Microsoft, remote Xbox 360 bricking, trust, and individuality

While slightly old, I only recently stumbled across a Technologizer article that claims Microsoft can remotely disable (“brick”) an Xbox 360 console.

The chilling effect here should be obvious. And I have two points to note about this.

One, I am really glad I don’t do proprietary game consoles anymore. I miss them less as time goes on.

Two, it has long been my viewpoint that any time a company releases a gadget like this, not designed to run a free software operating system (in this case, quite obviously designed never to run anything not bearing Microsoft’s digital signature equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval), it would greatly behoove one to treat the transaction as a rental, not a purchase. That is, when one buys an Xbox 360, one is renting that device from Microsoft for its useful life, for a flat rate, and one considers the device as actually being owned by Microsoft during this time. (Think of the “return” as being made to a recycling center. Even though one technically can sell the Xbox, it would still be wise to treat this more as the transferring of a rental contract than an actual sale, similar to what happens when one gets tired of the iPhone after a season’s worth of lousy service from AT&T and is no longer interested in paying the balance of the two-year contract.)

The Xbox is just an example here. It’s not just the Xbox, or just Microsoft; Apple’s iPhone and iPod would also qualify here, making the appropriate substitutions. As mentioned previously, I would also treat the Amazon Kindle in this fashion. There is unfortunately no neat place to draw a “line in the sand” here; some manufacturers are actually reasonable and do not resort to fascist tactics such as remotely disabling hardware on a whim.

The important thing to take away from all this: using a manufacturer’s hardware, especially when sold as a closed system, is trusting that manufacturer. When you use your Windows PC, play games on your Xbox 360, or use your Zune for playing music or video, you are trusting Microsoft. When you use your iMac or MacBook, or use your iPod for playing your music or video, you are trusting Apple. When you use your Kindle for reading e-books, you are trusting Amazon. The use of these devices and proprietary software are the transactions that define entrusting the companies behind them. There is no way around it. Not surprisingly, you find very few bloggers like myself willing to take the gloves off and expose misdeeds of companies like Microsoft and Apple.

I recently observed someone carrying an iPhone in her dress/shirt pocket, clearly displaying the Apple logo to the world, as if to show it off. (I don’t think she’s one of my readers, but she might be.) Now, I don’t always call people out for things like this in person. But here, where I don’t need to worry about making a scene, I feel I can safely say that I’m not sure what kind of fashion statement that’s supposed to make. Maybe it’s “I’m a sheep,” “I’m a lemming”, or “I have no individuality.” Or maybe even “I think the Apple logo looks so cool I’ll give them free advertising.” Perhaps, it’s “I still like Apple even though they sold Baby Shaker for a few days and censored the EFF application for no good reason.”

I don’t know. Maybe someone out there can explain it. That’s why I have a comment section. (And I’m not even requiring commenters to sign up for an Intense Debate account first.)

Apple sets a new low in hypocrisy

Just when you think you’ve seen everything:
a recent Mashable article describes a rejection of the EFF’s iPhone application (the EFF’s own article is also available). EFF’s transgression was to include a YouTube video containing a certain profane word (hint: you can only say it once in a PG-13 movie) in its subtitles. The problem here is that this same YouTube video is accessible via the iPhone’s YouTube application, among with others that probably would have made the late George Carlin blush.

This is not the only example of Apple blundering with an iPhone application rejection. There are also the Baby Shaker blunder (article on, the initial rejection of the Nine Inch Nails application (forum post on, and the rejection of a Project Gutenberg e-reader (article on Examples abound, but the underlying theme here is that Apple feels the overwhelming need to play nanny and censor everything in its iPhone app store.

Apple should realize this is unsustainable. The sooner someone releases an “iPhone-like” phone that is not subject to Apple’s nannying, censorious whims, the better. Bonus points if it can run iPhone applications as-is.

Apple’s sneaky iTunes personal information leak

As (re-)discovered in a recent TechBlog article, Apple is embedding personal information in downloads from its iTunes music store. Assumably this is a way to help catch the “low-hanging fruit” of those who partake in unauthorized copying. Casting aside the ethical issues, this is rather horribly misguided if that’s Apple’s reason.

Consider the following situation: Alice hosts a party where several guests, Bob, Charlie, and a few other close friends of hers are in attendance. Mallory crashes the party (or, even attends as a friend of one of the other guests, it’s really kind of immaterial) and snarfs some of the music files from Alice’s collection, with Alice’s name and e-mail address in them. They wind up on a Web server with a Tor hidden service address, run by Mallory the next morning.

Now, nobody downloading these files will know anything about Mallory. Well, obviously they’ll know some Tor user put these up on a hidden service. But all they will see in the files is Alice’s e-mail address, and probably assume she’s the one who has shared the files.

This can happen any number of ways: stolen storage media strikes me as one of the more likely ones (in fact, Mallory may well have sticky fingers when it comes to USB flash drives in the above example). But I think it’s a great reason why this kind of information should not be in downloaded media files.

Not to mention Dwight does a great job of showing how easy this is to circumvent (converting to MP3). I would not even be surprised if there’s a way to configure a decoder to write the exact same encoded audio sans most of the tags.