Explained: What is GitHub, at the centre of online sexual harassment probe?

The open-source software repository service GitHub is in the news after it was used to create and share an offensively named app that sexually harassed Muslim women in India. The app used pictures of the women stolen from their social media handles and invited “users” to bid for them.

IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has announced that GitHub has blocked the user, and the Indian Computer Emergency Response System (Cert-In), the nodal agency for monitoring cyber security incidents, has been asked to form “a high-level committee” to investigate. Delhi and Mumbai Police have registered FIRs on complaints by some of the women who were targeted.

In June 2021, another app with a similar-sounding name, which too was hosted on GitHub, had been used to harass Muslim women in the same way. Police in Delhi and Noida had registered FIRs, but the probe has not progressed. Delhi Police have said GitHub is not cooperating.

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What is GitHub?

GitHub is the world’s largest open-source developer community platform where users upload their projects and code for others to view, edit, and tweak. The idea of GitHub is this: any developer can upload whatever software code or app code or software idea they have on the platform, and have others collaborate with them to help improve it, find errors, and fix problems.

Any public project can be viewed by others on the platform. Most of the features of the platform are free for users. Organisations can use paid accounts to upload their software and projects for collaboration.

The platform uses the software Git, which was created in 2005 by Linus Trovalds, the developer of the open-source operating system Linux, to track changes in a set of files and for coordination in software development.

What has it said on the complaints?

GitHub has taken down the app, but has not revealed who was responsible for it.

“GitHub has longstanding policies against content and conduct involving harassment, discrimination, and inciting violence. We suspended a user account following the investigation of reports of such activity, all of which violate our policies,” it said in a statement.

What is not…