Podcast: A cycle of renewal, broken: How Big Tech and Big Media abuse copyright law to slay competition

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay "A Cycle of Renewal, Broken: How Big Tech and Big Media Abuse Copyright Law to Slay Competition", published today on EFF's Deeplinks; it's the latest in my ongoing series of case-studies of "adversarial interoperability," where new services unseated the dominant companies by finding ways to plug into existing products against those products' manufacturers. This week's installment recounts the history of cable TV, and explains how the legal system in place when cable was born was subsequently extinguished (with the help of the cable companies who benefitted from it!) meaning that no one can do to cable what cable once did to broadcasters. Read the rest

A cycle of renewal, broken: How Big Tech and Big Media abuse copyright law to slay competition

As long we've had electronic mass media, audiences and creators have benefited from periods of technological upheaval that force old gatekeepers to compete with brash newcomers with new ideas about what constitutes acceptable culture and art. Those newcomers eventually became gatekeepers themselves, who then faced their own crop of revolutionaries. But today, the cycle is broken: as media, telecoms, and tech have all grown concentrated, the markets have become winner-take-all clashes among titans who seek to dominate our culture, our discourse and our communications. Read the rest

My appearance on the MMT podcast: compelling narratives as a means of advancing complex political and economic ideas

I've been following the Modern Monetary Theory debate for about 18 months, and I'm largely a convert: governments spend money into existence and tax it out of existence, and government deficit spending is only inflationary if it's bidding against the private sector for goods or services, which means that the government could guarantee every unemployed person a job (say, working on the Green New Deal), and which also means that every unemployed person and every unfilled social services role is a political choice, not an economic necessity. Read the rest

Interoperability and Privacy: Squaring the Circle

Last summer, we published a comprehensive look at the ways that Facebook could and should open up its data so that users could control their experience on the service, and to make it easier for competing services to thrive. Read the rest

Podcast: Interoperability and Privacy: Squaring the Circle

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay "Interoperability and Privacy: Squaring the Circle, published today on EFF's Deeplinks; it's another in the series of "adversarial interoperability" explainers, this one focused on how privacy and adversarial interoperability relate to each other. Read the rest

Podcast: "IBM PC Compatible": how adversarial interoperability saved PCs from monopolization

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay "IBM PC Compatible": how adversarial interoperability saved PCs from monopolization, published today on EFF's Deeplinks; it's another installment in my series about "adversarial interoperability," and the role it has historically played in keeping tech open and competitive. This time, I relate the origin story of the "PC compatible" computer, with help from Tom Jennings (inventor of FidoNet!) who played a key role in the story. Read the rest

"IBM PC Compatible": how adversarial interoperability saved PCs from monopolization

Adversarial interoperability is what happens when someone makes a new product or service that works with a dominant product or service, against the wishes of the dominant business. Read the rest

Podcast: Adblocking: How About Nah?

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay Adblocking: How About Nah?, published last week on EFF's Deeplinks; it's the latest installment in my series about "adversarial interoperability," and the role it has historically played in keeping tech open and competitive, and how that role is changing now that yesterday's scrappy startups have become today's bloated incumbents, determined to prevent anyone from disrupting them they way they disrupted tech in their early days.

At the height of the pop-up wars, it seemed like there was no end in sight: the future of the Web would be one where humans adapted to pop-ups, then pop-ups found new, obnoxious ways to command humans' attention, which would wane, until pop-ups got even more obnoxious.

But that's not how it happened. Instead, browser vendors (beginning with Opera) started to ship on-by-default pop-up blockers. What's more, users—who hated pop-up ads—started to choose browsers that blocked pop-ups, marginalizing holdouts like Microsoft's Internet Explorer, until they, too, added pop-up blockers.

Chances are, those blockers are in your browser today. But here's a funny thing: if you turn them off, you won't see a million pop-up ads that have been lurking unseen for all these years.

Because once pop-up ads became invisible by default to an ever-larger swathe of Internet users, advertisers stopped demanding that publishers serve pop-up ads. The point of pop-ups was to get people's attention, but something that is never seen in the first place can't possibly do that.

MP3

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Adblocking: How about nah?

For more than a decade, consumer rights groups (including EFF) worked with technologists and companies to try to standardize Do Not Track, a flag that browsers could send to online companies signaling that their users did not want their browsing activity tracked. Despite long hours and backing from the FTC, foot-dragging from the browser vendors and outright hostility from the big online media companies mean that setting Do Not Track in your browser does virtually nothing to protect your privacy. Read the rest

Podcast: Adversarial Interoperability is Judo for Network Effects

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay SAMBA versus SMB: Adversarial Interoperability is Judo for Network Effects, published last week on EFF's Deeplinks; it's a furhter exploration of the idea of "adversarial interoperability" and the role it has played in fighting monopolies and preserving competition, and how we could use it to restore competition today. Read the rest

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

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