Some developments in – and commentary on – digital architectures of control to end 2006:
Peter Gutmann’s ‘A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection’ (via Bruce Schneier) looks very lucidly at the effects that Vista’s DRM and measures to ‘protect’ content will have – on users themselves, and knock-on effects elsewhere. The more one reads, the more astonishing this whole affair is:
Possibly for the first time ever, computer design is being dictated not by electronic design rules, physical layout requirements, and thermal issues, but by the wishes of the content industry.
Vista appears to be just about the worst consumer product of all time. However, unlike other discretionary purchases, consumers will have less of a choice: Vista will come with any PC you buy from a major store, and all the hardware manufacturers will have to pass on the extra costs and complexity required to customers, whether or not they intend to use that hardware with Vista. When critical military and healthcare systems start to be run on Vista, we’ll all end up paying.
As Peter puts it:
In a similar vein, the ‘format wars’ over high-definition video appear to have descended into a farce:
The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history
Basically, what we have is a series of anti-consumer DRM infections masquerading as nothing in particular. They bring only net negatives to anyone dumb enough to pay money for them, and everything is better than these offerings. They sell in spite of the features they tout, not because of them.
And, of course, HD-DVD encryption has already been “(partially) cracked” as Uninnovate puts it, with that decryption effort being triggered directly as a result of consumer frustration with incompatibility:
“Consumers buy only 23 songs per iPod” – clearly, the vast majority of music on iPods and other portable music players has been acquired through CD-ripping or file-sharing, something which we all know, but which has been an elephant in the room for a long time when the industry is discussed (and remember that the Gowers’ Review has only just recommended that ripping CDs be legalised in the UK).
I just bought a HD-DVD drive to plug on my PC, and a HD movie, cool! But when I realized the 2 software players on Windows don’t allowed me to play the movie at all, because my video card is not HDCP compliant and because I have a HD monitor plugged with DVI interface, I started to get mad… This is not what we can call “fair use”! So I decide to decrypt that movie.
Of course, Bill Gates also recommends ripping CDs (see also some great commentary from LilBambi on this).
Andrew Kantor in USA Today has some pragmatic analysis of the situation:
Finally, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer tells us that in 2007 the consumer will be “back in control”. It doesn’t mean much out of context, nor in the context he used it in fact, but it looks like Doublespeak is alive and well.
People want their music without restrictions, and too many legal downloads, like those from iTunes, come with restrictions. You can’t copy them to another player, or you’re limited to how often you can do it, or you have to jump through the hoops of burning your iTunes tracks to CD and re-ripping them to a more useful format… as cellphones with built-in MP3 players gain popularity, users will find themselves up against an entirely new set of usage restrictions. Some subscription services will delete the music from your player when you cancel your subscription.
Buy a CD or use a program like eMule… and you have no restrictions. And that’s what people want.
They don’t want to have to match their music store with their music player any more than they want to have to match their brands of gasoline with their brands of car. They want, in short, to be able to use today’s music the same ways they used yesterday’s: Any way they want.
In fact, the industry’s been down this road before and hit a similar wall. In the first decades of the 20th century, the wax cylinders (and, later, 78rpm disks) on which music was recorded worked only with specific players. Industry attempts to monopolize the technology led only to poor sales.
“The secret to getting ahead in the 21st century is capitalizing on people doing what they want to do, rather than trying to get them to do what you want to do.”
(Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com, in a Wired article quoted at the Public Journalism network)
I think this applies very much to issues of control in products, systems and environments, in addition to the blogging context in which it was spoken, just so long as people are aware that there are alternatives available which do let them do what they want. eMusic exists, with a DRM-free format, but more people still use iTunes. Why?
As Cory Doctorow has so often put it, “No-one wakes up in the morning wanting to do less with his or her stuff.” It will be especially interesting to see how businesses built on the model Reynolds expresses fare in the years ahead. Is this really the secret to getting ahead? Will we really have companies and governments succeeeding by striving to help and empower people, or will the lure of increased control prove too attractive?
In a similar vein to a recent mention of a Verizon trick which attempts to force the user to use an expensive data service to check e-mail, rather than the free built-in WiFi, Uninnovate discusses the (Sprint) LG Fusic which not only disables on-phone features such as MP3 playback when no coverage is available, but also has no way for users to opt out of (or reverse) firmware updates, even when they cause the phone to become inoperable.
The Mosquito sound has been mixed (sort of) into a dance track:
“…the sound is being used in a dance track, Buzzin’, with secret melodies only young ears can hear.
Simon Morris from Compound Security said: “Following the success of the ringtone, a lot of people were asking us to do a bit more, so we got together with the producers Melodi and they came up with a full-length track.
“It has two harmonies – one that everyone can hear and one that only young people can hear.
“But it works well together or separate,” he added.”
There’s a clip linked from the BBC story, or here directly (WMV format). Can’t say the “secret melodies” are especially exciting (and yes, I can hear it!) but I suppose it’s a clever idea. There could be some interesting steganographic possibilities, and indeed it could be used for ‘cheating in tests’ as Jason Thomas puts it here.
This is the same Simon Morris who’s quoted in an earlier BBC story as saying that teenagers (in general) don’t have a right “to congregate for no specific purpose”, so it’s interesting to see him getting involved with young peoples’ music. Nevertheless, I can see the dilemma that Compound Security are in: they’ve created something designed to be unpleasant for teenagers, but are also capitalising on its potential appeal to teenagers. It’s clever, if rather inconsistent branding practice.
Here’s the direct link for that new BoingBoing podcast – www.archive.org/download/…/boingboingboing_1_64kb.mp3 .
BB were almost the last people I’d expect to wrap up their audio in a Flash interface! Still, ‘View Source’ is a lot easier than having to use a Flash decompiler to extract the link.
Maybe an OGG version will be available for the next in the series?
Update: OK, they’ve now added the mp3 link to the post! Good on them!
Image from uninnovate.com
I’ve just come across a very interesting new blog, uninnovate.com, which focuses on the phenomenon of “engineering expensive features into a product for which there is no market demand in order to make the product do less.” The first few posts tackle ‘Three legends of uninnovation‘ (the iPod’s copy restrictions, Sony’s mp3-less Walkman, and Verizon’s rent-seeking on Bluetooth features), Microsoft’s priorities (patching DRM flaws vs. security flaws that actually damage users), Amazon’s absurd new Unbox ‘service’ and ‘Trusted’ computing for mobile phones. The perspective is refreshingly clear: no customer woke up wanting these ‘features’, yet companies direct vast efforts towards developing them.
In a sense the ‘uninnovation’ concept is a similar idea to a large proportion of the architectures of control in products I’ve been examining on this site over the last year, especially DRM and DRM-related lock-ins, though with a slightly different emphasis: I’ve chosen to look at it all from a ‘control’ point of view (features are being designed in – or out – with the express intention of manipulating and restricting users’ behaviour, usually for commercial ends, but also political or social).
Uninnovate looks to be a great blog to watch – not sure who’s behind it, but the analysis is spot-on and the examples lucidly explained.