Why Google Chrome Will Make the Web Worse Than Television

I know very few people who still watch television.

Television is boring, pointless and hopelessly outdated. For some reason millions of people still watch it, but it’s a matter of time until the whole industry will crumble like the governments of the USSR and Libya did, and we shall wonder why did it take so long. It will be painful to some people who make their living from it, but it will happen.

The future of entertainment and broadcasting is shaping now, and the direction is not bad. With each version of the modern web browsers – Firefox, Chrome and Opera – embedding video into pages is getting easier and works better. Users are forced less and less to install proprietary and unstable plugins. Flash is becoming a thing of the past, with YouTube working without it just as well. Diverse people create excellent music and films in their homes and they are able to publish it instantly. Business models for getting people to pay for DRM-free video and music are improving, too, for everybody’s benefit.

For some reason, however, Google and Microsoft aren’t happy about these perfectly sensible developments. They are proposing to add DRM – Digital Restriction Management – to the HTML standard. This weird document says that “No ‘DRM’ is added to the HTML5 specification“, but a document that speaks about encrypting and “protecting” content is a document about DRM. This is not “protection”, but restriction, and it is defective by design.

Preventing the copying of music and video files is not actually important to Google or to the media production companies. They will find ways to charge money for music and video. They rather want to know who is listening to what, to know what to produce and to whom to sell it. Google is essentially an advertising company, and an advertising company’s biggest asset is demographic data about people’s tastes and customs.

This is a grave privacy concern, of course, but there are enough privacy geeks to write about that. I’m not much of a privacy geek; what i really care about for this matter is the future of culture. Culture has to be interesting, vibrant and constantly innovative. When advertisers and media providers know the tastes of the “consumers” too well, culture tends to repeat itself and become very bad. Much like television in the last few years.

It is highly unlikely that the W3C will accept this proposal and make it standard. W3C dislikes DRM to begin with, Mozilla representatives in the W3C will definitely oppose to it, and even Google’s own W3C representative isn’t enthusiastic about it. Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine that Google will implement this proposal in Chrome, and Microsoft will implement it in Internet Explorer. Then they will set up several websites with “partners” who will provide “content” that cannot be played without this DRM scheme, and this will pull more people into using these browsers and lock them into a nightmare of pointless, recycled, creativity-stifling entertainment.

I am a Mozillian. You may think that this means that i want Firefox’s market share to be 100%. That is not what i want. I love the web and i want it to be great for all people, no matter which browser they use. Building Digital Restriction Management into browsers will make the web, and the whole culture around it, bad and boring.

Don’t let that happen to the web. If you care about culture and arts, use Firefox – a browser that is committed to openness and not to advertising revenue.


17 thoughts on “Why Google Chrome Will Make the Web Worse Than Television

  1. I don’t know if this encrypted HTMLMediaElement is as bleak as you make it out to be. One possible outcome (if it does gain traction) is that the business driven TV world will finally start to take the web seriously as a distribution platform. Right now TV on the web is a second class citizen and it’s actually detrimental to the industry because consumers can’t get what they want, e.g. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/game_of_thrones (yes, I mean piracy).

    When the industry suffers, TV content suffers. If these big media companies can finally wrap their head around selling on-demand web content instead of clinging for dear life to their outdated cable subscription and Sunday prime time models then we might start to see budgets replenished and kwality TV shows get longer production runs.

    DRM is the gateway drug to mass distribution. Apple showed this when it paved the way for mp3 sales. Not that they’re making a killing off of mp3s but it opened up the playing field and now selling DRM *free* mp3s is quite normal.

  2. I am not getting the point here.

    So should everything be FREE(beer) on the Internet?
    There is one thing about out privacy and restriction, another thing about protection of value.

    To simply put, i like the idea, a way we could have netflix without clients.
    I dont like the implementation as this is now proposed.

    1. I didn’t say that everything should be free (beer). I said that DRM is evil. Lots of people are making money from art without DRM.

    2. What protection? I just see attempts at starting a cat-and-mouse game on how to hide a key.

  3. “So should everything be FREE(beer) on the Internet?”

    No but people should be treated like adults and not subjected to phony DRM methods and the technically kludgey ways of implementing them.

    1. Google submitted the proposal.

      It’s hard to imagine that the very talented people who develop Chrome and Webkit are pro-DRM. It’s quite easy to imagine that the marketing people who influence their bosses are.

  4. As it were, Mozilla is dependent on the money Google pays to be the default search in Firefox, which in itself is a form of advertising revenue, and also by extension makes you dependent on the ad revenue of Google. Keep up the good work, but get off your high horse.

  5. You posted this post prior to me (I also planned to create similar post).

    Like I wrote on /. where I first read it, the design is not hard to break. It actually does not protect anything.
    If a browser contain a certificate for decrypting information, what prevent me to write a “sniffer” that also use that certificate and hijack the content ?

    Then, you’ll have a cat and mouse game between everyone. Governments will try to create laws to prevent it (like that’s what will stop things), and again there will be new technology that will suppose to fix this, and yet again – you are unable to protect things …

    Also Mozilla, will be unable to participate with such thing. Because in order for you to open the code, you will make things open to others to use.

    It’s time that people will understand, that owning content like today, is not a real thing, but an appearance.

    Instead of trying to fight the human spirit of willing to share things, they need to learn how to live with it imho.

  6. I don’t know why is bad THAT drm, but some kind of drm is necessary to extinguish flash, even some mozillians I think recognize that. Now there is a big opportunity, if some kind of “good” DRM is proposed on W3C and implemented quickly there will be only that to play media on browsers across platform. One site could even require another scheme or plugin but then it would be more difficult to made it available to everyone than to use the standard W3C one. And so we will have the media available without too much problem and the distributors will be happy. It’s probably a dream though…

  7. I’m also against any DRM being fundamental to using the web. The problem is it already is. Flash is required by several video sites and they almost all take advantage of DRM because it allows them a high level of control over their service and yes I’m talking of video sharing sites here.

    It’s clear why Google and Microsoft proposed this. They want to eliminate of the need for Flash a quickly as possible. Also, I’m sure Google and Netflix want to make build HTML5 websites that have content from big media companies

    Are you sure Mozilla won’t just jump on this too? Because I remember reading a blog post by Robert O’Callahan claiming that we need something like this while in the comments Asa Dotzler went on defending DRM:

  8. I like television. Just lying back and snuggling to a marathon of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, “Psych”, or something on a cold winter day. It’s certainly more comfortable than watching it on a computer. But eh, to each his own.

  9. “with YouTube working without it just as well”

    excuse me? Are you dreaming?

    1. Only partially :)

      For the most part YouTube works without Flash if you enable HTML5. Some videos still require Flash, but i’m sure that they will move to HTML5 in the near future.

  10. For all DRM haters, I don’t see how renting movies can work without DRM. The whole idea of renting is that it is for a limited period of time – i.e a *restriction*, no? Sure, when buying movies, I’d like to have them without DRM, but for renting? What’s the big deal? I am tired of the fact that in my country, you need a Windows machine with Microsoft DRM to rent a movie online. Please let me rent movies from my Mac!

    1. Renting made sense when the physical carriers were popular. Preserving the idea of renting without the physical carriers is just a matter of preserving an outdated business model.

      1. So renting a movie online (with Microsoft DRM) currently costs me about $2-3. Are you saying that movies will be *sold* for this kind of amount? If that will be the case, then I stand corrected. If not, then I am still interested in renting, regardless of how “outdated” this business model is.

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