Apple flexing its “control freak” muscles

John Gruber’s recent post to Daring Fireball theorizes exactly why Apple has decided to crack down on sex apps in the App Store. While the explanation is plausible, it does not excuse Apple’s censorship and draconian control over the iPhone’s users and developers.

In summary, John explains the move as Apple protecting its brand image, inasmuch as the App Store is part of that brand image. While that’s understandable, Apple’s move still comes down to playing nanny and acting as final arbiter of what iPhone users can legally put on their iPhone. It’s an awful lot of control to exert on customers after they have already purchased a rather expensive device.

If there were legal alternatives to the App Store this would be less of an issue. (I’m assuming many, if not most, iPhone users are unwilling to enter the risky world of jailbreaking since this voids the warranty and Apple still asserts jailbreaking is illegal under the DMCA, and will always be officially unsupported.) If Apple is worried about its brand image, how about letting other companies run their own App Stores for the iPhone? That way, Apple keeps its brand clean, the porn freaks get their fix, and everyone’s happy.

Most of my beef with the iPhone would disappear if the following were the situation instead:

  1. An individual iPhone user has every choice available when deciding what apps are on that device, even those that Apple has not given its “iPhone nanny stamp of approval” to;
  2. Developers are able to approach alternative venues to sell applications where Apple denies approval in its store; and
  3. There is no longer a need to “jailbreak” an iPhone to accomplish either of these.

For Apple to let other companies run their own App Stores, or even individual software authors being allowed to offer apps direct to the public, would mean Apple gives up some degree of control. I think control is what this is really about and brand image is only a contributing factor. The lesson is clear: iPhones never really belong to you. You never really buy an iPhone; as far as being able to control what applications are allowed on it, it’s still Apple’s. “Purchase” is kind of meaningless when all kinds of digital locks are in place to prohibit the purchaser from exercising freedom of choice. I stand behind my analogy that it’s really more like a rental.

A party without honor

A recent article on the Equal Justice Society’s blog details a rather nauseating tale of intolerance at the University of California, San Diego (USCD).

From the article:

African American students at UC San Diego were shocked and demoralized by a “Compton Cookout” that took place this past Monday February 15.

According to the Facebook invitation, students from several fraternities organized this party in honor of Black History Month, inviting guests to “experience the various elements of life in the ghetto.”

And further on:

After protests from the Black Student Union and African American students on campus, on the evening of February 18, 2010, several students broke into the university-funded television station SR-TV in support of the Compton cookout, calling the African American community “ungrateful [racial slur].” Upon investigation of the program host’s media offices, the campus discovered a note on the studio floor with the words “Compton lynching.”

(The original is uncensored; I can’t bring myself to actually publish that word on my blog.)

I’m horrified that anyone, anywhere, deems this acceptable conduct. This kind of thing is absolutely, positively vile and putrid beyond redemption.

USCD now has a huge black mark on its reputation, especially in light of the fact the same group has planned another “Compton Cookout” this month–proving it’s not just a one-time mockery of Black History Month.

This is clearly hate speech and to allow it to persist makes places like USCD a lot worse. I hope the administration squashes this kind of overtly hateful act and fully sanctions those reponsible. At minimum, and only if there are massively mitigating circumstances, the culprits should be put on disciplinary probation and required to attend counseling. A far more appropriate response would be long-term suspensions or even expulsions from the university.

The case of the disappearing Facebook accounts

The DigitalBeat column on VentureBeat recently reported on a case where three critics of Facebook had their accounts mysteriously deactivated.

Juan Faerman, an author in Argentina who wrote a book called Faceboom, the cover of which has the title rendered in a font which easily could be mistaken for Facebook’s official logo, had his profile deactivating shortly after releasing the book, along with two others involved in the book and its marketing.

More troubling than that is Facebook shut down a group for fans of the book, which the trio claims had 30,000 fans at the time of shutdown. This smacks of censorship. It is one thing to claim trademark infringement due to similarities between the book’s cover and the official Facebook logo, but I feel Facebook crossed way over the line here.

Most troubling is that it took VentureBeat’s inquiry as well as an uproar in Latin American media in order for Juan to get his account back. This is unacceptable. Shame on you, Facebook.

At one time I wrote, but did not publish, a no-nonsense parody of one of Facebook’s help files. Which one, you ask? Okay, I’ll come clean. I parodied the one about the block function after someone blocked me. I was hesitant to publish it, if for no other reason because I’m not sure where it should go. It’s too good, and unfortunately, also a bit too no-nonsense and too profane to put in a blog post.

I’d like to think Facebook wouldn’t deactivate my account over it, though. The case for a distributed social network that cannot be arbitrarily censored by any one party is a lot closer to being made if Facebook were to do so, however.

Illogical beyond words: Italy vs. Google

Normally I relish the opportunity to roast large companies like Google and hold them accountable. In this case, however, no sane person can possibly side with Google’s opponent, the Italian government, in this case.

This TechCrunch story links to a post on the official Google blog which describes a situation where three Google employees were found criminally responsible for failing to comply with the Italian privacy code in relation to a video uploaded by a YouTube user in Italy. A fourth Google employee was acquitted. From the Google blog post:

To be clear, none of the four Googlers charged had anything to do with this video. They did not appear in it, film it, upload it or review it. None of them know the people involved or were even aware of the video’s existence until after it was removed.

… In essence this ruling means that employees of hosting platforms like Google Video are criminally responsible for content that users upload. We will appeal this astonishing decision because the Google employees on trial had nothing to do with the video in question. Throughout this long process, they have displayed admirable grace and fortitude. It is outrageous that they have been subjected to a trial at all.

This is paramount to holding employees of an automobile manufacturer such as Ford or GM criminally liable for a drunk driver’s actions (or for that matter, someone at, say, a Budweiser or Coors plant). It’s crazy. It’s dumb. In fact “galactically stupid” and “box of rocks dumb” don’t really do it justice at all.

I’m not even sure the wording used to describe the intelligence of a computer in a book I read as a kid would do it. That book described a computer as having the intelligence of a very stupid worm. To compare this judge’s intelligence to the stupidest of the worms would be an insult to the worms.

I feel compelled to drag out the quote from the FSF’s “Some Confusing or Loaded Words and Phrases That Are Worth Avoiding” yet again:

The idea that laws decide what is right or wrong is mistaken in general. Laws are, at their best, an attempt to achieve justice; to say that laws define justice or ethical conduct is turning things upside down.

Never has this been clearer than this instance. If the judge is applying the law correctly, then the law is more broken than the result of dropping a grand piano from an airliner. If not, then this should be reversed on appeal and the judge stripped of his authority.

If allowed to stand, this is a horrifying threat to the Internet as we know it, and it may not remain confined to Italy and Italian law. I concur with this quote later in the post:

[W]e are deeply troubled by this conviction for another equally important reason. It attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built. Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming.

Indeed, common sense isn’t so common anymore. Remember this if you’re travelling to Italy.

The proprietary software cartel and the IIPA

Russell McOrmond’s blog entry on Digital Copyright Canada chronicles a recent statement by the IIPA (International Intellectual Property Alliance, a name which should have been avoided due to obvious bias). The IIPA attacks legally free software in their submissions to six different countries.

Now, having a legally free alternative to something like Microsoft Windows or Adobe Photoshop would in and of itself discourage infringement of those companies’ copyrights, particularly in countries where the economy simply cannot sustain the same (ridiculous, in my opinion) licensing fees as those charged in the US. As Russell states in his post:

The fact the IIPA is encouraging countries to have policies which increase infringement rather than have people switch to competing software is telling about their actual goals.

The idea of computer users having freedom is anathema to Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, and other members of the proprietary software cartel. The prevalence of terminology like “open source” only serves to underscore the real problem: lack of comfort putting words like “free software” and “freedom” out in the open where they belong.

The proprietary software cartel thrives on this kind of thing; even Microsoft has thrown a few bones to the “open source” crowd, including their own hosting site Codeplex (a rather poor replacement for Sourceforge, with click-wrap licensing on the download pages that is gratuitously incompatible with non-Javascript browsers). Microsoft has also taken advantage of the confusion to release certain programs under licenses which look very similar to free software licenses, but which in fact require the derivative works to still run under Microsoft Windows. This is the danger of “open source” as these licenses no doubt would qualify under a layman’s definition of the term “open source” yet violate the core principle of the free software movement.

I had high hopes for Adobe truly freeing Flash after it acquired Macromedia (the originators of Flash). Instead, Flash is just as locked up as it always was. Thankfully PDF has not suffered the same fate–yet.

Indeed, the cartel which prospers by taking the freedom away from computer users would rather see those users give up their freedom and not pay the license fee, than choose freedom and use software not controlled by the cartel. It’s not unlike the drug pusher that offers the free hit.

And I know this is a bit of a tangent, but this is what burns me up about companies like Microsoft being allowed to pay off judgments in product; this plays right into their hands and is practically a reward for breaking the law. The next time Microsoft loses such a case, how about a judgment requiring a donation to the FSF and computer hardware shipped either with a GNU variant or without an operating system? For Adobe, how about a required donation to the GIMP and Inkscape development teams? You get the idea. That will be a deterrent.