Strategic intentions

Reviewing the examples across different sectors, a noticeable tension emerges between architectures of control with primarily commercial benefit intentions, and primarily social benefit intentions. For example, it is hard to argue that there was any intended social benefit in DVD region coding [46], but there was an intended commercial benefit.

On the other hand, breathalyser interlocks for car ignitions would appear to have mainly social benefit intentions, but depending on which lobby is promoting them (e.g. the manufacturers of the product), there could well also be intended commercial benefits. However, since this possibility is inherent in any new technology that is introduced, it has not been explicitly recognised in the table that follows.

The classification according to strategic intentions is an important point, since the results are by no means guaranteed. This is partially due to the uncertainty over how easy it is for an ‘average’ consumer to avoid the restrictions which the architecture of control imposes, or how much work is required to do so—the ‘work factor’ as Bill Thompson puts it [47]. It was easy for people to buckle their seatbelts and then sit on top of them to avoid Lee Iacocca’s Interlock, just as it is easy to walk away from uncomfortable seating at a bus stop; however, it takes more technical understanding to defeat the DRM on some music CDs, for example.

So long as only a minority of customers circumvent the restrictions, the intentions may broadly succeed, but when the technical work-arounds suddenly become widely available and easy for non-technical users to exploit (e.g. with much peer-to-peer software), then the results can be very different. The following table attempts to classify the examples so far discussed, whilst the diagram also attempts to place the examples in the appropriate position in the commercial-social benefit space, along with further examples from subsequent sections such as the case studies.

‘Social benefit’ intentions are contentious in a number of cases, since even when ‘the public good’ is advanced as a reason for implementing the architecture of control (e.g. park benches with central armrests to prevent lying down on them), there is inherently a social disbenefit for certain people. As will become apparent later with the ‘optimum lifetime product’ case study, the idea of social benefit as an intention is more complex than it may initially appear.

Strategic intentions behind some architectures of control

No. Example Comm- ercial benefit? Social benefit? Notes on ‘work factor’
01 High window sills in classrooms No Yes Difficult for pupil to overcome (e.g. by standing up)
02 Urban planning examples No Contentious Various levels of difficulty
03 Traffic calming No Yes Difficult to avoid unless alternative routes are found
04 Skateboarding deterrents No Contentious Skateboarders will simply find somewhere else to use
05 Public seats designed to discourage sleeping/long occupation No Contentious Users will simply find somewhere else
06 Seats designed to discourage long occupation in cafés, etc. Yes No Customers can patronise another establishment
07 Insurance company monitoring technology in cars Yes Contentious Would require technologically astute tinkering to overcome; alternative insurance companies
08 Fair use copying prevention Yes No Depends on level of DRM, but with technical expertise, will be circumvented
09 User access systems Yes Contentious Depends on level of control; even biometrics can be fooled
10 Trusted computing Yes Contentious Currently unclear how difficult it will be to operate successfully outside the system
11 Flexplay self-erasing DVDs Yes No Numerous hacks to beat this
12 DVD Region coding Yes No Circumvention methods fairly widely known
13 Analogue hole prevention (multiple types) Yes No Alternative products available (for now)
14 Cameras which censor certain images Yes Contentious Alternative products available, even if that means using film
15 Child-proof lids and car door locks No Yes Not difficult for an intelligent child to defeat; the lids can also lock-out those with arthritis
16 Audi A2 bonnet Yes No Alternative products available
17 Replacement parts lock-in Yes No Depending on the product, there are ways around this with varying difficulty
18 Safety forcing functions No Yes Varying levels of difficulty to defeat, but little incentive to do so
19 Seat belt-ignition interlocks No Yes Easy ways around this
20 Breathalyser-ignition interlocks No Yes Some ways around this but require extra technical ability
21 Cattle-grids No Yes There was a sheep which learned to roll across a cattle-grid…
22 Cone-shaped disposable cups No Yes Only a (weak) psychological barrier operates here
23 Square-Eyes insole/TV control No Yes Ingenious children will find a way around it, though that may still lead to exercise
24 Your Turn washing machine No Yes Alternative products available

There is an interesting additional facet to the notion of commercial benefit. Whilst the obvious commercial benefit from many architectures of control comes from either preventing copies being made (thus—following an assumption of perfect substitution—increasing sales by one unit for every copy prevented) or forcing consumers to buy replacement parts (thus also increasing sales), there is also the possibility of a strategic commercial benefit through shifting the balance of power in the development of future technology. Andreas Bovens quotes (in relation to DRM in the Japanese mobile phone industry—see Consumers’ reactions to DRM), a Copyfight article by Ernest Miller which touches on this idea:

“…DRM provides the content industries benefits that are unrelated to or only loosely related to stopping content from getting onto filesharing networks…By insisting on [DRM] the content industries are in a much better position in negotiating how technology will be permitted to develop. If the content industry thinks that a particular new device is too disruptive, they can lock it out of using their DRM’d content legally, something that copyright law would otherwise not allow.” [48]

Bovens comments that:

“In other words, broadcasting companies (and other content providers) can use DRM as a tool for protecting their business model by outlawing devices that allow their content to be used in too innovative ways—without DRM, the broadcasters’ attempts to influence the technology companies would have far less effect.” [11]

This idea—in effect, innovation lock-out—is applicable beyond simply the commercial aims of content providers. Rival technology manufacturers employ similar methods to prevent their hardware being usable in interaction with rivals’ devices: for example, Sony’s decision to use its own proprietary memory stick format in many of its products rather than the more common SmartMedia or SD cards.

This, in turn, prevents any new developments using the technology outside of the company’s control. Where innovation does occur in this realm, using a company’s products but outside of its own development teams, reactions range from threats of legal action (e.g. the Sony Aibo robot dog hacks [49]) to the developments being gratefully taken on board by companies eager to incorporate customers’ innovations—a strategy developed much further in the work of MIT’s Eric von Hippel (see the democracy of innovation).


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3 thoughts on “Strategic intentions”

  1. Really interesting – I’ll be on the look out for more examples.

    Thought of SAM learning (GCSE revision programme) which allows teachers to monitor time spent by students on programme! Our school suggested restricting access to extra help lessons to those who spent “enough” time on SAM learning! Thereby defining useful revision as time spent with SAM learning programme open. (I am teacher and don’t think much of this)

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