March 17, 2006

Ah, some back-and-forth.

Back on the issue of Apple Computer using TCPA/TPM in the Mac OS X/Intel kernel, LilBambi has posted on the issue, offering a roundup of both reactions to the announcement as well as some snippets of surveys of the various responses. LB's position appears to be that I (among others) am wrong in my reaction, as any acceptance of the use of DRM in products is in essence allowing a 'foot in the door' and should be fought from the beginning, as hard as possible in order to best protect our freedoms down the line.

Reading that article has forced me to re-examine my position. Note: re-examine means just that. It does not mean 'reach different conclusions' which is what many folks seem to mean when they use the term. However, I have thought about it more, from a viewpoint several months along. The basic question addressed: should I (I won't presume, here, to dictate to anyone else's conscience) take action to pressure Apple Computer to give up the use of DRM in Mac OS X, up to and including the use of a boycott of its products, in response to their use of the Trusted Computing hardware gained through use of Intel-based motherboards to 'tie' Mac OS X to their machines?

There are several questions I need to answer, here. First of all, do I believe that DRM is monolithically a bad thing? In other words, is the very existence of the technology inherently wrong? Let me be clear: no, I do not. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, I have difficulty passing value-laden judgements on a technology absent a use context. Second, I have (and may in future) work in environments involving the necessary protection of information for reasons other than 'intellectual property' or 'profit' concerns - and DRM technologies in many cases are functionally indistinguishable from technology used to secure information from casual or even determined access. I don't claim they are alwas successful, but they can be a valuable tool.

Do I believe that the use of DRM technologies to restrict the spread of 'content' information for profit maximization is wrong? This is more difficult. I believe it is technically (so far) infeasible - and that given the way information that is disseminated for profit must change hands, there is no amount of DRM tech that can 'protect' it by the nature of the transaction. Hence, its use for this is pointless and restrictive. I do not believe it should be illegal to try to do so - but I do believe the market should be allowed to punish those who do. I do believe it should most definitely not be illegal to attack the technical problem of breaking a DRM scheme. The DMCA is, in my opinion, a dangerous attempt to 'fix' a market - that is, to interfere with its function in favor of one group of participants - through blatant legislative capture, and should be abolished. While the actual act of illegally distributing content is a different matter entirely, the mere technical act of attacking or examining the protection systems is pure science, and should be treated as such.

Moving back to the matter at hand. In Apple's case, I consider the 'strong protest' response raised against Apple in this case to be counterproductive to the anti-DRM movement. This is why I raise objections to it, from a pragmatic point of view - not because, as LB suggests, I feel that Steve Jobs' use of whatever means to protect his baby is fine by me. In the first case, the real issue is not that the TPM is being addressed from inside OS X at all; the issue is that the TPM hardware is available inside the Macintosh in the first place. Complaining because Apple is utilizing the hardware to protect OS X from being copied (and not, I would point out, to encrypt even content purchased from iTunes, or user files, or anything like that) completely misses the point. If you are really worried about TPM invading the Macintosh, then protest the inclusion of the hardware. Otherwise, it just comes across as petulant whining, because it looks like you're trying to have your cake (faster cool Intel goodies) and eat it too (bitch about TPM/DRM issues that aren't really an issue yet but are only even possible because of those goodies making the Mac faster/more scalable etc).

The argument "we must protest it because once it is there it will be used" simply seems to make the above point for me. The problem, though, is that Apple really is just a convenient target. I'm not saying the protesters shouldn't complain about Apple all they want - that's their prerogative. But Apple didn't really chase Intel hardware because of TPM. They chased it for other, more pressing money-making reasons. Honestly, if their first priority was making sure their OS couldn't be run on cheap commodity hardware, they could have simply kept it on PowerPC - or moved to some other architecture, or anted up and invested money in the PPC roadmap, or shoved their marketing engine over to something entirely other than performance. Nope, they went Intel for performance and heat - and with Intel came a risk to their business model and something they could use to mitigate that risk - TPM.

So really, if you're concerned that "If TPM is there, it will get used for evil eventually" then the real culprit is Intel for designing the thing into the chipset and pushing to have it included in the reference platform, which is not Apple's fault. They just used it to try to minimize their corporate OS risk, without even trying to stuff it down your throat via iTunes - and don't believe the content providers wouldn't have loved for them to do that.

But no. We're not going to redouble our efforts to complain about the actual designers and pushers of the TPM hardware - we're going to complain about Apple. Because it's a big, fat, media-blitzed target, ripe for an iPod-and-OS X on Intel-fuelled backlash.

And because Cory-the-writer-with-flair said so.

That's why I think it's a silly issue. Because the 'protest everything at maximum intensity' approach leads to burnout response both in terms of allocating actual effectiveness, as well in terms of the response of those who you are trying to mobilize. Plus, if you stop buying computers which use TPM modules, what computers are you going to buy? It's not that the code to address it is the problem. It's that the chips are on the boards.

If you're that worried about the Mac, run Linux on it, for pete's sake. Apple isn't trying to prevent you from doing that. They don't even care if you run Windows on it. They just don't want you running their OS anywhere else. Not even their OS; their GUI and their PPC emulator. Which are not open source software, were not written 'by the community', and do not 'have to be free' - unless you're a software pirate.

Posted by jbz at March 17, 2006 3:25 AM | TrackBack

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