Saturday, 8 May 2010

Police State or Corporate Police State?

Dear Hollywood,

Fuck you. If this type of technology ever becomes available, nay a requirement for me to watch movies in my own home, rest assured I will stop consuming your product.

If this comes down the pipe, I will not go out to the movies, I will not rent movies, hell I won't even steal them, because you and your whole corrupt greedy blood sucking industry will be beneath contempt.

Why wouldn't I steal it instead? To do so would dignify your product by assigning it a value. By association your efforts would then have value.

Well your product will no longer have any value to me because of the contemptible actions of you mother-fuckin' assholes. I will do all in my power to assure that you have no value in the society I live in. I will hope that my actions will inspire others so that the whole rotten infrastructure you inhabit will crumble to dust.



Ken Breadner said...

Wow, that's insane. It scares me that this sort of remote disabling is even possible.
Boy, the Forces of Good (tm) have had a great week, eh? What with the CRTC deciding that breaking DRM is worth five hundred bucks a pop...the same agency telling Bell it's perfectly okay for them to eliminate "unlimited" Internet accounts...and this?

Catelli said...

I think the Luddites might be on to something...

ADHR said...

Catelli, you know more about the technical details of this than me, so: would it be possible to set up some sort of internet co-op? A pipe of some kind that could simple be shared equally, without having to go through an ISP? Or are the costs of the required technology too massive for it to be worthwhile?

I'm thinking that that would be serve as the nastiest end-run around this nonsense we could come up with. All the torrents we could want, and the law would have a hell of a time stopping it.

Catelli said...

The answer to that question is No, Kinda, and Potentially.

No: The major carriers own all of the communications infrastructure up to and into your residence. More importantly, they also own the trunk lines that interconnect with other cities and other countries. Building a competing infrastructure would require billions.

Kinda: While it is true the major ISPs own all of the infrastructure, one of them (Bell) has to share access to its infrastructure to competitors. This means you can choose to have ADSL based Internet from another smaller ISP. If that ISP had lax usage regulations, you could share files without restriction with other users on the same ISP in the same neighbourhood/city. Unfortunately as soon as you get out of that area the communications go over the major ISP lines on their truck lines, and are subject to their DPI rules.

This solution also doesn't avoid any regulations that apply to all ISPs that our dictator in chief passes.

Potentially: There is some interesting work being done with cell phones. In Africa, central cellular towers are rare. Which means that a cell user can get out of the service range quite easily. A solution they are working on borrows from the concepts of P2P file sharing programs. That if a cell phone cannot talk to the tower because it is out of range, maybe it can talk to another cell phone, that talks to another cell phone, etc. until you get to the central tower.

The cell phones create their own modular network that does not pass through any central authority, at least until a cell tower is contacted.

The same principle could be applied using home wireless routers. Everyone's router meshes with all of their neighbour's routers forming a large mesh network that is entirely private in nature. However, given the distance between communities and the limited range of these devices, this mesh would only work within densely populated centres and would not connect to the outside world. Anyone with a decent understanding of communications technology and programming skill in Linux could make this available to users now (many Linksys routers are hackable in this respect).

While it may be possible to extend the range using CB gear, this would probably run afoul of CRTC wireless spectrum licensing issues.

ADHR said...

Seriously? Crap. I didn't realize the trunk lines were privately-owned.

The idea of a mesh network is interesting; as you say, though, it would be unable to connect widely (unless it went through a central line, like going through the central tower in your other example). But, that might still work for some activities -- like a new form of BBSes.

Is there any way to anonymize traffic such that it's a huge technical burden to trace where it's all coming from? (And thus to send these sorts of remotely disabling signals.) I know it's not possible to anonymize traffic perfectly -- it's always possible to find out where packets are coming from -- but could it be made really, really hard?

I know it's ridiculous to be fishing for technical solutions to political problems, but our politicians are clearly selling us down the river. So, it's pretty much the only option. The slide from a centrally-based system like Napster to the highly decentralized network of torrent trackers and online file storage systems (Mediafire, Rapidshare, etc.) gave me some hope that we could political foolishness at least when it came to file-sharing. And there are ways to rip streaming media, whether it be audio or video. But if they start fooling around with our very access to the net, is there any similar move available?

Catelli said...

The only anonymizing tool available is any P2P program that supports encryption. That hides what you are doing.

What it does not do is hide that it is your computer, what site you were talking to, when you were doing it and how much bandwidth it took to do it. Generally speaking that's enough. The other 4 things you cannot hide. They are required for any data to successfully be downloaded.

To further obfuscate things: If the P2P program you're using allows you to specify the port, then you choose 443 (SSL) and encrypt the traffic. From a network perspective, it would be very difficult to differentiate that from accessing your bank records (secure websites use 443).

The only way to tell what it is you are doing on your computer is a full forensic analysis of what IPs you were communicating with. Trust me, your ISP ain't gonna do that. Its too labour intensive and increases their costs. These tools are available for downloading today. (Do I use them? No, I don't download IP content at all.)

Quick distinction. What the proposal I link to in my post uses a signal in the actual broadcast stream of the content. Signals that a TV would be tuned to acknowledge and respond to. All these avoidance techniques would only apply to laptops/PCs and would not prevent a broadcaster from disabling features on your television.

Now what a friend of mine does is he subscribes to NetFlix. He orders his movies "to rent" on a regular basis. When he receives them, he rips a copy, and sends the originals back. No Internet or downloading involved.

There's always more than 1 way to skin a cat, and that's why these anti-piracy measures piss me off. They just punish people willing to legitimately use their product and doesn't hinger the illegitimate use at all.

ADHR said...

Well, not a perfect solution, but something, I suppose. ;) I do worry that we're rapidly heading towards a "mall-like" internet, where everything is heavily-regulated, compartmentalized, and corporate. If they can turn off functions in our TVs at will, I don't see what could stop them from, eventually, disabling our OSes at will.

I suspect there is a way to prevent the signal from disabling features of the TV, but it would require hacking the TV hardware such that the signal registers as received at the broadcaster's end, but doesn't actually disable whatever it's supposed to disable. (And, if you can do that, you're probably not using a commercial TV anyway.) I don't know nearly enough about the hardware to even tell how easy that would be. But, if it is possible from an engineering perspective, then it's only a matter of time before that lock also gets circumvented. And then there'll be a new, tougher lock to get around. (You see this happening in video/computer game DRM; it's become an arms-race, with crackers working in teams of dozens if not hundreds to smash ever more complex DRM.)

It's the being watched part that drives me crazy. When we all had TV/VCR combos, no one watched what we were doing even though, really, we all could have been copying every commercial video and TV broadcast we could (figuratively) get our hands on. Now we have new ways of doing pretty much what the old TV/VCR combos did -- receiving signals and recording them -- and, somehow, we're now not trustworthy enough to use them as we see fit.

The powers-that-be don't even have the sense to realize that these sorts of punitive measures just encourage the development of a black market. When consumers' economic choices are deviating from what producers are expecting, producers are supposed to alter how they produce in order to better meet expectations. When that doesn't happen, we end up with black markets: arms markets exist because people who want weapons can't get them legally; drugs markets exist because people who want to get high can't do so legally. And markets in counterfeit goods, including IP, as well as "markets" (they don't make money, but the logic is pretty much the same) in torrented IP.

Trying to manipulate consumer choice with these sorts of technical bludgeons strikes me as seriously wrong-headed. It's like trying to stop people from selling casu marzu (don't click that if you're eating!) by castrating their sheep or something. If some people want it, other people will make it and sell it. They just do so illegally.

This is not to say that anything should go, just because people want it. I mean, you could make this same argument for, say, a market in contract killers. The point is that using these sorts of brute force approaches to stopping people from doing "what they're not supposed to" very often makes the problem worse. Napster was manageable. P2P file-sharing is not. Constant surveillance and pre-emptive punishment are not solutions: working to satisfy consumer demand is.

Catelli said...

With the TV, you won't be watched, or observed. This technology would have to work over satellite TV links, which are strictly one way. So in the signal is a code that instructs the chip in your TV (or AV receiver) to disable certain outputs. No confirmation signal is sent back, as there is no path a return signal.

But yeah, your black market point holds. They are preventing legitimate use of a product I have purchased by disabling these outputs (they could go to a second screen in another room for instance. They don't have to go to a recorder, they just could potentially.)

These changes effectively say that because I could "steal" their content, I will steal their content and I must be prevented. I'm judged as guilty even though I have done nothing wrong. And I am one of those (rare I suppose) consumers that only purchases or rents media legitimately.

So now they're pissing me off by calling me a crook when I'm not. So fuck em. I'll join the crooks before I support them.

But I still say the only way to win this battle is to completely deny them an audience.

Christopher Parsons said...

Just a note re: using 443 to help anonymize some (e.g. P2P) traffic. Depending on how an ISP is inspecting traffic, if they're watching for particular kinds of packet exchanges they might be able to ID that P2P is happening over 443, regardless of encryption. It would depend on the systems put in place, of course, but where there are good systems and poor obfuscation of data traffic you can pick out P2P traffic.

On mesh networking, in addition to the issues already raised, there are a few other problems at the moment. In particular, on the legal end the hardware for mesh networking is buried under a buttload of patents that are owned by Marvel (or Gigacom? - the point is that patents are owned) which prevents any open source mesh system using today's technology without licensing the patents. These patents were what prevented mesh networking drivers in the One Laptop for Child program from being entirely open sourced.

To the larger topic of content control to 'deal' wth infringement, the problem is that, as you noted, it does absolutely nothing to impact infringing uses and captures of video. Pirates will rapidly get around the obstacle, and it will only cause problems for legitimate customers. If companies would just adopt, I don't know, CONTEMPORARY distribution systems that gave up the OCD-induced control issues then North America might (accidentally) end up with a reasonable distribution system. Instead, with the additional 'protection' schemes the North America consumer will get screwed and will turn to BETTER alternatives to getting content: piracy.

This isn't to advocate for piracy, but that the unwillingness of members of the content production industry to realize that when access of content through piracy is becoming easier than 'legitimate' means than people will increasingly turn to piracy out of frustration and anger. Frustration and anger are NOT the consumer experiences that you want to generate, and using law and technology lock-in to require customers to return to buy more non-essential goods is absurd.

Catelli said...

I gather it is understood that I am already past the "frustration and anger" point and fully in "get revenge" mode?