Over at TIME.com, I write about last week’s flap over Apple kicking out famed security researcher Charlie Miller out of its iOS developer program:
So let’s be clear: Apple did not ban Miller for exposing a security flaw, as many have suggested. He was kicked out for violating his agreement with Apple to respect the rules around the App Store walled garden. And that gets to the heart of what’s really at stake here–the fact that so many dislike the strict control Apple exercises over its platform. …
What we have to remember is that as strict as Apple may be, its approach is not just “not bad” for consumers, it’s creating more choice.
Read the whole thing here.
On numerous occasions here and elsewhere I have cited the enormous influence that Virginia Postrel’s 1998 book, The Future and Its Enemies, has had on me. Her “dynamist” versus “stasis” paradigm helps us frame and better understand almost all debates about technological progress. I cannot recommend that book highly enough.
In her latest Wall Street Journal column, Postrel considers what makes the iPad such a “magical” device and in doing so, she takes on the logical set forth in Jonathan Zittrain 2009 book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, although she doesn’t cite the book by name in her column. You will recall that in that book and his subsequent essays, Prof. Zittrain made Steve Jobs and his iPhone out to be the great enemy of digital innovation — at least as Zittrain defined it. How did Zittrain reach this astonishing conclusion and manage to turn Jobs into a pariah and his devices into the supposed enemy of innovation? It came down to “generativity,” Zittrain said, by which he meant technologies or networks that invite or allow tinkering and all sorts of creative uses. Zittrain worships general-purpose personal computers and the traditional “best efforts” Internet. By contrast, he decried “sterile, tethered” digital “appliances” like the iPhone, which he claimed limited generativity and innovation, mostly because of their generally closed architecture.
In her column, Postrel agrees that the iPad is every bit as closed as Zittrain feared iPhone successor devices would be. She notes: “customers haven’t the foggiest idea how the machine works. The iPad is completely opaque. It is a sealed box. You can’t see the circuitry or read the software code. You can’t even change the battery.” But Postrel continues on to explain why the hand-wringing about perfect openness is generally overblown and, indeed, more than a bit elitist: Continue reading →
Pundits are foaming at the mouth about AT&T’s just-announced end to unlimited data packages for smartphones. Here is Jeff Jarvis calling the move “cynical,” “retrograde,” and “evil.” However, he provides no evidence that this is anything but AT&T facing economic reality. The iPhone was a revolution, and how much data people consume given an awesome device turned out to be much more than AT&T was ready for. Now they’re asking their customers who use the most data to pay more, and this is evil?
Not only is it not evil, it’s incredibly fair. Most people will probably pay less for service. The cheapest of AT&T’s new plans is $15 for 200 MB of data. That’s $15 cheaper than their current $30 for unlimited iPhone use. According to AT&T, 65 percent of their customers use less than 200 MB of data a month. I consider myself a heavy iPhone user, and I just came back from a trip to NYC on which my iPhone was the only device I took with me, and yet with 2 days left in my billing cycle, I’ve used 154 MB of data. So, AT&T’s change will actually be a price-cut for me and the majority of AT&T customers.
Yup, real evil.
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing lately about Google’s recent acquisitions of Teracent (ad-personalization) and AdMob (mobile ads), as well as Apple’s response, buying AdMob’s rival Quattro Wireless. Jeff Chester, true To form, quickly fired off an angry letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, ranting about how the Google/AdMob deal would harm consumer privacy with the same vague fulminations as ever:
Google amasses a goldmine of data by tracking consumers’ behavior as they use its search engine and other online services. Combining this information with information collected by AdMob would give Google a massive amount of consumer data to exploit for its benefit.
Yup, that’s right, it’s all part of Google’s grand conspiracy to exploit (and eventually enslave) us all—and Apple is just a latecomer to this dastardly game. It’s not as if that data about users’ likely interests might, oh, I don’t know… actually help make advertising more relevant—and thus increase advertising revenues for the mobile applications/websites that depend on advertising revenues to make their business models work. No, of course not! Greedy capitalist scum like Google and Apple don’t care about anyone but themselves, and just want to extract every last drop of “surplus value” (as Marx taught us) from The Worker. (Never mind that in 4Q2009 Google generated $1.47 billion for website owners who use Google AdSense to sell ads on their sites—up 17% over 4Q2008—or that Apple has a strong incentive to maximize revenues for its iPhone app developers.) Internet users of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but all those “free” content and services thrown at your feet! Continue reading →
Why do (most) stores have walls? Because, obviously, walls are generally (at least in the developing world) a cost-effective technology for enforcing the value exchange that stores offer customers: products or services for customers’ cash. Open-air markets exist, but tend to be reserved for items cheap enough that the costs of theft fall below some “acceptable loss threshold.” All stores ultimately rely on employees and the police to chase down shoplifters.
Yet many valuable media products have long been simply given away by their producers in the implicit value exchange of advertising: newspapers, magazines, radio, television and online content/services for customers’ attention. It’s as if publishers set up a store with no walls and put up a big “steal this book!” sign inviting shoplifters in. Advertisers simply have to hope that their ads are interesting enough to catch the attention of readers/viewers/listeners—and, on the Web, maybe even get users to click on the ad! It should be obvious that the lack of any “enforcement technology” simply means that there will be less funding for this “free” stuff enjoyed by consumers—just as there would be fewer goods and/or higher prices if stores were prevented from discouraging or punishing shoplifting.
Ethicists could debate until the cows come home whether ad-blocking (or ad-ignoring) is morally tantamount to shoplifting—taking without “paying” (through attention)—but who cares? Whatever the morality of it, the important, and undeniable, thing is that those who ignore/block commercials are free-riding on the economic value created by those who don’t.
Enter Apple, which recently filed a patent application for a technology intended to ensure that users are seeing, and actually paying attention to, ads. Randall Stross, author of the excellent book Planet Google, hates the idea of “compelling attention” and suggests that it would so annoy consumers that it would cost Apple more in reputational capital than it’s worth. Stross may well be proven right in the marketplace (and, if so, fine), but does that make Apple’s proposal wrong? The brilliantly satirical “Secret Diary of Steve Jobs” calls the idea “evil,” and suggests that, in the pretended voice of Steve Jobs: Continue reading →