Welcome to the out-of-control decade
We have seen the future, and it doesn't belong to you
Comment Back in the turbulent 1960s, the anti-establishment rabble was often derided as being "out of control." Fast-forward 50 years to the 2010s, when that same phrase will soon be back in vogue.
But with a very different meaning.
The coming decade is shaping up to be one in which we, as consumers and citizens, will see our control over choice and privacy eroded by business and government. Some of the effects will be mere annoyances, but others will transform society. And not for the better.
This unwelcome transformation is already underway in the personal-technology sector, led by two of the most secretive companies in our industry: Apple and Google. Waiting in the wings are corporate entities eager to exploit your personal information, and government agencies watching your every step.
Welcome to the out-of-control decade.
Embrace your widgethood
At the beginning of this decade, Apple's Steve Jobs was fond of saying that Apple stood out from its competition because its product philosophy was to control "the whole widget." In the coming decade, users will increasingly become just another component of that all-encompassing widget.
Apple's übersuccessful App Store, for example, has turned on its head the notion that if you own a computing device, it's under your control and it's yours to do with what you will.
And make no mistake about it, the iPhone and iPod Touch are computing devices, not merely phones and media players. They're both early examples of a trend that is sure to explode in the next decade: computing-in-your pocket. Both perform tasks such as web browsing, email, and productivity chores that were formerly consigned to your desktop or laptop.
What the iPhone and iPod touch don't have in common with earlier computers is the fact that you don't control what software you can use with them. Apple does.
To be sure, you can now choose from among 100,000 apps to load upon Apple's handhelds. But who selects the apps from which you can choose? Apple does.
And Apple's control over its App Store is deservedly notorious. Examples are legion.
Background processing? Apple makes it possible for its own apps - iTunes, for example - to run in the background when other apps are being used. That's not the case for third-party apps such as Pandora's personalized music service or the Shoutcast internet-radio enabler.
App-installed executables? Sorry, no can do - Apple's EULA for the iPhone SDK specifically prohibts an app from calling or installing externally sourced executables. Tough luck for Flash and Java.
Competitive apps? Outside of Apple, no one knows how many apps have been rejected because the App Store police considered them competitive to Cupertino's own offerings. One case that did come to public attention was the dust-up when Google said Apple rejected its Google Voice and Google Latitude apps, Apple said it was merely continuing to "study" them, and AT&T said "Don't look at me, bro!"
Adult-themed content? Despite every user's ability to access an unending torrent of sweaty salaciousness through Apple's own Safari app, the App Store itself remains a bastion of purity, unsullied by even the suggestion of nipple or bum - despite the fact that in most cases such content is perfectly legal.
Allegedly defamatory content? Apple unilaterally decides what's defamatory and what's not. Witness, for example, how the App Store police rejected an app featuring safe-as-milk caricatures of various political figures - then reinstated it only after a media ruckus.
We could go on, but our point is clear: By signing up for an iPhone or iPod touch - or, we're willing to bet, the impending iPad - you're relinquishing control over your mobile computer and allowing Apple to decide what's best for you.
There are indeed ways to at least partially regain that control, but loading an app that hasn't received Apple's blessing requires you to jump through jailbreaking hoops - not a task for Mr. and Ms. Average Consumer.
And should you have the temerity to want to revert either your device's operating system or an app, Apple throws up roadblocks.
Why? Because, as an Apple spokesperson told The Reg, "Apple always recommends that iPhone customers keep current with software updates for the best user experience."
You don't have control over that user experience. Apple does.
In a recent Businessweek interview in which he attempted to tamp down rumblings of dissatisfaction over App Store control, Apple's marketer par excellence Phil Schiller embodied Cupertino's paternalistic approach to application delivery. "You and your family and friends can download applications from the store," he said, "and for the most part they do what you'd expect, and they get onto your phone, and you get billed appropriately, and it all just works."
In other words: "Don't worry. Be happy. Apple's in control." Even if you don't want it to be.
Of course, you can avoid Apple's grip by simply not patronizing them. No one is forcing you to own an iPhone or buy your music from the iTunes Store. However, in the 2010s, the merciless success of Apple's model may inspire others to emulate its style of control. Not only because it works and works well, but also because control over a device's apps makes it easier to control competition, customer support, and pricing strategies.
And as the out-of-control decade dawns, technology providers are moving such control out of your pocket and onto your desktop or laptop. There's a growing trend for telcos to offer subsidized netbooks - and as the decade progresses and true wireless broadband such as LTE and WiMAX becomes pervasive and localized WiFi hotspots fade, it will become increasingly rare for telcos to offer such services without subsidized platforms.
In this model, a telco can choose to lock down - either technically or through restrictive user licenses - what apps may reside on a subsidized computing device.
As the decade progresses, however, your choice of apps may become moot as the concept of standalone, device-installed apps fades into computing history. You may have heard of the prime mover behind this next control-quashing development: the cloud.
Apple certainly has. It isn't building that $1bn data center in North Carolina simply to support its accounts-receivable department. Cupertino will soon be moving into cloud computing in a big way.
But for the foreseeable future, Apple will remain behind another Silicon Valley megacorp that has a huge head start in gaining control over what you see on the internet and what information can be gleaned from you.
Next page: Goo•gle: v. tr. [goō-gəl] to control
Terrorism is just an excuse
Look at the UK-US extradition treaty, originally sold as an expedited treaty need to quickly extradite terrorists suspects. That quickly collapsed into juridiction shopping and petty nuisance stuff:
"If this order is approved, the United States will no longer be required to supply prima facie evidence to accompany extradition requests that it makes to the United States. By contrast, when we make extradition requests to the United States we shall need to submit sufficient evidence to establish "probable cause""
Then there was the acceptance of hearsay even in the claim made:
"the advice we had from the US that the requirement to show a prima facie case could in some cases undermine the chances of the case ultimately succeeding at trial, if for example an inability to rely on hearsay evidence in the extradition request exposed a prosecution witness before the trial."
American Bar Association’s symposium (the US lawyers discussed the treaty) discussed how the UK authorities conspired to misuse the treaty:
"But perhaps the most disturbing part of the Standard's Las Vegas transcript is when the Department of Justice man describes how Britain decided to reinterpret the law to help out its American friends with the Norris case. As we have heard, price-fixing was not an offence at the time in Britain. Happily, however, conspiracy to defraud was. So, said Hammond, "the UK Government looked at the information we provided in support of the extradition, and said: 'You know what? That looks like conspiracy to defraud to us'."
And Jacqui Smith, is REQUIRED to uphold *UK* law, if UK law says the penalty is 1 month and US law says it's 1 year, and the crime was committed in the UK, it's not for Jacqui Smith to seek to apply US law.... yet that is exactly what she did:
"In December 2007, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, referred to “inaccurate claims in the press” that she was about to introduce an additional statutory bar to extradition called “’forum’ which could prevent extradition where a case could be tried in the UK”, adding that the key issue was to ensure that offences were dealt with in the place where they could be most effectively prosecuted,"
So you see how terrorism is just an excuse, once the right is taken away, it's taken away for all crimes. So now we have extradition without evidence, hear say evidence, jurisdiction shopping, uncontrolled surveillance, and a security mechanism working like the AIDS virus causing the immune system to attack itself.
Now we have a smart device that knows you every move, who you communicate with, when, even the direction your phone was at the time, we have companies collecting all this information and arguing that collecting this info is a *good* thing. We had a privacy directive that should stop them, but an EU Commission that won't enforce it. We have a collapse in civil protections, secret blacklists, warrantless surveillance the lot.
It's like a slow motion train wreck we're all witnessing.
"Ten years from now, the concept of keeping all your personal apps and files on your local device - except for high-end systems used by pro-level content creators - may be as passé as booting your PC using toggle switches."
All I can say is: not me mate, not me, maybe my customers, maybe my relatives. Me? no way jose.
I already made the "personal" decision of not running at home anything MS proprietary beyond XP/2003, and that's because I do not trust Vista/7/2008 privileged system processes that I can not see or control.
I'm IT old school, the penguin so far is my democratic IT friend and does allow me to do as I please with my files and my data.
Stallman, and Freedom
"It's stupidity. It's worse than stupidity: it's a marketing hype campaign... Somebody is saying this is inevitable – and whenever you hear somebody saying that, it's very likely to be a set of businesses campaigning to make it true."
(Stallman speaking to the Guardian)
What is acutely distressing about the hysterical use of 'terrorism' to justify civil liberty infringement is the blurring of the distinction between Government and corporate interest, at the expense of people who should be represented and protected in a democratic nation.
Politicians find it expedient to privatise data gathering and surveillance for 'our safety'. The corporates find it convenient to exploit data harvested by the Government for marketing, and so perpetuate the fear.
How exaggerated is the risk?
On average, every year in the UK the same number of people die falling out of trees, as die from acts of terrorism. Yet no one is putting crash mats under oak trees, running breathless news stories of corpses found under a chestnut tree, or proposing strip searches on entry to woodlands.
Thankfully, no one has died from an act of terrorism on the UK mainland since 2005. Tragically in that event, 56 were killed. That suggests our Security Services are doing a good job.
Yet in the four years since 2005, approximately 114,000 people a year have died from smoking related disease caused by the poisonous products of the tobacco industry. That is around 450,000 dead. Around **half a million** dead. But no tobacco executive has been arrested and prosecuted.