Apple’s squabble over Google’s user interface

The Blade has a recent entry on the Google Voice application for the iPhone. The FCC inquired about the rejection to all three companies involved: Apple, Google, and AT&T (which has an exclusivity arrangement with Apple for the iPhone in the US market). The interesting part here is the reaction from each company.

AT&T denies any involvement in the rejection of the application.

Apple claims they have not actually rejected the application, and is “still pondering at this time.” What is surprising–or not, if you read this blog on a regular basis–is the following quote from the letter:

The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.

I gather that that’s almost the entire point of the Google Voice application. What I take away from this: If Apple can do this to Google, they can damn sure do it to any other iPhone developer–and in fact, in a couple of cases, they pretty much already have.

Ron Schenone (author of The Blade) certainly signs off with a telling question
or three:

When I first read this I wondered why the FCC even cared? Why did the FCC even ask the companies to comment? Doesn’t Apple have the right to accept or reject any application that runs on their iPhone?

In an ideal world, Apple would let anyone write any application they wanted to run on the iPhone without having to play a high-stakes game of “Mother, May I.” It’s entirely backwards to take hundreds of dollars from a customer, and then still claim some kind of ownership on the item being sold to that customer. If Apple still considers the iPhone theirs after it leaves the factory, there needs to be a warning label to that effect on each box.

I’d like to think that would do some good. In the end those warning labels may be scarcely more effective than the ones on cigarette cartons. But that is a whole ‘nother rant for a different day.

FCC takes aim at Apple and AT&T re: Google Voice app rejection

Fred von Lohmann, writing for the EFF Deeplinks blog, reports on the FCC’s investigation regarding the highly dubious and potentially anti-competitive rejection of a Google Voice app for the iPhone.

And my not-so-humble opinion, of course, can be summed up thusly: About damn time. Hopefully, a decision on this will be at least useful as some kind of precedent so that Apple’s out-of-control rejections of iPhone apps are at least reined in a bit.

One of the more interesting quotes from the blog entry:

When a dominant hardware platform vendor teams up with a dominant network services provider, and then selectively blocks or hobbles software applications on the platform, consumers should smell an anticompetitive rat. After all, if Microsoft had a veto right over every app that ran under Windows, and used that power to selectively ban competitors who “duplicate” functionality offered by Microsoft’s own apps, we’d expect competition regulators to be up in arms.

Indeed, even Microsoft knows they would never be able to get away with locking down Windows to the extent Apple has locked down the iPhone platform. Of course, it’s much easier and nowhere near as risky (legally and otherwise) to install an alternative operating system on a PC compared to jailbreaking an iPhone.

Hopefully, the FCC will see Apple’s for what they are: anticompetitive, unfair, and unacceptable.

It starts with Usenet: squashing free speech

Zeropaid reports on yet another ISP censoring its Usenet access. AT&T will cease offering access to alt.bin* and alt.bain* newsgroups as part of its package later this week, due to pressure from New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo exerted under the guise of reducing the flow of child pornography.

The sheer idiocy of this logic is demonstrated by the following quote from the AT&T notice:

While we will continue to provide access to newsgroups as part of our Internet Service Offerings, we will no longer include alt.bin* nor alt.bain* hierarchies because of the possibility of child pornography in those particular groups and the difficulty in ensuring that no child porn reappears in them. You can still access newsgroups content through unaffiliated third party providers.

In light of that last sentence, Cuomo is an idiot if he thinks this move will have any real net effect on the child pornography problem. It’s a very thinly veiled attempt at censorship; Cuomo may as well fight to make it illegal to sell Internet access in the state of New York.

I, personally, haven’t been on Usenet in quite a while, and had no need for binaries groups when I did. However, for those who wish to use them, the option should be there. As a common carrier, AT&T–and for that matter, any Internet service provider–should be shielded from liability for what is posted via and to their Usenet servers.

Am I arguing for the right to post child porn? No. But I do believe the action against AT&T is just the top of the slippery slope.

A backdoor attack on net neutrality

Wired.com reports on Apple’s arbitrary iPhone application approval/rejection process, and how some believe it to be a de facto attack on net neutrality.

A group called Free Press calls out the inconsistent decisions Apple has when deciding which iPhone applications to approve or reject and why. In particular, an application called SlingPlayer was rejected by Apple in its original form. After Sling crippled it to only work on Wi-Fi and not the 3G or EDGE cellular connections, Apple was more than willing to approve it. Another Wired.com story says an anonymous source says Apple rejected the application in its original state at AT&T’s request, due to network congestion concerns.

This sounds reasonable, but there’s another half to this story. Apple approved the Major League Baseball application as-is, allowing it to stream live sports events over 3G and EDGE as well as Wi-Fi.

Another curious rejection is Ben Kahle’s “Me So Holy” app, the premise of which was to allow users to make Jesus-like portraits of themselves. Apple rejected it to “protect the sensitivity of the customers” in its “worldwide market.”

This is exactly why OpenMoko came about. The Neo FreeRunner (and/or its successor) is the smartphone I’m saving up for. Granted, they aren’t cheap (if they appear much less expensive than an iPhone and you’re reading this before 2009-07-15 or so, that’s a clearance deal for the previous hardware revision). But I would honestly rather take a price hit than voluntarily limit myself to what some giant corporation decides is suitable to have on my phone.

ASCAP vs. Mobile Phone Users – The money song

It’s a bit out of character for me to take AT&T’s side anywhere. Yet when the
EFF reported on ASCAP’s lawsuit
against the telecom behemoth, this is exactly what I wound up doing.

This is the same ASCAP that tried to extort the Girl Scouts for singing
songs around campfires. Some of you may be less familiar with that story so I’ll post an excerpt of the Web site linked above:

After reportedly opening its negotiations with the American Camping Association with an offer of $1,200 per season per camp, ASCAP eventually settled on an average annual fee of $257. But once ASCAP’s plan went public, and people learned that the Girl Scouts were among the 288 camps being dunned, the group beat a hasty and embarrassed retreat.

This story does not mention the number of camps that would have had to pay this amount. Still, $257 times hundreds or thousands of camps across the US adds up to a huge chunk of change for someone.

Fred von Lehmann, who is credited for writing the EFF’s blog post, takes a no-nonsense approach towards blasting ASCAP for the lawsuit, citing a lesser-known part of the copyright act, 17 USC 110(4), and continuing with an excellent explanation of why ASCAP’s arguments are completely out of tune.

I can understand representing the interests of the composers, who have expenses just like the rest of us. However, there is a line between fair compensation and greed. ASCAP’s proposal crosses way over the line.

A lot of this could be avoided if copyright restrictions were capped to a sensible length of time. The original 28 years of US copyright law is much more reasonable than today’ length which is effectively forever (life of the author plus 75 years, and that’s if it doesn’t get extended yet again, which is always possible given the history of copyright law). Had we stuck with 28-year copyright, here’s a small sampling of what would be public domain today:

  • Any surviving recordings of sporting events held during or before 1980, including Super Bowls I through XIV and the World Series staged in those years
  • Any recordings of the Olympic games up to and including the XXII Summer Olympiad and XIII Winter Olympiad (both in 1980, held in Moscow and Lake Placid, respectively), which would include the original game tape of the 1980 Miracle on Ice
  • Every movie copyrighted in 1980 or earlier, including: Rollerball, The Godfather trilogy, the first two Star Wars movies (episodes IV and V), American Graffiti, and any film which predates these (a very long list indeed)

Of course, the list goes on and on far beyond what I could hope to include here. While I don’t realistically see us going back to 28-year copyrights, I do think the pendulum has swung way too far towards “copyright it now, it’s yours forever” and ASCAP’s greedy grab is only a symptom of the disease.