Chinese vendor apologizes for claiming Microsoft open source code was its own product

Chinese consultancy Digital Guandong has apologized after publishing a product based on open source code from Microsoft without properly disclosing that fact.

The firm’s apology concerns a product called CEC-IDE, which appears in Microsoft’s Visual Studio Marketplace and on GitHub and is billed as offering the chance to “Differentiate your VSCode with Chinese characteristics.”

One way the tool differentiates is by allowing coders to look up a database of “sensitive words” listed in this file. Plenty of the words and terms listed are Not Safe For Work. Others, like “Hong Kong independence” and “Xi Jinping intimidated Taiwan” are Not Safe For China.

The launch of CEC-IDE saw Chinese media express excitement. This report is typical, hailing “The new self-developed super powerful CEC-IDE” that “breaks the foreign monopoly.”

CEC-IDE was therefore quite the triumph for Digital Guandong – a state-backed corporation founded to develop and deliver high-quality digital infrastructure for the public sector.

Plenty of netizens downloaded the tool and started to test it.

Which was when some noticed an anomaly: looking up the product’s properties produced the text “Copyright © Microsoft 2022. All rights reserved.”

That giveaway – plus many similarities with Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code – led to speculation that Digital Guandong’s work was not its own. That theory was very plausible given that Visual Studio Code is made available under the MIT license – described as “A short and simple permissive license with conditions only requiring preservation of copyright and license notices. Licensed works, modifications, and larger works may be distributed under different terms and without source code.”

Digital Guandong was therefore within its rights to release CEC-IDE – but made overblown claims about its origins.

The Chinese developer’s apology admits that CEC-IDE uses open source VSCode “with a small amount of modification and some functions added,” and explains the mess resulted from inadvertent omission of the MIT license document.

The apology also praises open source software and hails it as beloved of all programmers everywhere – including at Digital Guandong.

Where they clearly love it so much, they sometimes hide its presence. ®


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