[Plura-list] Dishwashers have become Iphones; Part 5 of How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Mon May 3 10:33:52 EDT 2021


This coming Friday (May 7), the Gaithersburg Book Festival is featuring
me in an interview conducted by John Scalzi; we pre-recorded the event
but I'll be in the live chat for the premiere.



Today's links

* Dishwashers have become Iphones: Meet the Bob Cassette Rewinder.

* Part 5 of How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism: This week on my podcast!

* This day in history: 2011, 2016, 2020

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


👃🏼 Dishwashers have become Iphones

Apple is a true business innovator: For more than a decade, they have
been steadily perfecting an obscure anticompetitive tactic, turning a
petty grift invented by console games companies into a global,
cross-industry mechanism for extracting rents and centralizing control.

I'm speaking of App Stores, of course, and not just any app store, but
one that's illegal to compete with or switch away from. This started
with console companies, who used technical tricks to ensure that they
could skim a rake from every program you bought for your system.

Consoles used proprietary hardware or media formats to ensure that
software vendors couldn't sell directly to you, that every sale would be
forced through their storefronts or licensing systems.

These tactics acquired the force of law in 1998 after Bill Clinton
signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), whose Section 1201
made it a felony to traffick in "circumvention devices" that bypassed
"access controls" for copyrighted works.

Broadly, that meant that you could go to prison (for five years!) for
making anti-DRM tools. What's more, DMCA 1201's drafters rejected tying
the law to acts of copyright infringement, making it illegal to remove
DRM, even if you did so for a perfectly legal reason.

For example, if your games console had some code that ensured that the
software you were running had been taxed by the manufacturer, then
removing that code could become a criminal act - even though that has
nothing to do with copyright infringement.

To make that concrete: copyright is supposed to help creators and
audiences transact with one another. If you own a console and I wrote
some software for it, then copyright should facilitate you paying me
money for it and then running it on your console.

But if the console's manufacturer had designed its product so that it
got to impose a tax on transactions like this, then I can't sell you my
copyrighted work anymore unless I pay the tax. Doing so is a felony, but
not because it infringes copyright.

No, it's a felony because it's bad for the manufacturer's shareholders.
It's what Jay Freeman calls "Felony Contempt of Business Model."

Now, the defenders of this practice say it's not anticompetitive because
I can invent and manufacture a different, competing console, sell it to
you, and then sell you my code without paying tax.

But this isn't how competition works. Companies don't get to say, "You
can compete with me, but only on the terms I set, and in the domains
where I think I have an advantage." Excluding competition in
"complimentary goods" (like apps) is 100% anticompetitive.

For several years after the passage of the DMCA, the abuse of Sec 1201
to create "Felony Contempt of Business Model" stuck mostly within the
realm of games consoles, with the exception of mixed results in the
printer ink market.

Then along came the App Store for Apple's Ios devices: these were
designed to be locked to a single app store, so that people who made
copyrighted works (apps) and people who wanted to buy them
(Ipod/pad/phone owners) couldn't transact without going through Apple.

Apple's paternalistic pitch was that it would only use this power to
benefit its customers. The press *loved* this story, because Steve Jobs
posed himself as a daddy-figure who would use apps to get us all to pay
for media again.


The consensus that Apple should be able to decide how other companies
could compete with it was advanced by its most loyal customers, who'd
long considered themselves to be a kind of oppressed religious minority.

They insisted that there was no reason to allow a third-party app store
because everyone who owned an Ios device loved using Apple's App Store.

But when anyone pointed out that if this was true, then there would be
no reason to ban third-party stores (because they'd fail), they'd switch
tactics, saying that any Ios user who switched stores was Doing It Wrong.

This is the Apple fanboy No True Scotsman argument: "Everyone loves the
limitations of Apple's walled gardens, and if they don't, they're not
really Apple customers. If they didn't want to be locked into the walled
garden, they should have bought a different device."

To understand how weird this is, consider the inverse: we live in a
market society based on property rights. Once I buy an Ios device, I get
to decide which programs I run on it and who I buy them from. If Apple
didn't like that deal, it shouldn't have sold me an Ios device.

This belief-system is intrinsically conservative, in the sense
articulated by Frank Wilhoit: "There must be in-groups whom the law
protectes but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but
does not protect."


How else to explain the indifference of Apple trufans for the company's
decision to reverse-engineer all of Microsoft Office's file formats and
make compatible players for them, and their defense of Apple's strict
prohibition on doing this to Ios?


But even if you think Apple will never abuse the power to decide who can
compete with it to make complimentary products that interoperate with
its own devices, the norms, laws and precedents backstopping Apple's
business-model innovations can by used by anyone.

In 2015, I wrote a Guardian microfiction that exposed the perils of
allowing companies to choose their competitors. It was called "If
Dishwashers Were Iphones."


It was a letter from the CEO of an "innovative" dishwasher company
explaining why his customers were wrong to try to wash third-party
dishes in his products.

The comments swiftly filled up with Apple defenders who decried it as an
absurd, over-the-top analogy.

To those people, I say, behold, the Bob Dishwasher! It's a cute,
countertop dishwasher aimed at single-person households, and it uses a
proprietary cartridge for detergent dispensing, at about $0.67/wash -
about $242/year.


The company makes a lot of familiar, paternalistic claims to justify
selling a non-refillable, single-use electronics package that becomes
immortal e-waste once you've used it up and replaced it: the precision
electronics and proprietary detergent ensure optimal performance.

dekuNukem bought a Bob and decided that he - and not the manufacturer -
should decide whether the "advantages" of throwing out the cassette and
buying a new one were worth it. He reverse-engineered it and made a
defeat device he calls a "rewinder."


The tale of how he did this makes for a fascinating read, especially the
analog sleuthing he did using product safety labels to reverse-engineer
the "proprietary" composition of the detergent and rinse-aid, which turn
out to be commodity products marked up by 7700%!

Extraordinarily, he's actually selling the Rewinder, for $30. This
shouldn't be extraordinary, but it is, thanks to the penalties under
DMCA 1201 (and the UK equivalent law, derived from Article 6 of 2001's
EU Copyright Directive).


It's not just dishwashers, either. Would-be digital rentiers have
figured out that they can turn their shareholders' preferences into
legal obligations to their customers by engineering their products so
they have to be used in specific ways...or else.

For example, KLIM makes a motorcyclist's airbag vest that deactivates
itself if you stop making subscription payments (of course, this means
that anyone who exploits a defect in KLIM's IT can shut off all its
airbag vests, everywhere).


If that sounds extreme to you, it's really not. Tesla has many safety
features that are marketed as downloadable content, which it remotely
deactivates when a car changes hands through a private sale:


If you find yourself scrambling for reasons that it's OK for Tesla to do
this with its cars, but not for KLIM to do it with its airbag vests,
allow me to gently remind you that Tesla owners are not an oppressed
religious minority, either.

This kind of rent-seeking is just getting started. As I tried to
illustrate in my novella UNAUTHORIZED BREAD (part of my 2019 book
RADICALIZED), there are limitless ways for Apple's pioneering business
innovation to destroy our lives:


And as I wrote in my story "Sole and Despotic Dominion," this is a
frontal assault on the idea of personal property - it creates a world
where property is the exclusive purview of remorseless, transhuman
colony organisms (AKA corporations).


However, that future is anything but assured. Apple is being sued by
Epic for antitrust violations over its Felony Contempt of Business-Model


And European competition regulators have opened an enforcement action
against the company on the same basis:


Meanwhile, copycats who created their own Felony Contempt of Business
Model walled gardens, like Valve did with Steam, are facing their own
lawsuits, courtesy of Wolfire:


We've come a long way in a decade, and the No True Scotsman defense of
the right of a dominant corporation to interpose itself between buyers
and sellers, to control its customers' choices after a sale, is finally
facing a real challenge.



👃🏼 Part 5 of How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism

This week on my podcast, the fifth part of a seven (?) part serialized
reading of my 2020 One Zero book HOW TO DESTROY SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM,
a book arguing that monopoly – not AI-based brainwashing – is the real
way that tech controls our behavior.


The book is available in paperback:


and DRM-free ebook :


and my local bookseller, Dark Delicacies, has signed stock that I'll
drop by and personalize for you!


Here's the podcast episode:


And here's part one:


And part two:


And part three:


And part four:


And here's a direct link to the MP3 (hosting courtesy of the Internet
Archive; they'll host your stuff for free, forever):


And here's the RSS feed for my podcast:



👃🏼 This day in history

#10yrsago Federal judge: open WiFi doesn’t make you liable for your
neighbors’ misdeeds

#5yrsago Technoheritage has a property problem

#5yrsago Norway’s titanic sovereign wealth fund takes a stand against
executive pay https://www.bbc.com/news/business-36185925

#5yrsago TSA lines grow to 3 hours, snake outside the terminals, with no
end in sight

#5yrsago Inside a Supreme Court case on cheerleader uniforms, a profound
question about copyright

#1yrago Lockdown CO2 and structural roots of the climate emergency

#1yrago The Making of Prince of Persia


👃🏼 Colophon

Today's top sources: Michael Brown (https://twitter.com/Supermathie),
Slashdot (https://slashdot.org/).

Currently writing:

* A Little Brother short story about pipeline protests.  RESEARCH PHASE

* A short story about consumer data co-ops.  PLANNING

* A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation.  PLANNING

* A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written
with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown."  FINAL EDITS

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism (Part 05)

Upcoming appearances:

* In conversation with John Scalzi (Gaithersburg Book Festival), May 7,

* Interoperability and Alternative Social Media, Reimagine the Internet,
May 12, https://knightcolumbia.org/events/reimagine-the-internet

* Book launch for Aminder Dhaliwal's Cyclopedia Exotica (Indigo), May
13, https://www.crowdcast.io/e/udbva8py/register

* Seize the Means of Computation, Ryerson Centre for Free Expression,
May 19,

Recent appearances:

* Podcapitalism Podcast

* Talking "Robot Artists & Black Swans" with Bruce Sterling

* The Right to Repair Movement, Monopolies, and Solarpunk

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

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

* "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:

* The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics,
Beacon Press 2022

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
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provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
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