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Television is boring, pointless and hopelessly outdated.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.

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Proto-DRM, part 2

…OK, i wrote the previous entry before reading the whole of the Britannica article. Well, further into it appears a harsher “rights manager”:

The next important dictionary to be published was an English–French one by John (or Jehan) Palsgrave in 1530 […] and a letter has survived showing that he arranged with his printer that no copy should be sold without his permission, lest his proffit by teaching the Frenche tonge myght be mynished by the sale of the same to suche persons as, besids hym, wern disposed to studye the sayd tongue.

Proto-DRM

From the article “dictionary” in Encyclopedia Britannica online – my emphasis:

The corporation records of Boston, Lincolnshire, have the following entry for the year 1578: That a dictionarye shall be bought for the scollers of the Free Scoole, and the same boke to be tyed in a cheyne, and set upon a deske in the scoole, whereunto any scoller may have accesse, as occasion shall serve.

Notice that the town hall or something similar cares about the education of the children that grow and orders to get them all a dictionary, so they may have accesse to it, but to tye it in cheyne.

This is not really the same kind of rights management as the modern DRM, because it isn’t done to prevent copying, but probably to prevent the stealing of the physical book, which is understandable. But it is funny to see that it is tied to a chain whereunto any schooler may have access, much like in the title of the excellent soviet movie “Welcome, or No Trespassing“.

The apple you’ve got in your eye

The Free Software Foundation‘s Defective By Design campaign against Digital Restrictions Management proposes to ask “Apple Geniuses”—about the restrictions that the Apple iPhone imposes on its users and software developers who want to write programs that will run on it.

Nice idea, i thought, i may do it, but i need better directions, so i left this sincere comment:

This looks like a fun activity, and i may try doing it at my local Apple store, but there are a few problems that i’d like to clear out before i embark on the mission.

1. I am in Israel. This questionnaire is quite US-centric. While Apple products may be more familiar to people in the US, where they are common in some schools and workplaces, it is not so in Israel. Here, until recently Apple computers were used only by a few graphic designers, and only recently Apple started marketing them to the general public. iPods are quite common here, and so are iPhones, but none of them are marketed half as heavily as they are in the US. Also, the last question is completely US-centric. Can you please improve it by making it more generic and international?

2. All of this questionnaire assumes that i must trust FSF’s claims blindly. I do trust the FSF and i strongly believe that it acts for a good cause and i assume that it doesn’t try to lie to me. Nevertheless, a few links to sources that prove the claims about the restrictions imposed by iPhone would strongly improve my point and my confidence when talking to the “genius”. For example: a direct link to a Nokia website that proves that any developer can upload their programs to a Nokia phone, a direct link to a website with Steve Jobs’ speech against DRM, a direct link to an Apple website that outlines the restrictions on software that can be used on the iPhone, a direct link to a website that proves that it is indeed impossible to play Ogg Vorbis-encoded music on the iPhone etc. Also, i don’t even know what does it mean to “activate” an iPhone.

3. The FSF expects people to refuse non-free software, and all Apple products have it, so it would be a healthy assumption that Free Software activists would not be familiar with Apple products, style, lingo, etc. This questionnaire, however, assumes that i am familiar with these things. I have never used any Apple product at all, so i would feel quite awkward discussing them with an Apple-style person, who are also rumored to be rather arrogant about their stylishness. So could you please improve on that point and give a few tips on talking to Apple people?

Thanks in advance.

Talking like this to employees who represent the company is a very sobering experience. Asking them non-trivial questions often frustrates them badly. It’s not my fault. They must take responsibility for their workplace.

Defective Defective

Some music CD’s are sold with a technology called Copy Control, which is supposed to be a kind of CRAP (DRM). Some people don’t like those CD’s and refuse to buy them. The Free Software leader Richard M. Stallman is one of those people, of course. Usually he provides strongly philosophical and hard-to-read explanations for his ideas, but in this case his reasoning is very practical and simple. In his account of his trip to Spain RMS writes:

My hosts gave me several records of bagpipe music, one of which I like fairly well, and one of which I haven’t heard yet because I left it in a car in Italy. But the most important one was the Hevia record. It’s important because I had to refuse it. It was a Corrupt Disk, with Digital Restrictions Management, and presumably impossible to copy. As soon as I saw this, I gave it back to my hosts, and asked them to take it back to the store, so that the record company could not keep their money. I would have been glad to listen to Hevia’s music, but not on a Corrupt Disk.

A “CD” that I cannot copy is of no use to me. I always travel with a bunch of records so that I can offer my hosts the chance to listen. A year ago, when my backpack was stolen, I learned to bring only copies, not originals. If I can’t copy a CD, I can’t travel with it, so I don’t want it.

The funny part is that he writes: “presumably impossible to copy” and doesn’t tell that it’s outright impossible. This is very true: From my experience i never had any problem to listen to CD’s marked as “Copy Control” or to copy them. I own some: Goldfrapp’s Black Cherry, Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief, Beastie Boys’ Solid Gold Hits. I could copy all of them to my hard drive as lossless FLAC or WAV files, which can be later burned to a CD. I could listen to them in my car, and the CD player in my car is pretty bad.

Later in his article Stallman adds: “DRM attacks our freedom, and it attacks free software (since free software cannot access such media).” Well, it is wrong: I could play and copy those CD’s on Ubuntu without proprietary drivers.

So i don’t really understand what this technology does and why do record labels waste their money on it. I do know that those CD’s run some program when they are inserted into a computer running Windows, using Windows’ Autoplay feature. The software is a kind of a dumbed-down media player, which seems to play the music in a lossy format – MP3 or some other audio format with CRAP – which really fucks the honest customer who bought the CD’s, ‘cuz he payed for CD quality and gets to listen to a lossy file. This application probably also locks the CD drive, so it can’t be easily read or burned. It is not a problem for me, though – every time i use a computer with Windows one of the first things i do is turning off Autoplay’ing of CD’s. As far as i know, turning off Autoplay is not illegal, but then maybe in the US it is illegal under the DMCA.

You gotta fight for your right to party – but you don’t need to avoid CD’s just because they carry the Copy Control mark.

To make things clear, if i would have any practical problems playing them in my computer or CD player, i would return them to the store.

A Letter to eMusic

eMusic are more or less the good guys of the online digital music business. They are cheap, they sell “good” music – jazz, indie, progressive, avantgarde. They sell high-quality MP3 files and they don’t use CRAP (DRM). They give quite a lot of music for free. All that wasn’t enough for me, though. Still, i really wanted to give them a chance and offered them an opportunity to exploit me. Here’s the letter i sent them:

Hi there,

This “bad feedback” is totally subjective. As the famous break-up line goes, “it’s not you, it’s me”.

You see – i just don’t like to listen to MP3’s. Even if i love the music, i just don’t experience quite the same excitement when i listen to a file on my computer as i do when i listen to a CD or a record or even a magnetic tape.

CD’s, records and tapes are something that i can touch and hold in my hands; MP3’s are just files. I just don’t like them so much. Even if i get them for free, i don’t *enjoy* listening to them.

I downloaded WinAmp and tried your generous free 50 MP3’s offer. I found a lot of great music – Trail of Dead, the Microphones, Stephen Malkmus. The music’s great! And the subscription price is fair! Really! But as i listened to Malkmus’ great “Face The Truth” i wanted to read the CD booklet. But i didn’t have it – i just had a bunch of MP3’s. Even if i would be able to read the whole of the booklet online, i wouldn’t enjoy it half as much as reading a printed one. And no, i don’t want to print one at home – buying good paper and ink would cost me more than buying a CD. And i don’t want to listen to a burned CD. It just disgusts me. I want the original CD and i will probably go to a CD store and buy it. Which is a kind of a rip-off, ‘cuz i already payed for the *music*. Again – it’s not eMusic’s fault; it’s my crazy completism.

But why won’t you make profit out of it? Consider this possibility: I download a whole album on eMusic. If i like it, i can buy a discounted CD at some online CD store. I’d love it! I get access to a lot of good legal music downloads, the record company gets what it wants, eMusic gets subscription fees.

I tried looking for something like it at your website, but couldn’t find it. If there IS something like it and i missed it, please tell me! ‘Cuz if there isn’t, i will, unfortunately, have to cancel my subscription.

Thanks for understanding.

Here’s their reply:

Hello:

Thank you for contacting eMusic Customer Support.

Thank you for taking the time out for the feedback, I will be sure to pass it onto our content and marketing departments for their information.

If you are using the most current version of turned, there is a feature that automatically adds artwork to your albums if the artwork is available online.

If you do not receive artwork with your downloads, you can import album artwork from our site into turned to ensure that the album artwork will appear when playing songs. Here are the steps:

1. Launch tunes. Make sure you’ve already added your tracks to your tunes library.

2. Make sure you are set to “Browse” mode by clicking the eye on the upper right hand corner.

3. Locate the album you’d like to add artwork to by first locating the artist in the Artist column and then locating the album title in the Album column.

4. Click once to highlight the album title.

5. Locate the appropriate artwork on the eMusic album page. With your left mouse button, select the image and *hold down* your mouse button.

6. Drag the image to the lower-left corner of turned labeled “Drag Album Artwork Here”. (If it says “Now Playing” then click the bar for it to display “Drag Album Artwork here.”)

7. When you see a “+” sign in the window, release your mouse button. The artwork you selected will appear in the window and will now appear for each track of the album you selected.

Please let us know if you have any further questions.

eMusic’s MP3s are nowVRR-encoded using the encoder LAME 3.96. Our MP3s are not restricted in any way.

OurVRR-encoding ranges from 32kbs to 320kbs, averaging around 192bpss. A portion (

Please see the following help section article for further information:

http://www.emusic.com/help/technical.html#q10

The ID3 tags we use are version 1.0 and version 2.3.

We do not currently include the release year in our tags but hopefully should be adding it soon.

Please let us know if we can be of further assistance

Regards,

Carlos

eMusic Customer Support Team

What’s to say? First, it’s automated. They didn’t really bother to read my letter. They thought that i’m just another stupid American who can’t figure out how to download files. I wanted to give them an opportunity to use my weaknesses and take my money. They didn’t want it.

Furthermore, i’ve got a strong hunch that Carlos isn’t a real person. In the past i received replies from several customer service representatives named Carlos in different organizations. I doubt that it’s a coincidence. Might it be the default name for some CRM bot?

If you happen to be an entrepreneur, please go on and use me. I meant every word of that letter.