Monday, November 22, 2010

Freedom to Tinker

One of my major concerns with the US corporate trends today is eliminating the concept of "sale".  By that I mean that when corporations "sell" you a product, especially electronic products, they claim that they are only licensing you the use of that product.  Not only that, but they also claim, to have post "sale" control over how the purchaser may use the product.  Basically, this an extension of the theory that so-called "intellectual property" gives the product creator exclusive control. From my point of view, this is garbage, when you sell a product you transfer ownership of the product to the purchaser.

As one illustration of leasing and post sale control, Mike Masnick wrote: "Jailbreaking Your iPhone? Legal! Jailbreaking Your Xbox? 3 Years In Jail!". In that article Mike writes: "First, let's take a step back, and realize just how ridiculous this situation is. If you buy a piece of electronic equipment, should you ever deserve jailtime for then modifying it? With most things you buy, you have every right to then make changes to it. Yet, when it comes to gaming consoles, suddenly that can get you jailtime. The culprit? Of course, it's the ever-present DMCA, and its anti-circumvention clause, which lets any device maker put in some "technological protection measures," and suddenly it's illegal to modify what you thought you legally owned."

The New York Times, however, still seems to anxious promote the concept that tinkering with  electronics is somehow wrong. Very similar to the theme of old horror movies that there are some things that man is not meant to know.  Today the Times wrote a very troubling "man is not meant to know" story. In "With Kinect Controller, Hackers Take Liberties" the Times writes "Mr. Kreylos is part of a crowd of programmers, roboticists and tinkerers who are getting the Kinect to do things it was not really meant to do."(emphasis added). The obvious implication, experimenting with something you bought to find out what its capabilities are is something the common person should NOT be able to do? Seems a bit arrogant of the Times.

The Times goes on to write: "Companies respond to this kind of experimentation with their products in different ways — and Microsoft has had two very different responses since the Kinect was released on Nov. 4. It initially made vague threats about working with law enforcement to stop “product tampering.”  But by last week, it was embracing the benevolent hackers." (emphasis added).  So you buy a product and experiment with it, you are now deemed a miscreant for using the product in an unauthorized manner? Exactly were does a company obtain the power to tell you how you may use your product?  Well at least Microsoft seems to have finally comprehended that maybe the innovation offered by the experimenter might be positive.

The title of this Times puff piece caries a derogatory implication "Hackers Take Liberties".  This article could just as easily been titled "Microsoft Embraces Innovative Uses of the Kinect Controller by Garage Experimenters".  A bit long and not very catchy for a headline, but I hope you get point.

At least the Time's also gratuitously writes: "Microsoft and other companies would be wise to keep an eye on this kind of outside innovation and consider wrapping some of the creative advances into future products, said Loren Johnson, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan who follows digital media and consumer electronics. ....  But other companies whose products have been popular targets for tinkering have actively encouraged it. One example is iRobot, the company that makes the Roomba, a small robotic vacuum cleaner. That product was so popular with robotics enthusiasts that the company began selling the iRobot Create, a programmable machine with no dusting capabilities."

Companies when they "sell" a product no longer retain an ownership privilege.  Consequently, companies should not have a post sale capability to prohibit innovation. If we want an economy and society that can benefit by innovation, we need the freedom to tinker.

PS: There is a website "Freedom to Tinker".

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