After reading part II of Zittrain’s “The Future of the Internet and how to stop it”, I am very curious to know how others in our class have reacted to the whole idea of tethered appliances and the kinds of remote access and control over content and privacy technology companies have – and how we view the role of the law in regards to possibilities presented by the tethered appliance use on a mass scale. Because for me, I see that with the whole advent of “cloud computing”, and the rise of “internet services” and devices that rely entirely on services that have access to devices at all times (such as smart phones, for example), we are moving more and more towards a tethered reality, where non-tethered options seem to be receding into the distant horizon, because the consumer market demanding non-tethered options is shrinking rapidly.
And why is it shrinking rapidly? Largely, I think, because tethered technologies are packaged in such a desirable way and provide such desirable surface capabilities (like the ipad, for example) that consumers become hooked on products because of the desirability of the product and its surface capabilities, without being informed (either through their own research or by the company) of what deeper level tethering they are committing to – and what rights they are giving up. Added to this, in our own lifetimes, we can see a trend in technological development toward making technological devices “easy” for the masses to use, that it is not necessary anymore for an average user to understand how a device works at a deeper level (i.e. you don’t have to learn command line scripts in dos in order to get a computer to do anything anymore).
Zittrain outlines several ways in which tethered technologies can became mechanisms by which laws can be easily enforced through preemption, specific injunction, and surveillance. And he goes on to talk about how these kinds of enforcement can became executable “Without Rule of Law” – basically, without several individuals within the justice system dedicated to preserving citizen’s rights and freedoms getting involved and deciding if a certain kind of enforcement is lawful, and then giving explicit permission for a kind of enforcement to be carried out. Zittrain uses TiVo technology as an example of a company accessing its devices remotely and changing things inside the device once it is already within the hands of the consumer. As I was reading this, I was reminded of a issue that occurred in 2009 with the Amazon Kindle, where after getting in a copyright dispute with a publisher of George Orwell’s books, the Amazon went into user’s kindles and remotely deleted any electronic versions of Orwell’s books without asking permission of the consumers, only notifying them afterwards when they reimbursed users of the purchase price. So users woke up one morning, and their Orwell e-books had vanished. In an article on Boing Boing by Cory Doctorow about this whole issue, the Electronic Frontier Foundation was quoted, and very aptly described my own response to this whole scenario:
“if Amazon didn’t have the rights to sell the e-books in the first place, the infringement happened when the books were sold. Remote deletion doesn’t change that, and it’s not an infringement for the Kindle owner simply to read the book. Can you imagine a brick-and-mortar bookstore chasing you home, entering your house, and pulling a book from your shelf after you paid good money for it? (Nor, for that matter, does Amazon reserve any “remote deletion” right the Kindle “terms of service”.)”
And how ironic that it was a debate over books by Orwell as well – and that Orwell e-books were essentially erased by “Big Brother”. (Check out the Limerick commentary in the Boing Boing article – it is quite genius and awesome). Granted, Amazon did acknowledge later that this deletion was a bad idea (as this NY Times article points out), but they would not reverse the deletion once acknowledging it was a bad idea, and the fact that it happened in the first place is just outrageous!
Ideas of remote access and remote enforcement really scare me. As Doctorow later stated, “The most secure device spec for a device is one in which it is not designed to enforce policy against its owner, period. Devices might still be subverted into attacking their owners, but this will always be more likely to take place if the designers created a ‘feature’ that is supposed to do this.” Why are we allowing and supporting the creation of technology that has built in back doors? And as Zittrain pointed out later in the chapter through discussing the views of James Boyle, “if a society wants technological progress and the associated economic benefits, one must be prepared to accept some measure of social liberalization made possible with that technology.”
But it doesn’t seem like society is really demanding this social liberalization that should come with technological progress. Maybe I am being pessimistic, but it seems to me that we are moving into a era where governments and lawmakers are not making laws to protect against invasion of privacy and unlawful censorship through tethered appliances and the internet – instead, they are allowing overly restrictive, invasive, abusive measures of enforcement to be carried out over tethered networks in the name of certain laws (such as copyright law in the case of the kindle) that threaten much more fundamental ideas of freedom in society. Why are there no laws or acts being created that protect consumers against abusive invasion of privacy, surveillance, and remote control of content through tethered networks? It seems like all the laws being created and proposed lately are designed to create more control over users, instead of protecting their freedom.
So I am curious – am I the only one for whom Zittrain’s warnings against and discussions of tethered technologies resonate so strongly?