We are one RFID away from a dishwasher that rejects third-party dishes on pain of a 5-year prison sentence

Two years ago, I wrote If dishwashers were iPhones, a column in the Guardian that took the form of an open letter from the CEO of a dishwasher company that had deployed DRM to make sure you only used dishes it sold you in "their" dishwashers.

At the time the US Copyright Office was holding hearings on Section 1201 of the DMCA, and learning that companies were routinely using the law against breaking DRM to force their customers to buy consumables, parts, service and apps from them, and exploiting the fact that the same law let them silence whistleblowers who discovered defects in their products.

There is literally no reason a "connected" dishwasher couldn't do this right now.

With the W3C's Director, web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, signaling that he will greenlight standardized DRM for web browsers even before the W3C's members have voted on the subject, this feels like a good time to remind us of one of the consequences of DRM: it's a way for companies to make their business strategies into laws, and to make crimes out of using your own property in ways that thwart those strategies.

In the US, the maximum penalty for breaking DRM is a 5-year prison sentence and a $500,000. For a first offense.

The Kitchen Store and Speckless Disher are the best dishwashing experience in the world
Before the Speckless Disher, there was no way to be sure that your dishes would come out of the dishwasher clean. Outside of the Speckless Community, people are accustomed to “pre-washing” their dishes before they put them into the dishwasher. This tremendously wasteful practice spills billions of gallons of precious water down the drain every year, and is a danger to our planet.

Speckless means safe
Food-borne illnesses are some of history’s greatest killers, and they’ve kept up with the times, mutating into virulent, antibiotic-resistant strains that are potentially fatal. We vet every foodable - bowl, plate, pan, pot, fork, knife and spoon - in the Kitchen Store to ensure that its geometry and surface properties are compatible with our best-of-breed jets, so that everything that touches your food is sterile. That’s a guarantee we’re able to make because we’re able to manage and control the whole dishwashing experience.

Anyone can make Speckless foodables
The Kitchen Store is the most successful platform for the discovery, rating and consumption of kitchenware that the world has ever seen. If you have a great idea for plate or spoon, all you need to do is sign up for our Foodable Developer Network, pay $100, sign our Developer License Agreement, and get creative! Anything is possible – so long as it fits within our guidelines, of course.

“Hackers” break dishwashers
With so many choices of foodables in the Kitchen Store, there’s no need to modify your Disher to fit non-store items from outside our ecosystem. We understand that some community members have sentimental attachment to Grandma’s wedding china or the baby dish that Mum saved for your own kid to use (some of you have even made your own dishes without signing up for our Developer Network), but when you “chip,” “mod” or “bend” your Disher’s prongs to fit these noncompliant items, you make impossible for the Disher’s internal sensors to accurately gauge the washing performance. The technical term for a “modded” Disher is broken.

No matter what you call it, stealing is stealing
Of course, not all “modding” comes from such an innocent place. There are plenty of counterfeiters who want to offer you a great deal on “foodables” that “look just like the real thing” – they’re able to offer such a great deal because they don’t have to pay the hardworking foodable developers who created those designs. That’s why Congress made it a felony to “circumvent” the Disher’s detection systems, and why we continue to oppose an exemption to this rule at the FTC’s triennial hearings. Commissioner Gonzales may well ask “Is it proportionate to put potters in prison for loading the dishes they bought into the dishwashers they own?” But any potter who wants to make foodables for a Speckless Disher can sign up for our Developer Program – there’s just no good reason to sneak around like a thief.

We have the right to protect our trade secrets – and your Disher’s integrity
Commissioner Gonggrijp asks why people wishing to join the Developer Network have to agree to a 21,000 word license-agreement, which includes confidentiality and nondisparagement clauses prohibiting them from discussing their affairs with us. The answer is simple: to protect us, and to help us protect you. Our agreement spells out the terms of doing business in our marketplace, including the painstaking care we insist upon from our partners.

It’s a matter of choice
No one was ever forced to buy an Absterge product. From the day that Peter Stints founded Absterge in his fabled garage in Los Gatos to the day he died, he worked tirelessly to create a different kind of dishwashing experience: to bring a thoughtfulness and intentionality to a product that everyone else took for granted. We know that your family teased you for spending a little extra on one of our products back in the old days, and we share your pleasure in escorting them around one of the many Absterge stores around the world, so that they can see the growing family of revolutionary kitchen appliances that we continue to make.

If dishwashers were iPhones [Cory Doctorow/The Guardian]

Notable Replies

  1. But there is no such dishwasher on the market. Why is that so? Why has nobody developed a dishwasher requiring rfid plates and put that on the market for half the price of a regular dishwasher (with plates 5 times more expensive than standard plates, of course)?

  2. Make no mistake, corporate America wants to eliminate the very idea of ownership for anybody but our corporate masters. It's the new feudalism.

  3. This headline! We've reached Peak Doctorow!

  4. The problem is that normal market mechanisms are subverted by DMCA 1201.

    Here's an example:

    HP sold printers that you could use third-party ink with. Then they pushed out a fake "security update" to tens of millions of users that actually installed code to reject third-party ink and refilled cartridges, but which took six months to kick in.

    The customers' remedies were to buy a different printer (next time) or send a letter of complaint to HP and hope they'd make it right.

    In the end, after more than 20,000 complaints, HP shipped a deliberately obscure patch that would undo some of this mischief, but they would not promise not to do it again -- only that the next time they did it, they'd be better about "communicating."

    DMCA 1201 means that you can buy a dishwasher that does 10 things (including allowing any dishes), but next week only does 9 things. No competitor would be allowed to product third-party firmware or add-ons to undo this, and you would have made your purchase.

  5. "This parody of one situation by analogy to a different hypothetical situation is broken because it doesn't describe a literally true situation"

    Sheesh.

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