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He also poured fuel on a long-running debate over how government intelligence services should balance their desire to keep software flaws secret - in order to conduct espionage and cyber warfare - against sharing those flaws with technology companies to better secure the internet.

Source: http://in.reuters.com/article/us-britain-security-hospitals/more-disruptions-feared-from-cyber-attack-microsoft-slams-government-secrecy-idINKBN18820S

What does the "against" mean here?

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If we remove the injected section indicated by the em dashes (-), the sentence reads:

balance their desire to keep software flaws secret against sharing those flaws with technology companies

So the author is indicating the government services in question want to keep software flaws secret. But they do recognise that sharing them would mean the flaws get fixed and doing so would make the internet safer.

Obviously if they shared the flaws, then the flaws would no longer be secret. The debate is in which is more advantageous, having a secure internet or having known flaws that the services can exploit.

Thus this sentence uses "against" in relation to distinguishing the two sides of the mentioned "debate". You could even think of it in terms of an old style weighing scales, you may balance some amount of something, say flour, against a known weight, like a 500 gram weight. The word "against" indicates the action of comparison between the two.

  • So the author do not want to share these flaws with technology companies, am i right? – Xie Yun Oct 2 '17 at 8:52
  • People in general (not necessarily the author) know that the intelligence services gain advantage by keeping the flaws secret, they also know that there are also advantages to making them public. This is where the "debate" part comes in, some people believe the former advantage should be retained, but some believe the latter advantage outweighs it. – Toby Oct 2 '17 at 9:03
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    Oh. So it means the intelligence services have two options, and they either keep secret or open to public. – Xie Yun Oct 2 '17 at 9:14
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    @Xie Yun. In such a context as this the phrase 'as against' is often used instead of the bare 'against'. 'As against' means 'contrasted with'. So the debate is about the value of keeping software flaws secret as against / contrasted with sharing those flaws with technology companies. The debate is still ongoing. – Shoe Oct 2 '17 at 9:17
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    Somewhat simplified, the idiomatic usage is "to balance A against B", e.g. "For my trip next year, I need to balance [spending money on a good hotel] against [saving money so I can buy lots of souvenirs]". Doing A negatively impacts B (and vice versa), but you want to do both; therefore a balance must be struck. – Flater Oct 2 '17 at 10:11

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