Keep On Hacking In The Free World: Anonymous Rises To Defend PS3 Hacker
“If you keep a safe in a bank robber’s sitting room, eventually he’s going to find a way to open it” — This was the idiom used by copyright reform advocate Lawrence Lessig in his 2007 TED talk to both describe the futility of the tech industry’s anti-piracy efforts and simultaneously ask consumers an important question: What is it exactly that manufacturers like Apple, Sony and Microsoft are selling us?
In this case, the “bank robber” is George “GeoHot” Hotz, a fellow known for cracking open Sony’s PlayStation 3 by exploiting firmware vulnerabilities, thereby enabling users to do what they please with the hardware they’ve bought. Fair enough. But because one of the things they might “please” is running pirated software, Sony is none too happy and is pursuing legal action against Hotz for having the audacity to give consumers the ability to use their purchases in ways Sony hadn’t intended.
Ironically enough, one of those ways was once offered by Sony themselves — The “Install Other OS” feature, which allowed 1st and 2nd generation PS3s to run alternative operating environments like Linux, was forcibly removed by Sony under the pretense of eliminating unnecessary production costs. Having robbed PS3 owners of a feature that the system originally advertised, the removal made a lot of folks very unhappy and even led to a class-action law suit (which was later all but thrown out in court).
Sony had tightened their grip on the PlayStation platform. But it didn’t stop there.
Geohot originally made a name for himself by being the first to jailbreak Apple’s iPhone
Hotz, who has since released videos and other documentation on how to hack the PS3 (and previously, the iPhone), has not only been been subject to criminal charges but has witnessed a government subpoena of his website, PayPal and YouTube accounts at the behest of Sony. Much like with Wikileaks, this means anyone who has donated to Hotz, accessed his site, or even so much as looked at a video he posted on YouTube will have records and identifying details of their activity collected.
And what’s really messed up is that based on recent exemptions added to that fiendish piece of legislation, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Hotz doesn’t seem to have done anything wrong — The law was revised to state that “jailbreaking” or otherwise subverting the proprietary locks on a device is perfectly legal. That’s not stopping Sony, however, and eagerness with which the U.S. government has helped them in bringing down Hotz is, to say the least, disturbing.
Disturbing enough to incite the wrath of hive-minded internet activist organization Anonymous, in fact. On Monday, the group launched a DDoS attack against both Sony’s main website and PlayStation.com, bringing down the sites for about 30 minutes in an act of digital protest. The attacks themselves were mostly symbolic, and it’s unlikely they will amount to more than a barely-noticeable dent in Sony’s armor. But they continue nonetheless, and Anon now says these initial attacks are merely a prelude for what’s to come.
Some Anonymous members have called for more tactical strikes after angering gamers in their attacks on Sony’s online gaming service, PlayStation Network. Sony is the guilty party here, they say, not those who buy Sony products. Yet other Anons say that the consumers are “collateral damage,” suggesting that gamers look at the bigger picture of Anon’s campaign. “This is unfortunate as a concern should always be,” the group said, “will the very people we seek to support not see what it is we are trying to achieve.” Others have even gone as far as to extend the objectives of “OpSony” into infiltrating the private lives of Sony executives, collecting information on their families, homes and spending habits.
Most of the damage here, however, was dealt not to Sony’s websites or their customers, but to their PR department. The offensive has shone a glaring spotlight on the company’s dubious business strategy, the all-too-common ‘Jobsian’ stance that has us questioning whether we’re actually buying tech products or merely ‘renting’ them. “You own your domains. You paid for them with your own money,” reads a statement from Anonymous, released just after Sony’s sites were taken down. “Now Anonymous is attacking your private property because we disagree with your actions. And that seems, dare we say it, “wrong.” Sound familiar?”
You’d think that with the tenacity and recklessness with which Sony has pursued their quarry they’d at least be able to offer an answer to that question of what they’re selling us, if not the ownership of a piece of hardware. To net neutrality advocate and former law professor Tim Wu, this uncertainty represents the beginnings of a paradigm shift which threatens to strips consumers of their rights and establish a “read-only” technology culture. Wu says he isn’t going down without a fight, however, and with his recent appointment as an FTC senior advisor, perhaps there’s hope yet for digital rights in the post-Jobs era.
For more on net neutrality and internet freedom, see our video interview with Wu here.