Interoperability: Fix the internet, not the tech companies

Everyone in the tech world claims to love interoperability—the technical ability to plug one product or service into another product or service—but interoperability covers a lot of territory, and depending on what's meant by interoperability, it can do a lot, a little, or nothing at all to protect users, innovation and fairness.

Let's start with a taxonomy of interoperability: Read the rest

A fireplace that burns proprietary logs

Hearthcabinet's "Ventless Fireplaces" use "pre-filled alcohol gel cartridges" -- that is, proprietary logs. When Drew quizzed the company's reps about this on Facebook, they danced around the question, but yeah, it's proprietary logs all right. The company notes that the design is patented (the founder, a product liability attorney named Michael Weinberger, has many related patents) so presumably this is the firm's primary method to prevent third-party log makers or log refillers. From what I can tell, there aren't any digital countermeasures that would allow the manufacturers to invoke other anti-adversarial interoperability measures like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. And as clever as the design may be, it is yet another example of the rising tide of proprietary, single-use consumables, from Juicero juicers (RIP) to proprietary coffee pods. 8-packs of replacement logs sell for $80-$93with options for "unscented, vanilla, pine and cinnamon." (Image: Hearthcabinet) Read the rest

Judge rules that EFF's DRM lawsuit can proceed!

In 2016, EFF sued the US Government on behalf of Andrew "bunnie" Huang and Matthew Green, both of whom wanted to engage in normal technological activities (auditing digital security, editing videos, etc) that put at risk from Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Read the rest

Competition can fix Big Tech, but only if we don't make "bigness" a legal requirement

I'm all for making Big Tech small again and fixing the internet so that it's not just five giant websites filled with screenshots from the other four, not to mention doing something about market dominance, corporate bullying, rampant privacy invasions and so on. Read the rest

Adversarial interoperability: reviving an elegant weapon from a more civilized age to slay today's monopolies

Today, Apple is one of the largest, most profitable companies on Earth, but in the early 2000s, the company was fighting for its life. Microsoft's Windows operating system was ascendant, and Microsoft leveraged its dominance to ensure that every Windows user relied on its Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc). Apple users—a small minority of computer users—who wanted to exchange documents with the much larger world of Windows users were dependent on Microsoft's Office for the Macintosh operating system (which worked inconsistently with Windows Office documents, with unexpected behaviors like corrupting documents so they were no longer readable, or partially/incorrectly displaying parts of exchanged documents). Alternatively, Apple users could ask Windows users to export their Office documents to an "interoperable" file format like Rich Text Format (for text), or Comma-Separated Values (for spreadsheets). These, too, were inconsistent and error-prone, interpreted in different ways by different programs on both Mac and Windows systems. Read the rest

Europe's top trustbuster thinks it'll be impossible to break up Facebook

Margrethe Vestager (previously) is the EU Commissioner responsible for handing out billions in fines to Big Tech to punish them for monopolistic practices. Read the rest

Chinese enthusiasts are serving global Thinkpad fans by making modern motherboards that fit in classic chassis from the Golden Age of the Thinkpad

After Lenovo bought out IBM's Thinkpad business, they began to tinker with the classic and famously immutable laptop designs: in small ways at first, and then in much larger ones. I buy a new Thinkpad every year (I promised myself a new laptop every year as a dividend from the savings when I stopped smoking) and the first decade's worth were practically perfect: they ran various GNU/Linux flavors without a hitch, the hard-drives were swappable in two minutes by removing a single screw, and the keyboard could be replaced without any tools in less than a minute. Read the rest

My closing keynote from the second Decentralized Web Summit

Two years ago, I delivered the closing keynote at the Internet Archive's inaugural Decentralized Web event; last week, we had the second of these, and once again, I gave the closing keynote, entitled Big Tech's problem is Big, not Tech. Here's the abstract: Read the rest

Florida's prisons change tech providers, wipe out $11.2m worth of music purchased by prisoners

For seven years, Florida state inmates could buy a $100 MP3 player from Access Corrections, the prisons' exclusive provider, and stock it with MP3s that cost $1.70 -- nearly double the going rate in the free world. Read the rest

Kill sticky headers: a bookmarklet to get rid of the web's static blobs

Alisdair McDiarmid's Kill Sticky Headers bookmarklet banishes all fixed-position CSS elements, like navigation bars, cookie consent popups, email list subscription solicitations, and so on -- these are an annoyance at best and an accessibility problem at worst; if you have low vision like me and habitually scale up the type on the pages you browse, these elements grow to completely eclipse the type, making you choose between eyestrain and access. Drag this Kill Sticky to your toolbar and click it whenever you want to get rid of these annoyances. Read the rest

EFF has published a detailed guide to regulating Facebook without destroying the internet

If you're a dominant near-monopolist like Facebook, your first preference is to have no regulation at all -- but your close second choice is to have lots of regulation that you can afford, but that potential competitors can't, sparing you the tedious exercise of buying and killing any company that might grow up to compete with you some day. Read the rest

The coming Compuserve of Things

What happens when individual companies are allowed to own and control the way your "smart" stuff talks to you and other smart stuff? It's walled garden time, all over again. Read the rest