Posted in: Technology

The tech blogosphere is full of myopic self-aggrandizing sycophants

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OMG Twitter has a bug.

OMG Facebook has a security (or privacy, or arrogance, or whatever gets everyone’s panties in a bunch on any given day) problem.

OMG Apple is going to fail because Android is selling more phones than them (while everyone is waiting for the expected refresh of the iPhone line).

Anyone would think that the tech blogosphere is obsessed with jumping all over each other like a bunch of horny kids at a frat party rehashing exactly the same moronic news as the next person. Well they’d be right – just look at Techmeme right at this moment

But what about news that truly will have an incredible impact not just on our technology but also our society?

Where is the outrage over things that have the potential to impact us like nothing else let alone whether Twitter lets you force someone to follow you or that Apple is under attack by Android?

When I first heard about the news that the FCC had granted permission to Hollywood big media to enable what is called Selective Output Control (SOC) on set-top boxes I figured all hell would break loose.

You know what happened?

<sound of crickets>Zzzzzzzzzzzz *YAWN* Zzzzzzzzzzz

Yup, that’s about it.

With the exception of very few blogs this news basically died on the vine.

But here is why it shouldn’t have and why there are days that the tech blogosphere both disappoints and disgusts me.

The thing is that there are two huge dangers here that when you look at the implications of this decision by the FCC has the potential to not only affect our everyday media viewing abilities but also affect how we use our computers.

First we have to understand just what this Selective Output Control (SOC) means. You see in every set-top box sold in the United States there is a set of hidden flags that are currently not doing anything. However via DRM triggers is stream video those flags can be manipulated – on or off. In the case of this decision the FCC has granted Hollywood media company the right to flip those switches on at their discretion.

In this case the MPAA will be able to deactivate any part of your home theater it wishes but primarily any option that would allow you to record the video being played will no longer work – at least (for now anyway) until the video has finished playing. In effect you no longer have control over your own equipment – even if you are paying ridiculous rental rates for it.

The argument being used by the MPAA and Hollywood is that this will allow them to rent out first-run movies that are also in their first theatrical release without the fear of them being pirated. This way you would supposedly be able to sit at home instead of having to line up with the rest of the rubes.

Interestingly enough this technology ended up in your set-top boxes based on an argument to the FCC in the first place that the technology would never be used. As mind-numbingly stupid as this may seem the FCC accepted the argument and made it a requirement for manufacturers to include the technology.

However this goes beyond just your set-top boxes because this SOC technology isn’t just usable to control them but also your computers as well.

As Cory Doctorow outlines in his post on this

I’m not just talking about TVs and set-top boxes here. This stuff is targetted squarely at operating system vendors. Both Apple and Microsoft have enthusiastically signed onto adding DRM to their OSes in order to comply with HDCP, DTLA and other “device-based” DRMs.

In the PC world, compliance with DTLA and HDCP rules isn’t just about what features the OS can have, but what features the video cards, hard-drives, network interfaces, motherboards and drivers can have.

So the FCC has just handed the keys to specify drivers and components for general purpose PCs to the thrashing dinosaurs of Hollywood. Because even your cheapo netbook or homebuilt Linux box relies on components that are manufactured for the gigantic mainstream PC and laptop markets.

Now that the mainstream component market has a new de-facto regulator at the MPAA, watch for all of those components to come with restrictions built in.

In effect the FCC has handed the MPAA and Hollywood big business the keys to control our technology. So while you all get faint about some stupid ass flaw in Twitter, or rally around Apple in its death struggle with Android, or setup Facebook pages to complain about the tyranny of Facebook our technology has been sold out from under us.

So much for real reporting or blogging in the tech blogosphere.

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