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.
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 :
The Consumerist – showing a 1981 Walmart advert for a twin cassette deck – comments that “Copying music wasn’t always so taboo”.
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.
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:
…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.
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.
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.
Ulises Mejias on ‘Confinement, Education and the Control Society’ – fascinating commentary on Deleuze’s societies of control and how the instant communication and ‘life-long learning’ potential (and, I guess, everyware) of the internet age may facilitate control and repression:
“This is the paradox of social media that has been bothering me lately: an ’empowering’ media that provides increased opportunities for communication, education and online participation, but which at the same time further isolates individuals and aggregates them into masses —more prone to control, and by extension more prone to discipline.”
Slashdot on ‘A working economy without DRM?’ – same debate as ever, but some very insightful comments
Slashdot on ‘Explaining DRM to a less-experienced PC user’ – I particularly like SmallFurryCreature’s ‘Sugar cube’ analogy
‘The Promise of a Post-Copyright World’ by Karl Fogel – extremely clear analysis of the history of copyright and, especially, the way it has been presented to the public over the centuries
(Via BoingBoing) The Entertrainer – a heart monitor-linked TV controller: your TV stays on with the volume at a usable level only while you keep exercising at the required rate. Similar concept to Gillian Swan’s Square-Eyes
Scott Adams recounts an anecdote illustrating the ‘illusion of control’ and how important it is to many people – even to the extent that it is the single defining characteristic of mankind which one might use to explain human behaviour to aliens:
“The maintenance man is moving the thermostat in our office today. I started talking with him about the “Thermostat Wars” [from Dilbert comics]. He told me about one office with 30 women where they could never get the temperature to an agreeable level. At his suggestion they installed 20 dummy thermostats around the office. Everyone was told that each thermostat controlled the zone around itself.
Problem solved. Now that everyone has “control” of their own thermostat there is no problem.”
To what extent is the illusion of control, rather than real control, what most people really want in their products?