[Plura-list] Attack Surface vs Audible; Foodcrime; We Are Beautiful; Precursor

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sat Sep 19 13:14:00 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Attack Surface vs Audible: My Publishers Weekly op-ed.

* Foodcrime: The tech predators destroying America's restaurants.

* We Are Beautiful: 3D printable anatomical models of real bodies.

* Precursor: Andrew "bunnie" Huang's new open source hardware mobile

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🥶 Attack Surface vs Audible

I'm grateful to Andrew Albanese and Publishers Weekly for the chance to
lay out the logic behind the Kickstarter campaign to sell the audiobook
for Attack Surface, the third Little Brother book, in a column called
"We Need to Talk About Audible."


The fact that traditional media companies like publishers are now
beholden to Amazon - their direct competitor - is somewhat attributable
to a lack of foresight on their part, but it largely the result of real
chicanery on the part of the Big Tech monopolists.

I mean, it's not like the publishers were stupid the way Borders (RIP)
was: remember when the largest books retailer in the USA decided to make
Amazon its online division in 2000? They cancelled the deal in 2007 and
went bankrupt in 2011. That was slow suicide.

But trad publishing has been rightfully suspicious of Amazon from the
start and has used whatever weapons it had to resist the company's

Today, the publishers' largest competitor knows (far) more about who
buys and reads their books, and how, and why, than the publishers do.

To make things worse, Amazon's Audible division, an absolute, iron-clad
monopolist in the audibooks market, with total dominance over a format
that makes nearly as much as hardcovers, REQUIRES that all books it
sells be restricted with its DRM.

That DRM doesn't stop piracy (one Google search will find you
instructions for stripping DRM; two searches will find you Audible
books, without DRM, as free downloads), but it does stop competition -
it protects Audible, not authors.

Every audiobook the publishers sell to Audible is locked to Amazon's
platform...forever. Only Amazon (not the author, not the publisher) is
legally allowed to remove the DRM so the book can play on a player
Amazon hasn't approved (say, a direct competitor's player).

After all, this is the company that blocked Chromecast as part of its
bid to gain dominance for Prime Video. If you think they won't do that
for audiobooks, I've got an essential-oil covid cure multi-level
marketing scheme to sell you.


That's why the point of this Kickstarter isn't merely to sell a bunch of
my books (though it's doing that): it's to chart a course where
publishers and bestselling authors can have successful audiobooks
without Amazon.

To create a new kind of "Audible Exclusive" - a bestseller  for sale
anywhere EXCEPT Amazon. To get authors to switch because they get more
money; to get readers to switch (to rivals like libro.fm and
downpour.com) because they have better books.

To get Amazon to deal fairly: to let rightsholders (not a monopoly
retailer whose sole contribution to my book is to allow me to upload it
to their server and process a payment for it) decide whether it has DRM.

And if we can get Amazon to budge on this, let's not forget our brothers
and sisters working in and relying on libraries - libraries where Amazon
refuses to sell ANY Audible audiobooks, so ~50% of bestsellers are not
available in our libraries.

Here's the closer for my op-ed: "Look, you can't shop your way out of
monopoly capitalism any more than you can recycle your way out of
climate change. Monopoly is a structural problem created by more than 40
years of lax antitrust enforcement. If there was any doubt, last month's
Congressional antitrust hearings, which included a litany of complaints
from Amazon suppliers who've been comprehensively chickenized, laid that
to rest.

"But reversing monopolies is an iterative process. My effort to whittle
away at Amazon's audiobook hegemony I believe will help show authors,
publishers, and readers that there is a path to a more pluralistic and
fair marketplace. And, in the process, fuel the growing support for more
stringent antitrust enforcement."

Here's that Kickstarter:



🥶 Foodcrime

We are living in a golden age of predatory capitalism, in which
businesses that generate real value and stable employment are being
destroyed by deep-pocketed quasi-tech firms that lose money on every
transaction but hope to make it back by securing monopolies.

Nowhere is this more visible than in the restaurant industry, where a
bewildering array of deceptive (and even fraudulent) tactics are being
deployed by Doordash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Yelp, who have
nonconsensually interposed themselves between eaters and restaurateurs.

If this is ringing bells, you might be recalling the infamous May
case-study in which a pizzeria owner discovered that Doordash had put up
a fake delivery page for his restaurant and was selling his pizzas for
less than he charged for them.


Doordash would take the orders, then pay low-waged workers to call the
restaurant and pretend to be real customers ordering takeouts. Then
other low-waged gig economy workers would pick them up, pretending to be
diners, and deliver them.

The end-game was to become a gatekeeper to the restaurant, by offering
lower-than-cost pizzas to this guy's customers and then threatening to
divert them to a rival unless he paid ransom to Doordash.

The wily pizza owner figured out that he could order dozens of his
pizzas to a confederate's home, and simply ship out boxes of half-cooked
dough, and bill Doordash a small fortune for a few pennies' worth of
cardboard and flour.

It was quite a fun story!

Alas, it was not representative. In the time since, the outlandish,
predatory conduct of app companies has intensified, documented in
"Rescuing Restaurants: How to Protect Restaurants, Workers, and
Communities from Predatory Delivery App Corporations."


The report comes from Moe Tkacik for the American Economic Liberties
Project, and it documents the fraudulent, anticompetitive tactics used
by tech companies to steal from restaurants:

* Merging dozens of companies (online menus, delivery services, etc)
into a single giant, then doubling its fees

* Creating fake websites for restaurants, then using SEO to make them
the top results on Google, and tricking customers into ordering through
an app company instead of a restaurant

* Imposing anticompetitive contracting terms on restaurants prohibiting
them from offering discounts for in-person dining or own-driver delivery

* Punishing restaurants that refuse to pay for upsell "marketing
services" by banishing them from app search-results

* Tricking drivers into becoming dependent on apps for income, merging
with competitors so they have no alternative, slashing wages, all while
maintaining the fiction that drivers are "independent contractors"

* Collecting sales tax on take-out orders that are not taxable and
pocketing it

* Using tax-evasion techniques to avoid sales- and income-tax at the
local, state and federal level

* Bribing Google (paying "referral fees") to add "order now" buttons to
restaurants' listings that go to apps, not the restaurants' own ordering

* When restaurants cancel their Grubhub service and build their own
ordering systems, Grubhub fraudulently lists those restaurants as "not
offering delivery"

* Building "ghost kitchens" in shipping containers (etc) that clone the
menus and recipes of the popular restaurants they've driven to their
knees (while tricking chefs into working under dangerous, low-waged
conditions in them)

It's the latest wrinkle on all the predatory businesses whose principle
competence is SEO and fraud - think of the fake "locksmiths" that
completely dominate all Google searches.

These are bullshit referral services that dispatch an untrained guy with
a drill to destroy your lock and charge you a fortune, while the actual,
skilled locksmiths in your neighborhood can't be located with a search.

But this is worse, because these predators have fantastically deep
pockets, with money from the likes of Softbank (the notorious front for
the Saudi royals behind Uber and Wework), and can afford to lose huge
sums for years.

Older tech companies, like Yelp, are getting in on the action. As Edward
Ongweso Jr reports for Motherboard, Yelp now fraudulently lists
Grubhub's call center as the order number for restaurants in its database.


People who calls these numbers are deceived into thinking they are
ordering from the restaurants they know and love - instead, they are
being victimized by a rent-seeking man-in-the-middle attack that will
destroy that restaurant over time.

Tkacik's report concludes with nine recommendations:

I. Investigate and prosecute the apps’ systematic unfair and deceptive

II. Prohibit delivery apps from imposing no price competition clauses

III. Ban further anti-competitive mergers in the sector

IV. Enforce and expand local laws curbing predatory commissions and
other delivery app abuses

V. Prohibit delivery apps from using loss-leader pricing to harm
competition and incentivize consumers to abandon on-premise dining

VI. Eliminate “independent contractor” loopholes and force the third
party delivery giants to give their workers the wages, protections and
benefits required of employers

VII. Require delivery apps to restrict the use of data collected from
restaurants to  limited and specific purposes, and explicitly prohibit
them from leveraging data

VIII. Mandate search neutrality within apps and bar payola style
arrangements between apps and restaurants

IX. Separate platform and commerce in two ways: (1) Prohibit the
combination of online ordering apps and delivery/logistics services (2)
Online ordering apps and dark kitchens


🥶 We Are Beautiful

Just launched today: We Are Beautiful, a collection of 3D scanned body
parts from people of all ages, genders, sexes, and body shapes and sizes.


The files are freely downloadable and suitable either for rendering or
3D printing.

The idea is to produce a realistic corpus of body-parts that reflect the
diversity of the human body, as a corrective to the narrow range of
body-types in pornography.

"We have 129 models of vulvas, penises, breasts, full body and partial
body scans. All of our models are between 19 and 59 years old and span a
wide range of ages, body types and countries of origin. We've carefully
curated all the metadata of our models and are releasing the public
information while carefully protecting the private information. We never
reveal the identity of our models and this information does not exist
online at all."

All files are licensed CC0, the least restrictive of all the Creative
Commons licenses, and can be re-used commercially as well as personally.

The files are tagged by body part, characteristics (un/circumcised,
asymmetric inner labia, skin mole, chemotherapy, etc), personal history
(breastfed, episiotomy, etc), model and date.

The creators sent me 3D prints of some of their models and they're
beautiful as objects in and of themselves. Someone should (and could!)
go into business making and selling these in beautiful materials.

If you like this kind of thing, you should also check out Laura
Dodsworth's "Bare Reality" books - three books of beautiful photos of
diverse penises, vulvas, and breasts:



🥶 Precursor

The Precursor is the latest open source hardware project from OSHW
wizard Andrew "bunnie" Huang - AKA "the guy who broke the Xbox DRM and
is now suing to overturn the DMCA."


It's a mobile hardware platform, "a framework upon which you can
assemble a wide variety of DIY mobile applications...designed from the
ground-up to be carried around in your pocket."

"It’s not just a naked circuit board with connectors hanging off at
random locations: it comes fully integrated—with a rechargeable battery,
a display, and a keyboard—in a sleek, 7.2 mm (quarter-inch) aluminum case."

The design is derived from the Betrusted project, an ambitious open
source hardware privacyphone initiative that is super cool, but still
has a long way to go before it's ready for field use.


Precursor delivers the hardware without the full software stack, with
"all of the features you might need to validate and test a software
stack like the one that will drive Betrusted."

It's based on a reprogrammable FPGA, which will allow the community to
test and revise different low-level software before committing to a
custom ASIC.

The hardware is open and the software is free.

The board and case are designed with room for one or two breakout boards
for application-specific sensors or hardware modules: "from barometers
to cameras and radios ranging from BLE to LTE."

The case is also designed to be modifiable for applications that need
more room: "the designs are open source, and the native Solidworks CAD
files we provide are constructed such that the enclosure’s length and
thickness are are parameterized."

The bezel is a "plain old FR-4 PCB" which can be easily swapped for a
full-sized circuit board, while the LCD can be swapped with an OLED
display for a much larger battery and more special-purpose hardware.

If you want a prefabriacated Precursor, you can sign up to back it on
Crowdsupply (Huang has a long history of delivering his Crowdsupply
projects on time and on budget):



🥶 Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 670 words (63295 total).

Currently reading: Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: IP https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/09/14/ip/

Upcoming appearances:

* Keynote for Law Via the Internet conference, Sept 22,

* DWeb Meetup — If Big Tech Is Toxic, How Do We Build Something Better?
Sept 22,

* Writing into an Uncertain Future, Afterwords Festival, Oct 1,

Latest book:

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

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provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
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