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Re: Software lock in?

  • From: Steve Newcomb <srn@coolheads.com>
  • To: xml-dev@lists.xml.org
  • Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:29:51 -0400

Re:  Software lock in?
On 03/22/2017 07:58 AM, Dave Pawson wrote:

Assuming fair reporting, is this where we're going
with all hw/sw systems?

I suspect the John Deere story is real enough; this is the second source I've seen for it (and the first for some time). In answer to your question, Dave, I think "Yes, and with the inexorability of a moving freight train."

The IoT ("Internet of Things") is bound to remove the sovereignty of individuals over their manufactured possessions, requiring license agreements to be signed as part of the purchase of vital capital goods. In media and telecom, we're already in this brave new world. In view of the new telecom business models, the IoT amounts to a recognition that there's a vacuum wherever there *can* be centrally-controlled firmware, and such firmware can serve the interests of manufacturer, whatever the manufacturer perceives those interests as being.

The farmers' ad-hoc approach to their problems with John Deere is suboptimal in so many ways that it's more like a horrible example than a model.

I've gained control over my router firmware, but it has been a costly exercise. The time and effort required to gain full control over my routers has convinced me that I have little hope of doing the same thing for my toaster, much less my car, my cell phone, my smart TV, my alarm clock, my furnace...

Routers are interesting cases because they are already participants in the IoT, and because there are already alternative open-source replacements for their internal firmware, such as DD-WRT and OpenWRT. Of course, in installing open source firmware, I had to sacrifice my router warranties, but that's a trivial matter. The manufacturers of my routers have never put me in a position where I had to waive my unconditional right to continue to operate my business, as the farmers are said to claim they must do if they buy John Deere products. Is that really the brave new world we want, or should we seek a more mutually respectful power balance between consumers and the big-capital entities that supply their needs? The recent Samsung, Volkswagen, and John Deere overreaches are not the bulk of the stories, and some of the untold ones are likely to be more horrifying. And if we're really worried about hacker attacks on our infrastructures, how can we not be at least equally worried about the innumerable software vulnerabilities of our *personal* infrastructures?

This is fundamentally simple. It's about trust, and we should not trust any business entity that insists it is the only trustworthy entity. I think the main thing is to open up the firmware. It should be feasible for me to outsource my privacy-and-control efforts. If I so choose (and if I can find customers who trust me), it should be feasible for me to become a source for such trusted services. If, as a customer for manufactured goods, I must limit my purchases to products over which my privacy-and-control contractor is prepared to take control, so be it. Indeed, it is apparently the case that the routers for which OpenWRT and DD-WRT are readily available sell better than those for which it isn't, so I consider the model basically demonstrated.

Alas, the U.S. Congress is moving in the wrong direction on this kind of thing. It is working to remove the onerous "fiduciary" status of investment counselors, so that, at least as a legal matter, they are free to serve their own interests over and above the interests of their hapless customers. If there will ever be such a thing as an independent individual privacy-and-control contractor, such a contractor will need to be a fiduciary, as all practicing lawyers are. Only fiduciary experts can be expected to figure out how to maintain the security of private IT infrastructure, too, and probably even public infrastructure, too. In my view, a large and diverse open market for the services of such privacy-and-control fiduciaries might actually work.

If you feel this matter is off-topic with respect to XML, I'd be interested to hear some specific ways in which it is *not* relevant to XML.

Steve Newcomb

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