Apple is the Medium and the Message

According to AppleInsider*, Apple has purchased a mobile ad company, Quattro Wireless, for $275M and named Quattro’s CEO as the VP of Mobile Advertising. Apple is now in the hardware business (Macs, iPods, iPhones, etc), the software business (OSX, Safari, QuickTime, etc), the transmission business (iTunes, App Store, MobileMe, etc), and the content business (Quattro Wireless). At first glance this doesn’t look so bad, as Apple doesn’t have a traditional (i.e. industrial) monopoly in any one of these areas.

However, having substantial influence in each of these areas – from medium to message – starts to look a lot like an informational monopoly. After describing the four horizontal layers of the WWW — transmission > hardware > software > content — Tim Burners-Lee describes his concern with “vertical integration“:

I am more concerned about companies trying to take a vertical slice through the layers than creating a monopoly in any one layer. A monopoly is more straight forward; people can see it and feel it, and consumers and regulators can “just say no.” But vertical integration — for example, between the medium and content — affects the quality of information and can be more insidious.

Apple certainly isn’t alone, Google immediately comes to mind . . . and Microsoft, but to a lesser extent since they’re more of a traditional monopoly.

* h/t Michael Oman-Reagan.

iPhones of Mass Destruction and the Code War

According to Apple, jailbreaking your iPhone violates Apple’s license agreement, constitutes copyright infringement — and — is a threat to national security. Meet the new weapon of mass destruction: the hacked iPhone. Just like Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, the iPhone of Mass Destruction is more red herring than reality. In a nation obsessed with security, particularly cybersecurity, the attempt by Apple (and AT&T) to frame a hacked iPhone as a security threat raises important questions of social reproduction, particularly among youth.


Apple made this argument to the U.S. Copyright Office in response to a request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that the U.S. Librarian of Congress grant an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that would clearly define jailbreaking as legal (under certain conditions). Back in 2006 the Librarian of Congress granted six 3-year exemptions to the DMCA, the fifth of which stated:

Computer programs in the form of firmware that enable wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telephone communication network, when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network.

This expiring exemption was widely understood to legalize the act of jailbreaking for otherwise legal, personal, and non-profit purposes. However, now that the EFF is seeking a similar exemption, Apple is going further than previous arguments (i.e. jailbreaking violates your license agreement) and is now arguing that jailbreaking results in copyright infringement and could compromise national security. This continues the meme, advanced by corporations and governments alike, that “loose code” is a threat to security in the informational age – thus, equating piracy and hacking with insecurity in order to rationalize monopolistic business practices. The very same business practices that Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, warned would lead to “vertical integration” between the medium and content. As Wired’s Threat Level points out:

This also explains why Apple rejected the official Google Voice App for the iPhone this week. We thought it was because Google Voice posed a threat to AT&T’s exclusivity deal with Apple. Now we know it threatened national security. At stake for Apple is the closed business model it has enjoyed since 2007, when the iPhone debuted. More than 30 million phones have been sold. Apple has told the Copyright Office that its locked-down platform is what made the iPhone’s success possible

Here are 3 key excerpts from Apple’s statement to the U.S. Copyright Office:

  1. Jailbreaking does violate a license agreement between Apple and the purchaser of an iPhone.  All purchasers of iPhones must accept the terms and conditions of the iPhone Software License Agreement (“IPSLA”) at the time of purchase of the iPhone (and any later updates of the software)…
  2. Jailbreaking constitutes copyright infringement.  Because jailbreaking involves unauthorized modifications to Apple’s copyrighted bootloader and OS programs, it is a violation of 17 U.S.C. § 106(1) & (2)…
  3. Because jailbreaking makes hacking of the BBP software much easier, jailbreaking affords an avenue for hackers to accomplish a number of undesirable things on the network…  For example, a local or international hacker could potentially initiate commands (such as a denial of service attack) that could crash the tower software, rendering the tower entirely inoperable to process calls or transmit data. In short, taking control of the BBP software would be much the equivalent of getting inside the firewall of a corporate computer – to potentially catastrophic result. (emphasis added)

And 2 key excerpts from EFF’s statement to the U.S. Copyright Office:

  1. Jailbreaking an iPhone in order to run lawfully obtained software does not constitute copyright infringement. Nothing in the Apple iPhone Software License Agreement changes this conclusion. As explained in our original submission, any reproductions made in the course of jailbreaking an iPhone are privileged by both Section 117 and the fair use doctrine.
  2. With respect to the application of Section 117 to jailbreaking, the Librarian will have to evaluate whether an iPhone owner is the “owner of a copy” of the Apple firmware that is delivered with and operates the device. In addition, the Librarian will have to evaluate whether the process of jailbreaking the iPhone involves an “adaptation” that falls within the scope of Section 117. (emphasis added)

In our article, Cookie Monsters: Seeing Young People’s Hacking as Creative Practice, Cindi Katz and I spoke at length about jailbreaking (and hacking more broadly) as a form of play — as a creative practice that helps young people to better understand and control their technological environments. To help make our case, we profiled AriX — the then 13-year-old iPhone hacker and developer of the ijailbreak application:

In an article entitled “Hacking: The New Child’s Play?” posted on an IT security website, AriX is associated with a list of young crackers who have engaged in malicious and clearly criminal activities. With the subtitle “Researchers worry as teens and pre-teens play an increasing role in illegal online exploits,” the piece makes no distinction between the hacking of AriX and the reported computer crimes of the other youth profiled, even though the latter’s activities included derailing trains in the Polish city Lodz and stealing considerable sums of money from people’s bank accounts (Wilson 2008). The distinction between these activities and hacking like AriX’s is clear.  But even at that, the U.S. Librarian of Congress granted six exemptions to the DMCA in 2006…

If Apple gets its way, young hackers like AriX would be considered criminals — and any attempt to rework the copy of a software program that they legally own would be considered illegal at best and a threat to national security as worst. Creating a generation of people who are forced by law to simply take technology “at interface value” (as Sherry Turkle likes to say) is a recipe for disaster. I wonder how many mechanics or engineers our society would  have produced during the industrial age if a generation of young people were told it was illegal to tinker with a car or bike that they legally owned? Would Bill Gates or Steve Jobs have even existed (at least as we know them) if they weren’t allowed to tinker with the various technologies they interacted with during their youth? Copyright laws were created to ensure creativity – not to ensure the power of certain governments or corporations.

Cookie Monsters published in CYE

Cindi Katz and I just published an article in a special issue of Children, Youth and Environments that focuses on Children and Technological Environments. CYE is an open access journal so you can read our article for free through their website (FYI – they ask you to create an account before providing access to the articles).

Here’s the article’s abstract:

Cookie Monsters: Seeing Young People’s Hacking as Creative Practice

This paper examines the benefits and obstacles to young people’s open-ended and unrestricted access to technological environments.  While children and youth are frequently seen as threatened or threatening in this realm, their playful engagements suggest that they are self-possessed social actors, able to negotiate most of its challenges effectively. Whether it is proprietary software, the business practices of some technology providers, or the separation of play, work, and learning in most classrooms, the spatial-temporality of young people’s access to and use of technology is often configured to restrict their freedom of choice and behavior.  We focus on these issues through the lens of technological interactions known as “hacking,” wherein people playfully engage computer technologies for the intrinsic pleasure of seeing what they can do.  We argue for an approach to technology that welcomes rather than constrains young people’s explorations, suggesting that it will not only help them to better understand and manage their technological environments, but also foster their critical capacities and creativity.

Keywords: children, youth, Internet, cyberspace, security, hacking

And here is some background on the Children and Technological Environments special issue:

Children, Youth and Environments has just published a special issue on “Children and Technological Environments.” It features a substantive introduction by the guest editors, Nathan G. Freier and Peter H. Kahn, Jr., and 14 high-quality, peer-reviewed articles on such topics as interactive humanoid robots, digital libraries, virtual natural environments, video and online games, hacking, assistive technologies for children with learning disabilities, and learning by doing with shareable interfaces. The authors include leading researchers from the U.S., Britain and Japan.

apple’s long-arm tactics

No one could of seen this one coming (cough). Apple has embedded a remote kill switch in the iPhone’s operating system that allows them to deactivate applications of their choosing — including applications which were knowingly installed by an iPhone’s owner. According to Wired’s Gadget Lab:

Jonathan Zdrianski, author of the book iPhone Open Application Development, discovered a URL hidden in iPhone’s CoreLocation that he believes the iPhone uses to check whether any apps on your phone match with those listed in a database of blacklisted applications. Presumably, that would allow Apple to remotely de-authorize those apps, or perhaps even delete them.

A few days later, Steve Jobs confirmed Zdrianski’s beliefs and presumptions about the remote kill switch:

[Jobs] confirmed that it is indeed possible for Apple to reach into your phone from afar and disable malicious applications. “Hopefully we never have to pull that lever, but we would be irresponsible not to have a lever like that to pull,” he told the WSJ. An example of a malicious application would be one that stole users’ personal information, Jobs explained. [emphasis added]

Malicious applications?? Since “malicious” is a highly subjective classification, exactly who will be deciding what is malicious and how? Something tells me (history) that Apple and AT&T will be privately deciding what applications are harmful to their business interests, and that this blacklist won’t be available for public viewing. I’m sure Apple will utilized the remote kill switch to disable some applications that I would consider malicious, that is, applications that aggregate my personal information without my knowledge. But what about the malicious applications who sign contracts with either Apple or AT&T in order to aggregate my personal information? I would still consider those applications malicious, but I doubt Apple or AT&T would.

Yes, Apple just wants to “protect” us with this remote kill switch, and they have to create a “secure” environment so that people will feel “safe” enough to buy as many apps as their consumerist hearts desire — Yet, I’ve somehow managed just fine over the past 8 years without having Apple install a remote kill switch on my laptop’s OS and I imagine the great majority of you have as well. The fact that Apple is deciding to censor what applications I can and can not install on my iPhone and clearly monitoring what I do with my iPhone makes me feel a lot less safe and a lot less secure. That’s not just bad ethics, it’s bad business, and its making the idea of android much more appealing to me.

As Lawrence Lessig put it — code is law — and Apple and AT&T are taking the long arm of the law into their own, err… hands. Add this to the fact that the recently passed FISA Amendments Act of 2008 effectively creates an infrastructure for a police-state by allowing the government to wiretap and aggregate all telecommunications, and its easy to see how that infrastructure will extend into our mobile communication technologies.


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