November 30, 2023

Archives for January 2003

Sony, At War with Itself

The February issue of Wired has an interesting feature on Sony’s struggle to figure out its position on technology, media, and copyright. As a consumer electronics maker, Sony wants to make products that give people flexible use of their recorded music and video. As a content provider, Sony wants to enforce limits on that flexibility.

For a while, the result was paralysis. The Wired story begins with a Sony executive looking wistfully at an Apple iPod, and wishing Sony had had the guts to create such a product. Sony’s consumer electronics business drifted, unable to create breakthrough products that provided the flexibility that users crave.

Now under new leadership, Sony is trying to find a middle path. Unfortunately, the new strategy seems to work only for customers who have all-Sony setups. One Sony device will talk to another, but it’s not clear how a customer could mix in other manufacturers’ products into a Sony setup. Open and flexible components are still too scary to allow.

The result is just another way of failing to serve customers. Instead of trying to make each product as useful to the customer as possible, Sony is still trying to corral and control their customers’ activities. They still talk about finding the “balance point” between customer-friendly design and content protection. Despite the hopeful ending of the Wired piece, the civil war inside Sony isn’t over yet.

RIAA Site Hacked Again

Once again, somebody has attacked the RIAA’s web site, knocking it out this time for three days. The bozos who did this probably think it’s a clever way to retaliate against the RIAA. Instead, they’re just reinforcing the caricature of the RIAA’s opponents as amoral punks. There are plenty of constructive ways to contribute to the public debate; vandalism is not one of them.

No Injunction for SearchKing

The judge in the SearchKing v. Google case has denied SearchKing’s request for a preliminary injunction. (See the bottom of this posting for background on the case.) James Grimmelmann at LawMeme analyzes the ruling. The court ruled that Google’s page rankings are opinions and so are protected by the First Amendment.

It’s interesting that the court found the page rankings to be opinions, even though they are generated automatically by a computer algorithm. In other words, page rankings don’t necessarily reflect the judgment of any person or group of people (at least not directly), except in the metaphysical sense that Google’s algorithm extracts the collective judgment of all of the webpage authors in the world.

A person identifying him/herself as a lawyer for SearchKing comments on the LawMeme site:

As Search King’s attorney, I can tell you a Rule 59 Motion to Alter Judgment was filed along with Search King’s Response to the Motion to Dismiss. In those pleadings we show the Court Google has a patent on PageRank. It also has been presented by its “inventors” as truly objective. (how does one “invent” an opinion?) If Google continues on its path of First Amendment protected opinion, there could be objections to its patent filed. Something to ponder….

It seems to me perfectly consistent to say something is an opinion and that it was arrived at by an objective procedure. Anyway, isn’t SearchKing’s whole case predicated on the claim that Google is not treating SearchKing objectively?

[Background on the SearchKing case: SearchKing sells a service that claims to raise people’s page rankings on the Google search engine. Google adjusted their page ranking algorithm to demote SearchKing’s pages. SearchKing sued Google, asking the court to grant a preliminary injunction requiring Google to restore the page rankings of SearchKing’s pages. The judge just denied that request. Google’s motion to dismiss is apparently next on the agenda.]

More on the Insecurity of Door Locks

Seth Finkelstein has unearthed two previous mentions of the method used in Matt Blaze’s door-lock attack. It’s clear that this problem was known in some circles. Now the rest of us know too.

I wrote previously that I’m glad the DMCA doesn’t apply to door locks. Chris Smith, over at Mutatron, wonders whether the DMCA does apply to door locks. He seems pretty sure that it does, at least where the locked door is protecting access to copyrighted materials.

This use of the DMCA seems an even bigger stretch than the garage-door-opener case and the toner-cartridge case, but it’s not totally ridiculous. Does a door lock, “in the ordinary course its operation, require[] the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access to [a copyrighted] work”? If most doors control access to copyrighted works, then the question boils down to the “authority of the copyright owner” clause, which has been a slippery one in past DMCA cases.

Most Door Locks Insecure

John Schwartz at the New York Times reports on a blockbuster piece of research by cryptographer Matt Blaze. Matt applied the principles of cryptography to good old fashioned door locks and keys, and what he found is pretty horrifying. Given a key to one of the locks in a building, and a small number of key blanks, there is a method by which you can make a master key that opens all of the locks in the building.

Apparently some locksmiths have known this was possible for a long time. The lock manufacturer Schlage has even taught locksmiths how to carry out a version of Blaze’s attack. Yet somehow they never bothered to tell their customers.

This is why we need independent analysis of security technologies. Manufacturers will keep important information from their customers, even information that impacts the basic security decisions of the customers. Bans on security analysis, or bans on the dissemination of results, just help manufacturers keep their customers in the dark. Thank goodness there is no DMCA for door locks.