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Locked in the sandbox

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(I reeeealllly want to pitch this to Roland Emmerich.)

I get the appeal of the App Store worldview. I really do. For users, it’s knowing that every piece of software on your device has been vetted – and having a simple, trusted way to manage it.

And Apple’s App Store is a thing of grace and beauty, as you’d expect from Apple. It’s a pleasure to use.

But it’s a gilded cage. Apple isn’t just deciding what’s safe for your device. They’re deciding what will and won’t be to their business advantage. They’re deciding which areas of functionality they’re willing to open up to competition, and which they want to keep as a monopoly. They’re deciding what’s easy to support, and what could cost their call centers and Genius Bars more time (and therefore money).

They’re deciding what maximizes their business partners’ ability to profit by controlling your access to their content, and what gives you too much freedom to copy, remix, edit and share.

And they’re deciding what range of choice is safe to offer you: not just to protect your security, but also to protect your user experience. And if the user experience they think is best doesn’t work that well for you… well, tough; they can’t design for every edge case.

App stores like Apple’s aren’t just about you knowing you can trust your device. It’s about Apple knowing they can trust you to make the choices that support their business model. When adults tell kids “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset,” it isn’t just a way of forestalling a tantrum; it’s preparing them for the next era in digital living.

All of this happens without any real accountability. The appeal process (and this applies to most walled gardens, whether it’s Apple’s App Store or Facebook’s… anything) makes the Star Chamber look like an unconference.

Of course, nobody’s stopping me from installing whatever I want on my Mac laptop. There’s an App Store, but I can download and install software from anywhere… or code it myself. (The latter doesn’t offer much functionality beyond launching a “Hello, world!” alert box… but that limitation comes from my lack of programming knowledge, not the platform’s restrictions.)

For now.

But it’s not hard to think of pretty likely scenarios where that could change. A botnet attack that does serious economic or physical damage would have a lot of politicians calling for safeguards to protect the Internet by imposing restrictions on software and hardware capabilities.

That might sound farfetched, except governments have been willing to criminalize a lot in the name of protecting the commercial interests of the media industry from online sharing. Vendors like Sony have already tried to sneak in certain restrictions through trojan horse techniques.

Cory Doctorow makes a persuasive business case and an absolutely compelling human rights case for the critical importance of user overrides. And that strikes me as a best-of-both-worlds approach: an App Store for security and reliability, but the option to leave the sandox for the swings or the slide… or, hey! leave the playground altogether and head over to play with the penguins at the zoo!

Notes from a session on digital activism

How nonprofits can protect digital rights (and themselves) post-SOPA: cartoon-blogging at #12ntc

How nonprofits can protect digital rights (and themselves) post-SOPA: cartoon-blogging at #12ntc published on 2 Comments on How nonprofits can protect digital rights (and themselves) post-SOPA: cartoon-blogging at #12ntc

Notes from a session on digital activismOne more session from NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference – this one featuring the EFF’s Rainey Reitman, Craigslist’s Craig Newmark and NTEN’s Holly Ross.

This one works a lot better as a bigger graphic. So if you’d like, here it is.

#SOPA opera

#SOPA opera published on No Comments on #SOPA opera

Cartoon originally posted on ReadWriteWeb

PLEASE NOTE: This cartoon is made available under a Creative Commons license. If you think it might be useful to you in your (non-commercial) advocacy against SOPA and in support of the open web, then please: use it. No need to wait for permission. If you can credit me and link to this page, that would be lovely.

This was going to be the usual frothy-essay-ending-on-a-reflective-wistful-note that usually accompanies my cartoons, but it turns out that the House Judiciary Committee will resume its SOPA markup debate on Wednesday.

SOPA, if you haven’t been following this story, is the Stop Online Piracy Act (see the Wikipedia article) currently before the U.S. House of Representatives. It opens up some breathtaking new avenues for government and private-sector copyright holders to take action that would – in the opinion of its critics, including yours truly – be deeply damaging to the fundamental nature of the Internet.

Folks like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons, Mozilla and Google have all come out swinging against it (and PIPA, SOPA’s sibling bill in the Senate). And so have 83 of the inventors and engineers who actually helped to build the Internet, in a dramatic letter released on Thursday:

If enacted, either of these bills will create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure. [….] All censorship schemes impact speech beyond the category they were intended to restrict, but these bills are particularly egregious in that regard because they cause entire domains to vanish from the Web, not just infringing pages or files. Worse, an incredible range of useful, law-abiding sites can be blacklisted under these proposals.

Still, even House Democrat Zoe Lofgren acknowledges that the bill’s supporters probably have the upper hand in Congress. But, she adds, “that is because you have not yet been heard from fully yet. That is very much subject to change.”

So it is. If you’re from the United States, I hope you’ll consider the arguments around SOPA and PIPA. And then I hope you’ll contact your elected representatives and let them know what you conclude. (Here’s a list of House and Senate* offices. And here’s a tool that opponents to SOPA can use to contact their representatives.)

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* I know – it’s built in Cold Fusion. And they’re deciding the future of the Internet.