The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'architectures of control'
The latest weapon in Britain's ongoing war on its "out-of-control" youth: anti-teenager lighting. It's much like the violet anti-junky lighting often seen in public toilets and doorways, only it's tinted bright pink to simultaneously mock hormonal adolescent males' sense of masculinity and make their acne show up particularly vividly:
Meanwhile, the original anti-junky lights have been found to not only not work (ask any junky with a felt-tipped pen), but to also have unintended consequences:
Public toilets in Church Street, in Rugby town centre, were closed in February after a shocked cleaner discovered two people having sex inside. In a report to officers, Rugby borough council head of engineering and works David Johnson said the toilets were still suffering anti-social behaviour.
“The subdued lighting encourages an atmosphere conducive to sexual activity, while it is off-putting to the public wishing to use the facilities.
“Another problem is that graffiti written in certain pens looks spectacular under UV lighting.”
(via Boing Boing)
With the iPhone, Apple have been expanding the boundaries of how much control a consumer electronics company can exercise over its products and their users. Much has been said about the iPhone's locked-down software distribution model, which has more in common with proprietary gaming consoles than with mobile phones (let alone Apple's wide-open OSX computers), and strict enforcement of carrier contracts. Now iPhone hacker Jonathan Zdziarski has discovered that Apple seem to have a central blacklist of banned iPhone applications. This is presumably to allow them to remotely kill any applications that made it through the approval process by mistake. (Apple could also use it to remotely kill applications that never were approved in the first place, installed on jailbroken iPhones—that is, assuming that the hacks for jailbreaking these phones don't start blocking the blacklist.)
The version of the iPhone sold in Japan has one difference from Western versions: the camera shutter sound cannot be switched off, apparently because Japanese gadget fans cannot be trusted not to use it for surreptitiously photographing up skirts.
If you liked the digital rights management systems built into the DVD standard, wait until you see what Blu-Ray has in store. Under the Blu-Ray standard, not only will discs be protected against you, the potential thief/economic terrorist, piratically shifting content to your iPod for illicit on-the-road viewing, but the studios be able to remotely kill any player whose model key has been compromised; which means that if anyone cracks the scheme, Big Copyright pushes the big red button and all players of that model go up in virtual smoke. Not only that, but the players will refuse to play any format which hasn't been cryptographically signed by the studios, thus giving Big Copyright a monopoly over any content they can play. Forget about making your own Blu-Ray content; since a Blu-Ray player cannot reliably distinguish between your indie machinima masterpiece and an illicit copy of Spiderman 3 taped with a camcorder in a cinema, all user-created content is verboten, and Blu-Ray will merely be a trough for feeding corporate content to passive consumers.
It looks like the new, less-draconian copyright laws in Australia won't be all that much to be happy about. Under the laws, whilst ripping non-copy-protected CDs will be legal (though only to other formats), you will only be allowed to watch a recorded TV programme once, and then obliged to delete it. Taping a TV show for a mate will be a crime. Which means that Australia will once again be a nation of criminals, unless, of course, all personal video recorders sold in Australia are configured to enforce the view-only-once restriction. And before you go off to start your BitTorrent client, keep in mind that, as a concession to Big Copyright in return for allowing you to rip your CDs, your taxes are paying for police officers to monitor internet connections, having access to the surveillance infrastructure mandated after 9/11 and using state-of-the-art automated tools to detect, trace and prosecute file sharing, and that the burden of proof has been shifted to make it harder to evade prosecution. If you break the law, the law will break you.
Bruce Schneier looks at the question of whom your computer's loyalties really belong to, with not only crackers and criminals competing for them but also rightsholders, software vendors and other companies, whose behind-the-scenes deals often mean that the software they sell you serves other masters:
Entertainment software: In October 2005, it emerged that Sony had distributed a rootkit with several music CDs -- the same kind of software that crackers use to own people's computers. This rootkit secretly installed itself when the music CD was played on a computer. Its purpose was to prevent people from doing things with the music that Sony didn't approve of: It was a DRM system. If the exact same piece of software had been installed secretly by a hacker, this would have been an illegal act. But Sony believed that it had legitimate reasons for wanting to own its customers' machines.
Antivirus: You might have expected your antivirus software to detect Sony's rootkit. After all, that's why you bought it. But initially, the security programs sold by Symantec and others did not detect it, because Sony had asked them not to. You might have thought that the software you bought was working for you, but you would have been wrong.
Internet services: Hotmail allows you to blacklist certain e-mail addresses, so that mail from them automatically goes into your spam trap. Have you ever tried blocking all that incessant marketing e-mail from Microsoft? You can't.
Application software: Internet Explorer users might have expected the program to incorporate easy-to-use cookie handling and pop-up blockers. After all, other browsers do, and users have found them useful in defending against Internet annoyances. But Microsoft isn't just selling software to you; it sells Internet advertising as well. It isn't in the company's best interest to offer users features that would adversely affect its business partners.Schneier warns that the present situation could have dire consequences:
If left to grow, these external control systems will fundamentally change your relationship with your computer. They will make your computer much less useful by letting corporations limit what you can do with it. They will make your computer much less reliable because you will no longer have control of what is running on your machine, what it does, and how the various software components interact. At the extreme, they will transform your computer into a glorified boob tube.
You can fight back against this trend by only using software that respects your boundaries. Boycott companies that don't honestly serve their customers, that don't disclose their alliances, that treat users like marketing assets. Use open-source software -- software created and owned by users, with no hidden agendas, no secret alliances and no back-room marketing deals.
The next thing after digital rights management (DRM) may be attention rights management (ARM), which ensures that advertisers get the eyeballs they have paid good money for. Already, the signs are there: Philips have filed for a patent on a broadcast flag to prevent viewers from skipping ads. And don't try channel-surfing either, as that's blocked as well:
Philips suggests adding flags to commercial breaks to stop a viewer from changing channels until the adverts are over. The flags could also be recognised by digital video recorders, which would then disable the fast forward control while the ads are playing.
The patent also suggests that the system could offer viewers the chance to pay a fee interactively to go back to skipping adverts.Of course, you can still get up and go to the kitchen to grab a snack. Perhaps the next generation will have set-top boxes capable of counting viewers with an infrared camera, and getting petulant (or charging an "ad-skipping fee" to the subscriber's account) if people leave during the ads?
Philips' patent acknowledges that this may be "greatly resented by viewers" who could initially think their equipment has gone wrong.They don't say...
A review of the ten most annoying alarm clocks, for those who find the basic model with a snooze button too lenient and easy to ignore. The selection includes fiendish devices that make loud noises and run away, forcing you to catch them and/or solve puzzles to shut them up:
The Kuku Alarm Clock greets you every morning by crowing and laying eggs. It won't stop chirping until you've returned its eggs.
The Blowfly alarm clock escapes from a cage in your room, moves and produces sound around you when the alarm goes off. To turn it off you have to catch it and put it back in its home.
(via bOING bOING)
It looks like the next version of Microsoft's Windows OS will require all device drivers and kernel-level code to be digitally signed. This is ostensibly to prevent kernel-level rootkits from installing themselves, though has the bonus feature of adding a ring of steel to the black iron prison the RIAA/MPAA want to build around everything handling their precious intellectual property. Oh, and it will also restrict device-driver development on Windows to those with the resources to pony up for the Verizon digital signature.
(via bOING bOING)
This month is the 15th anniversary of the creation of the first web page, and ultimately the World-Wide Web; an occurrence made more remarkable when you think that something like that could not arise today, because the brief window of the possibility of disruptive technologies has largely been closed by powerful vested interests aware of their consequences:
Imagine a network with the opposite design. Imagine that your terminal came hardwired from the manufacturer with a particular set of programs and functions. No experimenting with new technologies developed by third parties instant messaging, Google Earth, flash animations...Imagine also that the network was closed and flowed from a central source. More like pay-television than web. No one can decide on a whim to create a new site. The New York Times might secure a foothold on such a network. Your blog, or Wikipedia, or Jib Jab need not apply. Imagine that the software and protocols were proprietary. You could not design a new service to run on this system, because you do not know what the system is and, anyway, it might be illegal. Imagine something with all the excitement and creativity of a train timetable.
The web developed because we went in the opposite direction towards openness and lack of centralised control. Unless you believe that some invisible hand of technological inevitability is pushing us towards openness I am a sceptic we have a remarkable historical conjunction of technologies.
Why might we not create the web today? The web became hugely popular too quickly to control. The lawyers and policymakers and copyright holders were not there at the time of its conception. What would they have said, had they been? What would a web designed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation or the Disney Corporation have looked like? It would have looked more like pay-television, or Minitel, the French computer network. Beforehand, the logic of control always makes sense. Allow anyone to connect to the network? Anyone to decide what content to put up? That is a recipe for piracy and pornography.Then again, the WIPO-sanctioned, corporate-controlled walled-garden web would have probably met with an underwhelming reception and withered away like AOL or the original MSN, while, somewhere, an underground, decentralised network evolved by a series of accidents. Unless, of course, they banned and eradicated the original, anarchic Internet and replaced it with Internet 2.0™, a network designed from the ground up for control, and somehow managed not to send the communications-dependent world economy into a depression in doing so.
The Blu-Ray disc format, due to replace DVD, will take the War On Unauthorised Use to a draconian new level:
On top of that, consumers should expect punishment for tinkering with their Blu-ray players, as many have done with current DVD players, for instance to remove regional coding. The new, Internet-connected and secure players will report any "hack" and the device can be disabled remotely.
I have been thinking about the homebrew-console-games-vs.-manufacturer-DRM issue recently.
New consoles with new capabilities come out, often containing powerful CPUs and graphics chips, and hackers and hobbyists want to have a go at writing code for them and getting them to do things other than consume titles. The manufacturers, of course, design the units so as to prevent unauthorised code running on them, primarily to protect their business model. The video-game console business model typically involves selling the consoles cheaply (often at a loss) and collecting a cut of the price of each game sold. Of course, for this to work, console makers have to strictly control what code will run on their machines, and ensure that they get a cut of every item released for them.
It's a stiflingly regressive reality, though it appears to be stable and is unlikely to go away any time soon. The alternative model (open game machines, sold at above-cost price, with anyone able to develop code for them) has been tried and failed; witness the Tapwave Zodiac PalmOS-based game machine, for example. Customers are more likely to buy cheap consoles and more expensive games for them later, in instalments, than to buy a more expensive console with cheaper software. Of course, this makes game consoles somewhat stagnant platforms (compared to, say, PCs or handhelds), though the game market seems to be able to cope with this well enough for it to be the best current business model for that kind of business.
(This ignores mobile phone J2ME games, which anyone can write and run on any compliant mobile phone without the manufacturer's blessing. Mobile phones are heavily subsidised as well, though they are subsidised by phone companies who make the money back in network usage; besides which, J2ME is a fairly weak gaming platform (for one, the low-power CPUs used in mobile phones often mean sluggish response times for navigating the internal menus, let alone games). Perhaps this will change in future.)
Nonetheless, that does not change the fact that hardware such as the PSP and Nintendo DS is tantalisingly attractive to tinkerers. When it was discovered recently that certain early Japanese PSPs could be made to execute code off a Memory Stick, a hacker community cropped up, with games, demos, utilities and ports of old console emulators popping up like mushrooms after a rain; the more recent firmware has closed off this hole, and anyone running a recent game on an old PSP will find themselves upgraded against their will.
What if, instead of locking out the hacker culture, game companies worked with it, whilst still preserving their business model? Imagine, for example, a device sold by the console manufacturer which costs about the difference between the retail and cost price of a game machine and enables it to run homebrew code. It could be a disc, a hardware dongle, or even a special cable. Unlike homebrew hacks (such as the Nintendo DS passthrough cartridge), it requires no soldering and no fabrication of circuit boards, allowing those who don't have a fetish for that sort of thing to get involved. Perhaps it comes with development tools and documentation (the GNU toolchain would be a start), or even membership of a community web site, where users can share their code. From time to time, publishers could release compilations of the best such titles, perhaps in a magazine format, doing the necessary licensing to make the releases run on standard machines.
Sony once tried something like this with their PlayStation 1; they called it "Net Yaroze", and apparently it wasn't a stellar success. I wonder whether it could be done better.
Of course, if the console makers don't throw a bone to hobbyists, makers of third-party extensions (of various levels of legality) just might; and these would be less concerned with protecting the makers' profit margins.
Prediction: the next thing after Digital Rights Management will be Attention Rights Management.
Advertising is increasingly everywhere; the number of surfaces without advertising is diminishing. In the U.S., apparently petrol pumps have video screens which show ads now. They are even experimenting with advertisements printed on potato chips. And it is to be expected; any corporation that does not seek to extract the maximum value from its assets (including advertising opportunities) can expect to face lawsuits for negligence or mismanagement from shareholders. This means that, even things which are nominally paid for by a consumer (such as films, video games and, yes, potato chips) are being peppered with ads and product placement, because otherwise that would be an economic opportunity wasted, a big no-no under the dominant Reaganite/Thatcherite ideology of our time.
The next step will be for lawmakers to recognise that there is an implicit contractual obligation by consumers to view and pay attention to advertisements attached to any advertisement-supported service they receive, and to enshrine this in law and international treaties. After all, the business models of ad-supported content are dependent on the implicit agreement of the consumer to pay attention to the advertisements; if consumers were to systematically shirk this obligation, the industry would collapse. In other words, ad evasion is equivalent to intellectual property piracy (which is equivalent to currency counterfeiting, which is equivalent to economic terrorism, but I digress).
At first, this will be used to ban, DMCA-fashion, ad-blocking software and rogue ad-skipping video players. Then it will become more subtle; browser windows will go dark if the ad panes are covered by another window, for example. The technology of denying benefit to ad-dodgers will attract as much venture capital, startups, patents and snake-oil merchants as the quest for the perfect uncopyable CD has. Ultimately, computers and TVs (which, by then, will have converged, possibly on a centralised broadcast model) will have gaze-tracking cameras as standard, and Microsoft Windows 2012 or whatever will have a gaze-tracking API specificially designed to be useful for ad attention enforcement.
"Cyborg researcher" Steve Mann has produced a prototype user-pays chair. The chair is fitted with spikes which retract when a seating licence is purchased by swiping a credit card; a buzzer sounds when the licence is about to expire. A CCTV camera is used to prevent the smuggling in of licence-circumvention devices such as boards and cushions. (Apparently the seat was exhibited in San Francisco in 2001, but bOING bOING only mentioned it now.)
Not all that long after voting to adopt software patents, the EU are moving to legally require currency detection code in all image-processing software. This looks likely to either (a) be utterly ineffective, or (b) be mostly ineffective whilst effectively outlawing open-source graphics software. The precedent it sets is not a good one either; how long until paracopyright enforcement is mandated to be built into anything processing audio or video data, or indeed any copyrightable data?
Meanwhile, British Telecom have taken steps to block access to child pornography websites. A laudable sentiment, though one worries that the site-by-site censorship infrastructure required to implement this could easily be extended to blocking other things (overseas news sites publishing things violating the Official Secrets Act, for example, or MP3 download sites that piss off the local recording industry). One brave step towards the Singaporisation of the internet.
Meanwhile, the RIAA's latest campaign to defend the foundations of capitalism from the enemy within will involve putting fingerprint readers into music players to ensure that nobody who didn't pay for music gets to listen to it. Welcome to the Digital Millennium; make sure you've paid your way.
A few tidbits from civil-libertarian/paranoid-anarchist-nutter site vigilant.tv: in a classic exhibition of Gallic dirigisme, the French government is planning to install a centralised internet censorship proxy on all internet connections in France, to block racist and anti-Semitic websites. Meanwhile, the Australian government stopped publishing reports on its internet censorship scheme in late 2001 (I wonder whether they'll be claiming that they did this on grounds of national security). And finally, an ABC piece on how al-Qaeda use the internet.
The MP3 patentholders are rewriting the standard to include DRM copy-denial. Owning the patents, they are entitled to crack down on encoders using the old unencumbered MP3 format, or even borrow the RIAA's internet-user-suing infrastructure to go after indie bands who unlawfully put non-DRM-enhanced MP3s on their websites. Not that they'd necessarily do something like that; except, perhaps, if the RIAA paid them under the table to do so or something.
The penguinheads, of course, will go to Ogg Vorbis; apparently, there are now hardware devices which play Ogg files. (No word on whether this is done in a DSP chip, as MP3 decoding is, or whether the device's poor little CPU has to decode the OGG files itself, undoubtedly cutting battery life in half; I'd bet the latter.) Though there may be a window of time during which you cannot legally obtain a new device that plays your "old MP3" files (or even a secondhand one, especially if it relies on Flash ROM firmware which deteriorates within 10 years). All because the recording racket is desperate to preserve its precious scarcity from the depredations of the evil pirasites.
Hewlett-Packard declare war on copyright violation, commit to integrated policeware in all HP products. Perhaps they're hoping that this gets them the sort of legal protection from cheap, usable imports that Microsoft has; since MS have embraced "trusted computing", the Microsoft OS monopoly has gone from being a problem to being an essential part of global economic stability (in fact, it's only slightly far-fetched to believe that, if it crashes down and the world goes open-source, the powers that be will declare capitalism to be irrecoverably wounded and bring out the cobalt-tipped fireworks). Could HP be angling for legal restrictions on non-compliant computers to stem the flow of customers to cheaper no-brand Asian imports?
Meanwhile, new versions of Photoshop have filters that detect images of US currency and refuse to load them; this CPU-intensive operation is performed every time image information is imported from outside the application. However, honest, patriotic citizens won't mind their CPU cycles being used in this way, as we all must put in to fight terrorism; don't you agree, Citizen?
Apparently Paint Shop Pro does this too, or so I heard. Mind you, The GIMP doesn't, and even if it did, you could change the source code to bypass this check and compile it yourself. Though, if Adobe and the Paint Shop Pro people put this "feature" in because of government pressure, it's not unlikely that there will be attempts to criminalise the distribution of source code that could be compiled to make a non-compliant image processing application. (There are precedents, in the FCC Broadcast Flag amendment, which effectively outlaws entire classes of software-radio applications that could be used to access copyrighted HDTV content.)
Owen Williams proposes that hardware reviews should add a rating for "openness", or how unrestrictive and flexible the technology used is. At one end, you'd get things that use cryptography to keep the user on a short leash, and that you can do very little with, such as the DivX video player and major-label online music-rental services; at the other end, you get completely hackable devices, like commodity PC hardware. For example, MP3 players which act like USB/FireWire disks (like the iPod or MP3 keyrings) would get a higher Openness score than ones which require special software to "check in" files (like the Dell Jukebox). (I imagine that devices like the Archos Jukebox would get the highest rating, because they not only act as standard USB disks, but allow you to install your own firmware and hack the hardware to your heart's content; which is how things should be.) (via bOING bOING)
Nefarious Malaysian software pirates sell Microsoft's Longhorn, with adventurous consumers snapping it up. Longhorn, the next iteration of the Windows hegemony, will introduce Microsoft's Trusted Computing Platform Architecture, to make sure that you pay for each and every piece of intellectual property you consume, and will come with a new, k3wl-looking interface. I guess there's a good market for shiny, fancy-looking shackles. I wonder whether, if Microsoft started selling home-detention bracelets, like those put on low-risk prisoners, only fashioned out of titanium by a leading industrial-design firm and playing rights-managed Windows Media content from the major entertainment conglomerate of your choice, customers would flock to buy those as well.
According to the PTUA, the developers who own Melbourne Central shopping centre have seized on a novel way of spurring sales: closing off the entrance to Melbourne Central station, instead forcing commuters who wish to get to the station through a labyrinth of shops, where, hopefully, many of them will buy things along the way.
The recording racket's spokesweasels say that 2002 will be the last year in which most CDs aren't copy-protected. Mind you, that's only for major-label CDs; chances are, unless they somehow coerce pressing plants into stopping making Red Book CDs, the plain old CD will remain the dominant indie medium. (So either (a) the RIAA will see the light and stop pissing off consumers, or (b) the RIAA will move to wipe out alternatives (i.e., by clamping down on distribution of non-RIAA artists and buying lawmakers) and herd consumers into a marketplace where listening to music means renting homogeneous manufactured bands from major labels.) (via Techdirt)
In the not-too-distant futures, electronic devices may self-destruct if exported outside of their target market. Motorola have developed a device, based on a miniaturised GPS receiver, which determines where an appliance is being used and disables it if it has been illicitly exported. I'm sure the MPAA would love to put these devices in all DVD players, right next to the Macrovision chip, though one could imagine other greedy bastards putting them into everything from wristwatches to toasters and charging extra for portability, much in the way that Microsoft charge for per-head software licences. Funny how these people only favour free trade if it empowers multinational corporations and not the sheeplike consumers waiting to be fleeced.