Okay, let’s get a couple of things straight here from my perspective:
Firstly these HTML comments only show in a couple of my free stacks. I have resisted including comments in paid stacks - which tend to be more identifiable by their larger code base and other features.
If I have acquired stacks from other developers that have included HTML source comments, then this has been one of the first things to be updated and banished. Just take a look at the updated Tsooj Media / Henk addons if you want proof of this.
Earlier versions of Stacks included precious little information that told developers and support staff what was being used to build a page with. These source code comments were helpful, if not essential. This has improved somewhat in newer versions of Stacks, but I still consider these comments useful for others offering support for the freebies. The amount of support available for free stacks is very limited, so anything that makes the job quicker is a good thing.
I have never once been able to see a single trace of a search engine finding its way to my website through one of these source code comments. And probably only a tiny proportion of site visitors are ever going to look at your source code. So I rather think we can safely dismiss the secret advertising conspiracy straight away.
Stacks has only very recently added support to ‘look up’ the information / links for missing or lost stacks. Certainly when stacks like the aforementioned ViewportText stack were released, this simply was not available. The source code comments helped people immeasurably with restoring lost or broken project files.
For anybody who has made a sufficient donation for a free stack, I have never had any issue with providing a duplicated / renamed version absent of credits. Same policy as is used for the free themes. And plenty of people have taken advantage of this many, many times already. It works great and I would be hesitant to change it.
If a RapidWeaver user has made a significant contribution towards a free stack (perhaps for inclusion of specific features or compatibility with a certain framework) then we may consider watering-down the extent of source code comments; if the name of the stack becomes more apparent in other ways. I look at this as a form of crowd-funding and it benefits all.
Some third-party libraries and plugins that RapidWeaver addons make use of are using opensource code. Sometimes one of the usage agreements of this code is the display of credits in either the source code or a separate license file. This is a mandatory requirement. Therefore building a truly ‘white label’ website with RapidWeaver is going to be next-to impossible. If ‘white label’ is what you want, then RapidWeaver is not the tool to be using.
I do not consider the comments present in the source code of free stacks to be invasive. There are certainly more prominent ways a developer could potentially use your website as an advertising platform, if that was their main objective. I remember the days when some free themes included AdSense in the sidebar! I am getting emails all the time from companies wanting to place adverts on my websites or sponsored dummy content in the free stacks - I turn them all away. I don’t need the money that badly.
Any links present in the comments are not marked-up as hyperlinks. They cannot be clicked. They do not communicate with my websites or share any user data. Therefore there is no issue with GDPR compliance here or suchlike.
The Stacks API itself makes it possible for any developer to output names, version numbers, IDs and other identifiable information about your setup. So if the feeling is that this is being misused, it would be for @isaiah to update the API and restrict or take those features away.
Comments in source code is nothing new. This has been happening since the very first free stacks I made available, way-back when Stacks 1 was released. Nobody has taken issue with it before today.
I see loads of other developers doing the same - including in paid addons. A lot of themes display comments about who the creator is / was and the version number, copyright, website address etc.
If the consensus is that addons should be completely anonymous then of course I will consider complying. However that might mean a requirement for users to pay for what they wish to continue using - to compensate for the time to change code and to ensure we have a better record of what’s being used when a person contacts us seeking support or updates. Or we just ignore the support requests for free addons. But I don’t think either of the above would be popular with a majority of users.
Addon developers are creators. Just like an artist may have a desire to sign their latest artwork, I don’t see any serious harm in developers doing the same. Developers place a lot of pride in what they make for this community. And free addons are a significant attraction to new RapidWeaver users getting started, with limited experience and budget.