DRM, privacy, the way the net is turning out to be!

Well, I have managed to correlate several – seemingly unrelated – things again to my own surprise. Think for a sec. about the way the unipolar governing of the world by — currently — the US, personal freedom/privacy, the power provided to the world by electronics and computing. I just watched Colossus: The Forbin Project, a cheesy 1970 sci-fi film about a computer similar to SkyNet in Terminator, that decides to take over the world: fortunately not immediately killing the whole of mankind plus Colossus, the computer at hand, joins forces with an equivalent Soviet computer called Guardian and combine their forces to achieve total control over the world. In the movie, the computer demands that its creator, a certain Dr. Forbin, is being put under constant surveillance.

Think for a second how easy it is today, 33 years after the release of that movie to monitor someone’s actions. Most personal financial transactions take place using credit or debit cards or at the very least ATMs. Registrations everywhere provide information as to someone’s personal details. And computerised bank networks as well as digital telephone exchanges retain (in the post 11th September world) extensive logs about people’s phonecalls. As if this was not enough, anyone living in a large city will have noticed the hundreds of CCTV cameras everywhere. I am sure this is more evident in the States than Europe or the rest of the world. The recent Verizon appeal turned-down, to not reveal their subscribers’ identities to RIAA increasingly worries me about how Orwellian the future could end up. A lot of people have written about privacy on the internet and how the Verizon case — at least in the case — will set a precedent that could literally end up forcing ISPs to reveal user data to anyone claiming they have broken the law *before* they prove it!

Today I downloaded Apple’s iTunes4 program with Digital Rights Management built into the system. It includes a world’s first: an online Music Store with an impressive list of tracks which one can download for ¢99. It is an impressive undertaking by Apple that — if exploited wisely — will lead to a new era of music availability on the internet. Many things could change with this: people all over the world would be able to get their music without having to resort to very expensive ‘imported’ discs, promotions would be easier and cheaper to make etc.

But DRM is not something new and Apple has — it couldn’t have done otherwise — added some DRM features on its system. Namely, the files downloaded by an account can be played on a limited number of computers – 3 as Apple states on their web site – but can be burned on CD with reasonable restrictions. It seems that Apple could have hit right on the money with their offering, considering that with the low quality releases coming out of the music industry lately, one could just download the tracks they are interested for without having to pay for a whole album. Apparently, record companies are seriously thinking of switching to business models of this kind since their revenues keep falling.

And perhaps Apple’s pricing and restrictions are generous to the end-user, but would record companies agree to this had they had more fascist options open to them? I don’t think so. The recent Verizon (but it is not the only one!) case proves this. In some cases, Seventy year olds were being harrased by RIAA/MPAA cyber-cops.

In any case, I am seeing the increased power computers give — corporations/governments etc. — over individuals and this is frightening considering how immature mankind (see recent war in Iraq). Just wait until those damn machines can understand human speech/see as well as we can. I just hope we don’t end up wishing we were all under Colossus’ rule!

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