Saturday, April 24, 2010

Statism versus personal freedom - corporate edition


I've been following with interest the brouhaha between Apple and Adobe over the use of Flash code on the former's product line. According to the linked article, it looks as if this is just the latest instalment in a concerted effort by Apple to ensure that only those who buy into its business model - where Apple exercises total control over what's available, is the sole source for it, and takes a hefty chunk of the profits - will be able to provide 'apps' to its users. As Slate put it: 'Apple wants to own you'.

This ties in with a number of other corporations and their efforts to control their particular market. Recently Amazon.com got into all sorts of trouble by trying to force publishers to accept its lower price guidelines for e-books. It actually had the gall to try to boot e-books from Macmillan (one of the largest publishers in the world) off its site, gambling that its sales volume would force Macmillan to knuckle under and accept its demands. It failed, and had to climb down in rather humiliating fashion . . . but this wasn't the first time Amazon has wielded its marketing muscle to force its vendors to conform to its wishes. A couple of years ago it caused another fuss by insisting that its own print-on-demand vendor, BookSurge, be used to produce all POD books offered for sale on its Web site, despite quality control issues that had plagued BookSurge products. Needless to say, this held out the prospect of vastly increased costs and diminished profits for those forced to comply. Cue screams of outrage from unhappy customers.

Another example is Facebook, which is trying to make the personal information of its members as widely available as possible. The benefit for Facebook is that it gets to dish up advertising to a much wider audience; but the benefit for its members is less obvious. The New York Times reports:

This week, Facebook’s introduced the “open graph,” a giant expansion of the “social graph” concept on which Facebook is built. The word “open” alone should be a tip-off that there are significant new privacy issues to weigh.

In the open graph, Facebook sees us as connected not just to other people – our friends — on Facebook, but to myriad things all over the Web. These things could be favorite bands, news outlets or restaurants. It’s a potentially powerful idea – Facebook wants to uncover all these interests and predilections and let us share them with our friends, whether we’re at Facebook or somewhere else, in ways that could deepen personal connections and help us discover cool and interesting information.

But there’s a price paid in privacy. Facebook deems these “connections” to interests and businesses and content to be public information — along with your name, profile picture, gender and friend list. And it intends to make them very public through new “social plugins” and “instant personalization”.

If you like the idea of broadcasting which articles and bands and restaurants you like, you’re in luck. But if you’d rather keep your personal preferences private, beware.


There's more at the link.

I got to thinking about such corporate tactics. There's a real problem here. Companies like Apple can say, "We have the latest, greatest and hottest gadgets - buy into our product line, and you can make money off our sales volume". Trouble is, the only way you can do that is to let Apple control what you sell, and rake off a very large share of the profits. If you want a more independent product, or want to sell it for less by avoiding having to pay 30% of the gross price to Apple, you're out of luck. Amazon doesn't primarily sell its own product line (unless you count its Kindle e-book reader, which it's trying hard to make into a de facto standard in that market), but it tries to use its overwhelming market share among readers as a 'carrot' to force you to market your books and other products through its portal - in return for which, of course, it also wants a very nice chunk of your profits. Facebook offers its members social connectivity, but at the price of greatly diminished privacy - which lets it make money off them.

Such policies remind me irresistibly of statism. Isn't the problem with statist governments very similar? They promise to give you peace of mind, help when you need it, free this, free that, etc. - but only if you let the State control almost every aspect of your everyday life. You want free health care? Sure, statist government can provide it - at the cost of vastly increased taxation. There's also the little matter of ancillary issues. Citizen, if you want free health care, you surely can't object if we control what you eat, drink or smoke, can you? That's to make sure you don't live an unhealthy lifestyle that would increase health care costs, you understand. You want us to provide for the poor? Sure, we can do that; but then we get to take more of your pay packet in taxes, because someone has to pay for that care, and you can't expect us to do so from other sources, can you? You want us to protect the environment? Sure, Citizen, we can do that; but then we're going to regulate what you can do in that environment, in case your desire for water for farming condemns to death a minuscule fish that's of no ecological importance. If that reduces the number of farm products available, and/or increases their price, that's too bad, Citizen - it goes with the territory. Oh - and we're cutting the amount of electricity you can consume, too, so that we reduce polluting emissions from power plants. Need more, you say? Too bad, so sad, your bad.

I'd love to see a statistical comparison between those who support statist government (as opposed to the freedom and rights of the individual), and those who support and remain loyal customers of firms such as Apple, Amazon, Facebook and the like, who try to dominate their market segments, decide what's good for you (and them), and impose it on anyone who wants to market to their clientele or use their marketing channels. I suspect there might be an interesting correlation of views.

For myself, I share Cory Doctorow's perspective on Apple (he won't buy an iPad, and thinks you shouldn't, either). I'm also with Angela Hoy of BookLocker, who chose not to knuckle under to pressure from Amazon, but sued (and won). I'm with all those who are locking down their Facebook profiles, or even deleting them altogether, rather than allow that company to use them as marketing fodder. I'm with anyone who stands up for liberty and personal freedom, be the context corporate dealings, politics, or government. The more freedom, the better. The more restrictions (no matter how appealingly packaged and attractively presented), the worse for all who love and want their freedom.

What say you, readers? Can you provide more examples of 'corporate statism' (to coin a phrase), and the damage it's caused? How are you dealing with it in your own life?

Peter

7 comments:

Jim March said...

How to rebel against a megacorp owning you:

I'd been running Windows since "before Windows" (DOS) and even had some CP/M experience back in the day. But I'd never touched Unix or anything similar.

Sept. of 2006 my copy of WinXP caught a nasty rootkit virus. It was one of the early class of "subvert your machine into a botnet" critters rather than data destruction as had been common previously. I spend three near-sleepless days trying to nail it...tools such as MalwareBytes weren't as far along.

I realized that even if I succeeded in pulling off an "exorcism" I had no guarantee this wouldn't happen again. I was running all possible updates and a paid-up decent anti-malware package, and it hadn't helped.

I did the smartest thing I ever did in my life: I downloaded Ubuntu Linux (Dapper Drake version), backed everything up to an external hard disk (knowing the virus probably jumped out there), reformatted the internal drive Linux-style, brought the data back in from the external drive, reformatted the external drive in Linux and have never once booted any computer I own in Windows again.

I jumped to Linux cold turkey, no previous Unix-family experience. There was a learning curve but it was absolutely worth it.

NO corporate master owns my computer or controls what I do with it. It's more stable, easier to fix, FAR more flexible than anything either Apple or Microsloth ever came up with.

Linux is what happens when the geeks are able to make things work without any "adult supervision" (marketing, executives, etc.) whatsoever. The end result can be creatively weird at times but by GOD it works.

If you're ready to ditch Windows you need three websites:

http://www.ubuntu.com - this is where you get the OS and a huge collection of apps all together on a single bootable CD. You download a huge ".ISO" file and then burn that to CD-ROM with something like Nero, Roxio or other CD-Writer app that knows how to deal with .ISO files.

Actually installing Ubuntu once you have the boot CD created is a snap. You can even boot off of the "LiveCD" version and run Ubuntu from the CD to see what it looks like without installing it to the hard disk at all, to make sure drivers for your WiFi card for example are solid and working.

http://ubuntuguide.org - this is a complete post-install tuning guide. It will always point to instructions for the current version, which right now is Karmic Koala - in a few days when Lucid Lynx is out it'll re-point there (although you can pull up the instructions for previous versions as desired). This guide shows you how to install software "the Ubuntu way" (actually the Debian way): instead of grabbing freeware and installing it, you connect to a "repository" online that contains what you want, then do an install. The advantage is, if the software on the "repo" updates, your machine will auto-update through the main OS updater utility - no more separate updaters for each application!!!

Ubuntuguide will show you how to add various multimedia playback bits that for legal or licencing reasons aren't on the initial Ubuntu install disk - pay attention to the "Medibuntu" bits first. It'll also show you how to add a ton of various extras.

http://ubuntuforums.org - this is where you yell for help if stuck :).

---

Other "variants":

http://www.ubuntuce.com - "CE" is "Christian Edition"!

http://www.sabily.org/website/index.php/en/sabily/what-is-sabily - used to be "Ubuntu Islamic Edition"

The inevitable parody:

http://ubuntusatanic.org

Anonymous said...

I agree that Apple has been behaving badly. However it seems that ushering Flash out the door moves the web AWAY from proprietary formats such as Flash. HTML5 is a better solution for everybody from what I can see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTML5

Anonymous said...

OK, I'm an Apple fan because I detest having to deal with computers. I just want a machine that does what I ask it to, when I want it to, and that most viruses ignore. I don't have the sort of mind that deals well with trying to change OSs, and my profession requires me to use Word, so I'm a bit stuck there.

I don't do any social networking. The security risk is, in my opinion, too great. As for Amazon, I try to use other book sources whenever possible - local shops, buy direct from publisher, had used book stores keep their eyes open for items I am looking for. I guess my response to corporate statism is to try and work around it when possible.
LittleRed1

tpmoney said...

I am, and have been for a while, a loyal Apple customer. This despite a strong opposition to an increase in government control. This isn't so unusual however. It is the same justification why one can be heavily opposed to the government deciding what medical procedures they will pay for, while simultaneously being OK with an insurance company. It's why I will happily go to a restaurant with a no smoking policy, but will scream from the rooftops if the government tries to force all restaurants to adopt such a policy.

Ultimately, Apple represents a freedom of choice, in that I choose to purchase and use Apple products. And at any time, I may choose to no longer purchase or use Apple products. The same can not be said of government intrusion. If Amazon or Apple get too big for their britches, they will find themselves in a world of hurt. It may not happen instantly, but it will happen; they do not have the ability to force you at gun point to bend to their will. And if we can keep government meddling and power at a minimum, they never will.

Ultimately though, people make these choices not because they don't understand the consequences, but I think mostly because they just don't care. Apple and Amazon make fine products that give people the things they want. No they aren't perfect, but the customer really doesn't care about digital rights As long as he can do what he wants to do, which much to the dismay of people like Mr. Doctorow and Mr. R Stalman does not include transcoding to ogg vorbis to play on their GNU/Hurd powered stereo systems, everything else is gravy.

All the freedom in the world means nothing to people if they can't do anything with it. Apple succeeds because the freedoms they take away are, in the eyes of their consumers, worth the freedoms and features they give.

rritter said...

I think tpmoney has it right. The essential difference is that Apple, Facebook, etc. can't force you at gunpoint to use their products. The government can.

Me, I just put a minimal amount of information into the Facebook profile - stuff I don't mind being public. I've also been known to make stuff up when a site required information that I didn't want it to have. I'm not alone in doing that, of course. I'll bet there are a lot of 105-year old men named 'Sue' in the web marketers databases by now :-).

reflectoscope said...

The only Apple product I own is an iPod, which plays open-format MP3s and can be managed with open-source tools. I got off Facebook years ago, and I cringe at the thought of it and its privacy policy.

That said I agree with the argument that no-one is forced to use any particular company's products.

Jim

Mario in PY said...

@LittleRed1: May I suggest OpenOffice?

I have been using OpenOffice on Windoze for over 4 years now (needed to develop Windoze apps for clients) and have now switched my main computers to Linux. The neat thing of OpenOffice is the ability to read and write allmost any document format there has ever been invented for office productivity, and it also creates PDFs natively. The complete installer is only about 150MB is size. And it is free!! So no potential lawsuits for piracy.

And if you work in a multilingual environment, all those free spellcheckers are a real bonus.