All posts filed under “Treacherous computing

The Hacker’s Amendment

Screwdrivers

Congress shall pass no law limiting the rights of persons to manipulate, operate, or otherwise utilize as they see fit any of their possessions or effects, nor the sale or trade of tools to be used for such purposes.

From Artraze commenting on this Slashdot story about the levels of DRM in Windows 7.

I think it maybe needs some qualification about not using your things to cause harm to other people, but it’s an interesting idea. See also Mister Jalopy’s Maker’s Bill of Rights from Make magazine a couple of years ago.

Biting Apple

BBC News headline, 28 September 2007

Interesting to see the BBC’s summary of the current iPhone update story: “Apple issues an update which damages iPhones that have been hacked by users”. I’m not sure that’s quite how Apple’s PR people would have put it, but it’s interesting to see that whoever writes those little summaries for the BBC website found it easiest to sum up the story in this way. This is being portrayed as Apple deliberately, strategically damaging the phones, rather than an update unintentionally causing problems with unlocked or modified phones.

Regardless of what the specific issue is here, and whether unmodified iPhones have also lost functionality because of some problem with the update, can’t we just strip out all this nonsense? How many people who wanted an iPhone also wanted to be locked in to AT&T or whatever the local carrier will be in each market? Anyone? Who wants to be locked in to anything? What a waste of technical effort, sweat and customer goodwill: it’s utterly pathetic.

This is exactly what Fred Reichheld‘s ‘Bad profits’ idea calls out so neatly:

Whenever a customer feels misled, mistreated, ignored, or coerced, then profits from that customer are bad. Bad profits come from unfair or misleading pricing. Bad profits arise when companies save money by delivering a lousy customer experience. Bad profits are about extracting value from customers, not creating value.

If bad profits are earned at the expense of customers, good profits are earned with customers’ enthusiastic cooperation. A company earns good profits when it so delights its customers that they willingly come back for more–and not only that, they tell their friends and colleagues to do business with the company.

What is the question that can tell good profits from bad? Simplicity itself: How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?

If your iPhone’s just turned into the most stylish paperweight in the office, are you likely to recommend it to a colleague?

More to the point, if Apple had moved – in the first place – into offering telecom services to go with the hardware, with high levels of user experience and a transparent pricing system, how many iPhone users and Mac evangelists wouldn’t have at least considered changing?

Dishonourable discharge?

Nokia phone with battery visible

Long overdue, I’m currently reading Bruce Schneier‘s excellent Beyond Fear, and realising that in many ways, security thinking overlaps with architectures of control: the goal of so many systems is to control users’ behaviour or to deny the user the ability to perform certain actions. I’ll post a fuller comparison and analysis in due course, but one example Bruce mentions in passing seemed worth blogging separately:

Nokia spends about a hundred times more money per phone on battery security than on communications security. The security system senses when a consumer uses a third-party battery and switches the phone into maximum power-consumption mode; the point is to ensure that consumers buy only Nokia batteries.

Nokia is prepared to spend a considerable amount of money solving a security problem that it perceives – it loses revenue if customers buy batteries from someone else – even though that solution is detrimental to consumers.

As a battery authentication method, this is more subtle than the systems we’ve looked at before, which actually refuse to allow the device to operate if a non-original-manufacturer battery (or perhaps charger) is used.

Nokia’s system attempts to persuade the customer that the new (cheaper) battery he or she has bought is “no good” by making the phone discharge the battery more quickly – in an extremely underhanded way. From the point of view of the (uninformed) consumer, though, it makes Nokia look good. “Oh, that cheap battery I bought is rubbish, it doesn’t seem to hold its charge. Nokia make them so much better, guess I should stick to them in future.”

But if the Nokia batteries were genuinely ‘better’ than the cheap replacement ones, surely this kind of underhanded tactic wouldn’t be necessary?

P.S. I have no idea whether this Nokia ‘trick’ is real/common/still used, as Beyond Fear has no references, or whether other manufacturers do something similar (as opposed to outright battery authentication-and-denial). I’ll ask a friend at Nokia.

P.P.S. Jason Kottke also noted this tactic back in 2003.

Some links

Some links. Guess what vehicle this is.

First, an apology for anyone who’s had problems with the RSS/Atom feeds over the last month or so. I think they’re fixed now (certainly Bloglines has started picking them up again) but please let me know if you don’t read this. Oops, that won’t work… anyway:

  • ‘Gadgets as Tyrants’ by Xeni Jardin, looks at digital architectures of control in the context of the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas :

    Many of the tens of thousands of products displayed last week on the Vegas expo floor, as attractive and innovative as they are, are designed to restrict our use… Even children are bothered by the increasing restrictions. One electronics show attendee told me his 12-year-old recently asked him, “Why do I have to buy my favorite game five times?” Because the company that made the game wants to profit from each device the user plays it on: Wii, Xbox, PlayStation, Game Boy or phone.

    At this year’s show, the president of the Consumer Electronics Association, Gary Shapiro, spoke up for “digital freedom,” arguing that tech companies shouldn’t need Hollywood’s permission when they design a new product.

  • The Consumerist – showing a 1981 Walmart advert for a twin cassette deck – comments that “Copying music wasn’t always so taboo”.

    I’m not sure it is now, either.

  • George Preston very kindly reminds me of the excellent Trusted Computing FAQ by Ross Anderson, a fantastic exposition of the arguments. For more on Vista’s ‘trusted’ computing issues, Peter Guttmann has some very clear explanations of how shocking far we are from anything sensible. See also Richard Stallman’s ‘Right to Read’.
  • David Rickerson equally kindly sends me details of a modern Panopticon prison recently built in Colorado – quite impressive in a way:

    Image from Correctional News

    …Architects hit a snag when they realized too much visibility could create problems.

    “We’ve got lots of windows looking in, but the drawback is that inmates can look from one unit to another through the windows at the central core area of the ward,” Gulliksen says. “That’s a big deal. You don’t want inmates to see other inmates across the hall with gang affiliations and things like that.”

    To minimize unwanted visibility, the design team applied a reflective film to all the windows facing the wards. Deputies can see out, but inmates cannot see in. Much like the 18th-century Panopticon, the El Paso County jail design keeps inmates from seeing who is watching them.

    Image from Correctional News website

  • Should the iPhone be more open?

    As Jason Devitt says, stopping users installing non-Apple (or Apple-approved) software means that the cost of sending messages goes from (potentially) zero, to $5,000 per megabyte:

    Steve typed “Sounds great. See you there.” 28 characters, 28 bytes. Call it 30. What does it cost to transmit 30 bytes?

    * iChat on my Macbook: zero.
    * iChat running on an iPhone using WiFi: zero.
    * iChat running on an iPhone using Cingular’s GPRS/EDGE data network: 6 hundredths of a penny.
    * Steve’s ‘cool new text messaging app’ on an iPhone: 15c.

    A nickel and a dime.

    15c for 30 bytes = $0.15 X 1,000,000 / 30 = $5,000 per megabyte.

    “Yes, but it isn’t really $5,000,” you say. It is if you are Cingular, and you handle a few billion messages like this each quarter.

    … [I] assumed that I would be able to install iChat myself. Or better still Adium, which supports AIM, MSN, ICQ, and Jabber. But I will not be able to do that because … it will not be possible to install applications on the iPhone without the approval of Cingular and Apple… But as a consumer, I have a choice. And for now the ability to install any application that I want leaves phones powered by Windows Mobile, Symbian, Linux, RIM, and Palm OS with some major advantages over the iPhone.

    Aside from the price discrimination (and business model) issue (see also Control & Networks), one thing that strikes me about a phone with a flat touch screen is simply how much less haptic feedback the user gets.

    I know people who can text competently without looking at the screen, or indeed the phone at all. They rely on the feel of the buttons, the pattern of raised and lowered areas and the sensation as the button is pressed, to know whether or not the character has actually been entered, and which character it was (based on how many times the button is pressed). I would imagine they would be rather slow with the iPhone.

  • Digital control round-up

    Digital architectures of control

    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:

    The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history

  • In a similar vein, the ‘format wars’ over high-definition video appear to have descended into a farce:

    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:

    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.

  • “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).

    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:

    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.

  • 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.
  • Uninnovate – engineering products to do less

    Uninnovate.com
    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.