ignore feedback in any forum in which something like Chromium's code of conduct is not being maintained as anything else would be creating an unsafe working environment," Byers said in his comment on a discussion forum.

Although Byers' comment was in response to what he described as "disrespectful, abusive and overly-simplified criticism in other public forums," it has been met with strong criticism, with critics arguing that his stance contradicts the principles of open dialogue and effectively mutes essential, legitimate criticisms of the proposal.

Byers further added fuel to the fire by suggesting that "physical threats and other forms of abuse" directed towards the team might be orchestrated by criminals fearing the disruption of their illegal activities by the proposed feature.

"Attacks and doxing make me personally MORE likely to support stronger safety features in Chromium, as such acts increase my suspicion that there is significant intimidation from criminals who are afraid this feature will disrupt their illegal and/or unethical businesses, and I don't give in to criminals or bullies," Byers added.

This implication that opposing voices could be synonymous with criminal activity sparked a backlash.

Byers later sought to clarify his comments and issued an apology. He stated:

"It's been pointed out to me that my wording could be taken to suggest that I think folks who oppose WEI are criminals. That was absolutely not my intent and I apologize for not being more careful in my wording."

However, the damage was already done. A Twitter user @SheriefFYI wrote:

"Is this a delusionally childish adult or a childishly malicious adult? Does this person believe what they wrote sincerely and seriously?"

Another Twitter user @NeoterismoiTaki wrote:

"When you can avoid arguing the points because you 'felt offended' or the criticism did not abide by some arbitrary 'code of conduct' that you invented, why not just name-call those who disagree with you (i.e., bullies, criminals) and call it a day?"

Developer Billy Bob also expressed his disappointment over the perceived silencing of community voices, saying, "And, unfortunately, as a developer and well-meaning user, I’ve found that my avenues for giving feedback are closed. I want to share my voice and not be ignored completely."

Google's plan to prototype a "Web Environment Integrity" API for Chrome, which would conduct integrity checks on web environments, has stirred substantial controversy within the developer community. Critics, including former Google engineer Chris Palmer, argue that the proposed API could pose a threat to open web standards, with calls being made for its retraction.