Pluralistic: 07 Jul 2021


Today's links



A mousetrap superimposed over the Matrix 'waterfall' effect.

Technological self-determination (permalink)

My latest Locus Magazine column is "Tech Monopolies and the Insufficient Necessity of Interoperability," an essay about the goal of competition and its handmaiden, interoperability, namely, "technological self-determination."

https://locusmag.com/2021/07/cory-doctorow-tech-monopolies-and-the-insufficient-necessity-of-interoperability/

I don't fight monopolies because they're "inefficient." I fight them because they deprive everyone – workers, users, suppliers – of the right to decide how to live our lives, both by eliminating competitors who might offer superior choices and by locking us into their silos.

A monopolized world is one in which a tiny number of people get the final say over every aspect of your life: where and how you live, work, socialize, shop, politick, love, convalesce – even how you die.

I don't care how "efficient" or brilliant these self-appointed, unaccountable lifestyle czars are. Benevolent dictatorships are bullshit. No matter how well they work, they always fail disastrously, because dictators are just mediocre humans like you and me and they fuck up.

This is especially important when it comes to tech monopolies, because tech is how we'll coordinate the movement to smash all monopolies. No tech product designer knows more than you do about the exigencies of your life.

If you don't get to override their decisions – if you don't get to reconfigure the technology you rely on – then you'll be stuck waiting for a mandatory software update on your car at the moment you need to drive away from a raging wildfire.

Tech monopolies like to claim they got big through "network effects," an economics term for a product that improves as it grows. Facebook is big because the bigger it is, the more you need Facebook, and when you join, you make it bigger, so even more people need Facebook.

But that's pure misdirection. Sure, tech might get big because of network effects, but it stays big due to "switching costs" – the things you forfeit when you leave the service.

You come to Facebook because your friends are there, but you stay on FB because if you leave, you'll lose touch with those friends. There's no intrinsic reason this must be so: after all, you can switch cellular carriers without losing touch with all your friends.

The only reason leaving FB means leaving behind the friends, family, communities, and customers you have there is because FB engineered it so it would work that way. FB blocks interop specifically to keep switching costs as high, so you can't exercise self-determination.

We're at an unprecedented, intercontinental moment in antimonopoly enforcement, with competition laws in train all over the world. Despite this, the world's governments are in for a tough fight: Big Tech is bigger than most countries.

They're not shy about mobilizing their vast storehouses of ill-gotten monopoly rents to defend their right to deprive you of the right to live your life the way you want to.

Interoperability – in the form of mandates and legal permission to hack ad-hoc interop into dominant services cuts the supply lines to Big Tech's lobbying efforts, easing way of people who want to escape Big Tech's gravity well without cutting off people they leave behind.

Interop – and competition – are both a means to an end: not choice for its own sake, but nothing less than the right to life your life in service to your values, rather than the self-interest of the shareholders of dominant platforms.

The problem of monopoly isn't "bad companies" and "good companies." It's the issue of whether you can override corporate judgement when it's in your interest to do so.

Interop mandates – like those proposed in the ACCESS Act – are an important part of this agenda, but on their own they will never suffice. Mandates are too easy for monopolists to subvert, and regulators move too slowly to fix them.

https://pluralistic.net/2021/06/22/vapescreen/#improve-access

In addition to mandatory interop, we need "adversarial interoperability" (AKA Competitive Compatibility or comcom) the legal right to connect new services and add-ons to existing ones without permission.

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/10/adversarial-interoperability

With comcom in the mix, corporate bosses that cheat on their interoperability obligations will face instant consequences for their perfidy: their competitors will switch from orderly interop via mandated interfaces to chaotic comcom guerrilla warfare.

Smart managers will avoid this altogether – and when stupid managers prevail, the users they are attempting to trap will still have recourse in the form of comcom interfaces.

Monopoly isn't purely a matter of Big Tech. Monopolism has conquered nearly every industry. But tech platforms are our best tool for fighting monopolism – and the momentum we build in fighting Big Tech will serve us well when we go after the rest.

(Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/99783447@N07/9433864982/, CC BY, modified)



A vintage John Deere tractor whose wheel hubs have been replaced with HAL 9000 eyes, matted over a background of the cyber-waterfall image from The Matrix.

Biden delivers Right to Repair via executive order (permalink)

Right to Repair is a no-brainer. You – not manufacturers – should have the right to decide whom you trust to fix your stuff, even (especially) when that stuff is "smart" and an unscrupulous repair could create unquantifiable "cyber-risk."

And yet…dozens of state R2R bills were defeated in 2018, thanks to an unholy coalition of Big Ag, Big Tech, and consumer electronics monopolists like Wahl. That supervillain gang reassembled to fight and kill still more bills in 2020/1.

https://pluralistic.net/2021/05/26/nixing-the-fix/#r2r

It's part of the long trend in which all levels of government make policy based on what serves the interests of the rich and powerful, not the people they serve.

2014's "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens" (Cambirdge University Pree) quantifies this phenomenon:

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/article/testing-theories-of-american-politics-elites-interest-groups-and-average-citizens/62327F513959D0A304D4893B382B992B#authors-details

"Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."

Right to Repair advocates never lost hope. May's "Nixing the Fix" report from the FTC establishes a factual record in support of the right to repair across many sectors, but especially agricultural equipment.

https://pluralistic.net/2021/05/07/pro-act-class-war/#we-fixit

Big Ag is a particularly odious repair troll, and John Deere is its standard-bearer. The company has been trying to felonize farmers' repairing their own tractors since at least 2015:

https://web.archive.org/web/20150428173001/https://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/how-digital-rights-management-keeps-value-in-hands-of-the-manufacturer/article24130876/

They told the US Copyright Office that farmers don't own their tractors – because tractor firmware is copyrighted, it is licensed, not sold, and farmers must abide by the company's license terms.

https://www.wired.com/2015/04/dmca-ownership-john-deere/

At the same time, Deere started pushing the insulting story that farmers are yokels, too stupid to fix their tractors. This despite Deere's long history of turning farmers' modifications of their equipment into money-making features in new tractors.

https://securityledger.com/2019/03/opinion-my-grandfathers-john-deere-would-support-our-right-to-repair/

Farmers have been fixing their own gear literally since the dawn of civilization, hacking their own plows. Every farm has a workshop, because when you're at the end of a country road and there's a hailstorm coming, you need to bring in the crops, not wait for a repair tech.

Deere's arguments that independent repair will expose America's food supply to cyber-risk are equally hollow, because Deere has some of the worst cybersecurity of any industry – winning the infosec race to the bottom.

https://pluralistic.net/2021/04/23/reputation-laundry/#deere-john

Despite Deere's lobbying, patronizing and FUD, the right to repair has – finally – triumphed.

Today, the Biden administration announced an executive order directing the Department of Ag and the FTC to develop R2R rules for agricultural equipment!

https://www.vice.com/en/article/epn5mk/biden-to-sign-executive-order-granting-farmers-right-to-repair-protections

The fight's not over yet. The devil is in the details, those rules the FTC and Ag develop. But with superheroes like Lina Khan running the FTC, there's reason to believe that we're going to get good, evidence-based and fair rules.

This is huge, a massive vindication for R2R activists and their long, tireless struggle.

(Image: Cryteria, CC BY, modified)



A frame from the comic-book brief of Third Planet Comics.

Comic book store files comic-book lawsuit (permalink)

One of the great sf/comics/collectibles stores in America is Houston's Third Planet. One of the worst-managed hotels in America is the Crowne Plaza River Oaks, who happen to be Third Planet's next door neighbors.

The Crowne Plaza River Oaks is home to routine "physical assault, sexual assault, public disturbances, criminal mischief, burgalry, theft and other criminal activities," which are "permitted to occur on hotel premises."

Among the many downsides of owning the business next to this hotel? They permit guests and residents to congregate on the fire escape and hurl garbage ("ceramic mugs, plates, silverware, bottles…cinderblocks, luggage racks and ladders") into Third Planet's roof.

This led to Third Planet replacing their roof, then paying for a series of repairs to the new roof. The hotel management ignored their pleas. In Mar 2019, hotel residents launched a volley of 14+ fire extinguishers at the store, which exploded on impact.

The store's structure – and its merchandise, including one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable items – have suffered damage. The roof is a goner. The hotel guests and residents continue to pelt it with garbage. Enough is enough.

Third Planet's lawsuit against the Crowne Plaza is a marvel of clear legal writing, but that's not all – it's also a comic book illustrating the store's complaint, starting on P6.

The 'cover' of the comic-book portion of Third Planet's brief.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1u4a6hw5DJZQeTpD4oiqTXPo5ixMwqPdz/view

I've read a lot of legal briefs, but this one is literally a work of art.



This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Guy successfully trades paperclip for house https://oneredpaperclip.blogspot.com/2006/07/interesting.html

#10yrsago Podcast: I interview Thomas Gideon from the Command Line https://thecommandline.net/2011/07/06/6th_anniversary/

#10yrsago Influencing Machine: Brook Gladstone’s comic about media theory is serious but never dull https://memex.craphound.com/2011/07/07/influencing-machine-brook-gladstones-comic-about-media-theory-is-serious-but-never-dull/

#5yrsago ANSI board member thinks we should all pay for sex (and also pay to read the law) https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160702/07240834879/standards-body-whines-that-people-who-want-free-access-to-law-probably-also-want-free-sex.shtml

#1yrago Big 4 accounting firms headed for breakup https://pluralistic.net/2020/07/07/little-bro-with-snowden/#quis-custodiet-ipsos-custodes

#1yrago Coronavirus tests are a taxable benefit https://pluralistic.net/2020/07/07/little-bro-with-snowden/#test-taxes

#1yrago Or What You Will https://pluralistic.net/2020/07/07/little-bro-with-snowden/#metafiction

#1yrago There is no automation employment crisis https://pluralistic.net/2020/07/07/little-bro-with-snowden/#truckers-are-safe

#1yrago New Little Brother/Homeland edition is out today! https://pluralistic.net/2020/07/07/little-bro-with-snowden/#book-birthday



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: David Greene (https://twitter.com/davidgreene).

Currently writing:

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. Yesterday's progress: 254 words (8946 words total).

  • A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. PLANNING

  • A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown." FINAL EDITS

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Inside The Clock Tower https://craphound.com/news/2021/06/21/inside-the-clock-tower/
Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest book:

Upcoming books:

  • The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to pluralistic.net.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.


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