April 23, 2014

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One Laptop Per Child (New Version), Reviewed by 12-Year-Old

[Today we welcome back SG, a twelve-year-old who previously reviewed the B2 version of the One Laptop Per Child computer. SG had a chance to examine the latest (B4) version of the OLPC machine and write a new review. As before, the review is unedited, just as SG wrote it. – Ed]

After my first review, the administrators at OLPC were kind enough to send Mr. Felten the newer model of the computer, the B4, for me to review. The difference between the two models was quite dramatic. Between new games, new applications, design changes, and a few touch ups for the system, the B4 clearly outshines the B2. I didn’t even know about a bunch of problems in the B2 until they got fixed in the B4!

The minute I picked the new computer up, I saw the physical differences. There are bumps on the handle of the B4. The B2 has none. The flip- up antenna on the B2 was encased in hard plastic, and on the B4, it’s just thick rubber. The keyboards are pretty much the same, apart from a few minor differences along the top. Once I opened it up and started it, I noted how much quicker it booted up than the B2. Then I saw the icons. The B2 has less than half the icons than the B4, which has 13!

As for games, entertainment, and the internet, this computer has bountiful resources. There were many new and fun programs. One of them, called “Block party”, is just plain old tetris with a different name. As I am not really gifted in tetris, I had a lot of fun losing repeatedly. The internet was a lot better on this newer laptop. In my last review, I complained about how slow it was and how the connection was so-so. In the B4, both of those problems have been fixed. It is quick, always connects, and is really very nice. If you don’t want to go on the web to read the new Freedom to Tinker article, “News Reader” lets you subscribe to websites’ feeds. In the games category, “Connect” is a game which can only be played on two separate OLPC laptops . The game is a little like tick tack toe. If you’ve ever played “Connect 4”, that’s the same game. If you want to watch some video clip from the web, “watch and listen”, OLPC’s media player, has you covered. Want some music? Use “tamtam”. This application is similar to Garageband, but not quite the same. Last but not least is “Record”. On the B2, “record” just took pictures with an okay camera. On the B4, you can take pictures with a pretty good camera AND record video with no time limit (as far as I can tell). I was surprised and overjoyed to discover I could take video with the new one.

One of the coolest applications is called simply “Chat”. It is basically an IM-ish kind of thing that works between all OLPC laptops. Since I got two laptops from OLPC, I could test out the chat application with my friends and family. I spent a lot of time having silent conversations with the friend sitting across the room, so that was fun. Etoys is another cool application, and it is definitely the program of a genius technologist. Although it is difficult to understand and use, once you get into the swing of things, it’s awesome. To use Etoys you make a “sketch” on the computer, then save it, and that’s where the fun begins. You can write “scripts” that make the sketch move around the screen in the way that you want. You can put it in “books” that have multiple pages for a flip book or make animations with it (ie. a bouncing ball, flying bird, eating kid, etc.). In Turtle Art, you get a chance to write a simple program that makes the turtle in the middle of the screen move. It’s very cool.

Last review, I said that my main problem with the computer was its slow speed and its battery charge. And I am happy to say that both of those problems have been fixed in the new version. It has more applications, higher quality camera, more games, a few design changes for the better, and much more. I tested how long it would stay alive by opening it and leaving it open. Surprisingly, it stayed awake for more than four hours! And some other testing revealed that the B4 does, in fact, auto save your documents and stuff if it runs out of battery while an unsaved document is on it. I like that feature, because there were many times with the B2 that I was typing and it just died, leaving me rather stunned for a couple seconds until I came to my senses and wearily plugged it in. Then it would take hours to charge up again. But in the B4, it charges up really quickly. Another minor turn for the better is the plug. Now they are greener, more round, easier to hold, and they have the XO sign on them.

I thought that this version was way better than the last one. It was just easier to figure out, more fun to spend time on, just better. It’s going to be hard to send it back to OLPC, but I’m going to have to. It’s great that they’re going to start selling them to the public. (You have to buy two, and you send one to a needy kid in a third world country and keep one for yourself. Read about it in the New York Times… …) I hope I can get one!

For a regular laptop, this would be the paragraph about its problems, its deficiencies. But the thing is, there aren’t any problems with this computer! Congratulations, OLPC. You’ve done it. Or will you come out with yet better laptops? Is that even possible? We’ll have to see…

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Major Intrusion at MediaDefender

MediaDefender, a company providing technical countermeasures and intelligence gathering for copyright owners, suffered a severe cyber-intrusion over the past year or so. This was revealed last week when the intruders released what appears to be most of MediaDefender’s email from this calendar year, along with the source code for its products, and even one of the company’s VoIP phone calls.

Published analyses of the released material mostly confirm what was already suspected, that MediaDefender’s technical tactics had mixed effectiveness, and that the company may have edged across the ethical (and possibly legal) line by launching active cyber-attacks on suspected infringers.

The intruders, on the other hand, went far across the line, committing serious crimes. If caught, they’ll face severe punishment, and rightly so. No excuse can justify this kind of break-in.

Nor have the intruders struck a blow for online freedom. Instead, they have helped their opponents paint a (misleading) picture in which righteous copyright owners are under attack by a small cabal of scofflaw super-hackers.

Expect a backlash. And the main victims of that backlash, as usual, will be ordinary users who aren’t out to hurt anybody but just want some way to coexist peacefully with copyright owners.

[Correction (Sept. 25): Corrected the first paragraph, which previously said voice mail had been captured, to say that a VoIP phone call was captured.]

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On freezing your credit reports

In my last post, where I discussed the (likely) theft of my SSN from the State of Ohio, I briefly discussed the possibility of “freezing” my credit report. I’ve done some more investigation on how, exactly, this works.

Details seem to vary from state to state (Consumer’s Union has a nice summary), but you generally can write to each of the three major credit report bureaus, via postal mail, and request that your account be “frozen.” This will not prevent you from getting “pre-approved” credit-card offers. For that, you separately opt-out, although you can at least do it online. Once your request takes effect, most requests to access your credit report will be denied. There are a wide variety of exceptions, mostly related to people who you’re already doing business with, which strikes me as entirely reasonable.

Cost? If you’re the victim of identity fraud (and it’s unclear whether I meet that definition), it’s free. You include a copy of your police report when you’re writing your letters to each of the credit ratings bureaus. If not, the cost is $10 per bureau. Multiply by three, and that’s $30. You’re married and want to do it for your spouse? Add another $30. What if you want to temporarily (or permanently) lift the block? The price varies, but it’s comparable.

Here’s the problem with this system: let’s say you’re doing the sort of things for which people legitimately want to look up your credit report (e.g., borrowing money for a car, opening a new credit card, renting a new apartment, etc.). Particularly if you’re changing jobs, moving to a new area, and so forth, you’ll be doing a lot of this all at once. As a result, precisely when you’re most often giving out your SSN and thus increasing your vulnerability, you also have to disable the block on your account, exposing yourself to the risk of identity theft.

The proper answer, of course, is to arrange for SSNs to have no more value to an identity thief than your name and address. The unanswered question, then, is what exactly can replace it as an authenticator? One possibility, raised in the thread on car dealers who insist on fingerprints, is to require these sorts of transactions be notarized. A notary public‘s main function is to authenticate that a specific person signed a specific document. You already need a notary’s services when you buy or sell a house. Why not require their services for any transaction that involves a personal credit report? The answer, I imagine, is cost, both in time and money. Department stores would be unable to give you “instant credit cards.” Applying to rent an apartment would become more complicated and annoying. There would be more friction, all around, to get credit. However, if identity theft continues to be such a significant problem, maybe it’s a trade-off worth making.

(Aside: how, exactly, do you convince the notary of your identity? The answer varies, but it seems to involve a photo ID, signature, and in some cases a thumbprint. You could certainly imagine cutting the notary out of the process and pushing the same authentication process out to a cash register or wherever else, but this creates a trusted path problem. When a human notary is authenticating a paper document, there’s no question to anybody what, exactly, is being authenticated. If you give your biometric and ID card to a scanner in a store, you have no idea where that data is going and what, ultimately, is being authenticated on your behalf. Astute readers may see a connection between this and the need for election systems to have voter-verifiable paper trails, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

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Response to ITIF Voting Report

[This post was written by David Robinson and me, based on our discussions with Alex Halderman, Joe Calandrino, and Ari Feldman.]

On Tuesday, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation released a report on the possible role of paper trails in auditing elections conducted using DRE machines. The report contained a blend of reasonable and unreasonable claims, and careful and uncareful argumentation. A lay reader might come away from the report – entitled Stop the Presses: How Paper Trails Fail to Secure e-Voting – with the belief that the addition of paper trails to DRE voting machines makes them less secure than they are on their own. Such a belief would be incorrect.

As the report puts it at one point, “The addition of paper audit trails to DRE voting machines would simply convert our elections back to a paper ballot system.” The report dwells at remarkable length on the convenient appearance of extra ballots during Lyndon Johnson’s political career. But we know about that cheating today precisely because paper ballots, unlike many DRE vote tallies, can be independently recounted.

One could spend months arguing about what exact position emerges from the 19 pages of delicately drafted hedging that make up the body of this report. But the bottom line – contrary to the impression most readers will gather from the report – is that paper and electronic voting together are, if done right, better than either the best paper system or the best computerized system would be alone.

The ITIF report suggests that a situation in which the paper and electronic records don’t match would be a disaster, since authorities wouldn’t know which record to trust. But that’s a shortsighted view. Divergent paper and electronic records are a sure sign that something has gone awry during voting. In some cases, that sign lets officials make a reasonable judgment about which record is, under the specific circumstances of a given race, more likely to be trustworthy.

The real worst-case scenario isn’t divergent paper and electronic records – with their attendant litigation and political discord. The real worst case is an attack or error that never even comes to the attention of election officials or the public, because there isn’t an independent way of catching problems.

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On stolen data with privacy-relevant information

I just received a first-class letter from the State of Ohio, telling me:

The State of Ohio has confirmed that your name and social security number was contained on a computer back-up device that was stolen. It is unlikely that someone can access the data contained in the device without specialized knowledge and equipment. Because we have no information to date that the data has been accessed, everything we are doing, or suggesting that you consider doing, is preventative.

The State of Ohio is doing everything possible to recover the stolen device and protect the personal information that was on the device. We regret that the loss of this sensitive data may place an undue burden of concern on you.

The letter explains how I can sign up with Debix for their identity protection services, and provides a PIN for me to use. (So, now I can spread my SSN further. Wonderful.)

The last time I set foot in Ohio was over three years ago, when I testified about electronic voting security issues, so it seems odd that they would still have my SSN on file. I don’t recall if they specifically asked me for my SSN, but it’s common for these sorts of things to ask for it as part of reimbursing travel expenses. It’s also possible that my SSN was on this backup tape for other reasons. Some news stories say that sixty Connecticut citizen’s information were present on the tape; I’m from Texas, so that shouldn’t have affected me. The State of Ohio has its own official web site to discuss the incident, which apparently happened back in June, yet they’re only telling me now.

Okay, let’s see if we can figure out what’s going on here. First, the “back-up device” in question appears to be nothing more than a backup tape. They don’t say what kind of tape it was, but there are only a handful of options these days, and it’s not exact hard to buy a tape drive, making the “specialized knowledge and equipment” line seem pretty unlikely. (As long as I’ve been doing security work, I’ve seen similar responses. The more things change…) So what actually happened? According to the official web site:

The Inspector General investigation determined that: “OAKS administrators failed to protect confidential information by authorizing state employees, including college interns, to take backup tapes containing sensitive data to their homes for overnight storage”; “OAKS, OIT (Office of Information Technology) and OBM (Office of Budget and Management) officials failed to report the theft of confidential information to state and law enforcement officials in a timely manner”; and “OAKS administrators failed to protect confidential information by allowing personnel to store sensitive data in an unsecured folder on the OAKS intranet.” The Inspector General found no evidence to suggest state agencies or employees engaged in criminal or illegal behavior surrounding these circumstances.

At its core, Ohio apparently had fantastically poor procedures along with what Jerry Saltzer refers to as the “bad news diode“, i.e., bad news never flows up the chain of command. Combine those and it shouldn’t be surprising that something would eventually go wrong. In my case, such poor procedures make it believable that nobody bothered to delete my information after it was no longer necessary to retain it. Or, maybe they have some misguided anti-terrorist accounting rule where they hang onto this data “just in case.” Needless to say, I don’t know.

It’s reasonable to presume that this sort of issue is only going to become more common over time. It’s exceptionally difficult to keep your SSN truly private, particularly if reimbursement paperwork, among other things, unnecessarily requires the disclosure of a SSN. The right answer is probably an amalgamation of data destruction policies (to limit the scope of leaks when they happen), rational data management policies (to make leaks less likely), and federal regulations making it harder to convert a SSN into cash (to make leaked SSNs less valuable).

(Sidebar: when my wife and I bought a new car in 2005, the dealer asked for my SSN. “I’m paying cash. You don’t need it,” I said. They replied that I could either wait until the funds cleared, or I could let them run a credit check on me. I grumbled and caved in. At least they didn’t ask for my fingerprint.)

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Why Don't NFL Teams Encrypt Their Signals Better?

Yesterday the National Football League punished the New England Patriots and their coach, Bill Belichick, for videotaping an opposing team’s defensive signals. The signals in question are used by coaches to tell their on-field defensive unit how to line up and which tactics to use for the next play. The coach typically makes hand signals and arm movements that the on-field players know how to interpret. (The offense also needs to send signals to players from the sidelines before each play, but they use radios.) The opposition gets an advantage if they know what play is coming, so they will try to figure out what the signals mean.

This is essentially a weak form of cryptography. The coaches apply a kind of encryption to translate the desired play into a ciphertext, which is a sequence of hand and arm movements. They transmit the ciphertext (by making the indicated movements) to the on-field players, who then decrypt it, recovering the original play that the coaches wanted to send. An adversary who can see the ciphertext is supposed to be unable to recover the original message.

I don’t know what systems NFL teams use, but Belichick and the Patriots apparently thought they had a chance of breaking their opponents’ code.

There’s an interesting technical problem here: how to encrypt defensive plays into sideline signals securely, in a way that’s practical for real coaches and players in a game situation. I can think of at least one solution that is secure and practical. (Exercise for geeky readers: How would you do this?)

You might think that any solution would be too complicated for a mere football player to decode. If you think that, you’re underestimating the players involved. NFL defensive captains already cope with complex information and plans, and their teams’ current signaling systems already require decoding of symbols. Clever solutions can be pretty simple.

Crypto applies not only to designing a team’s signals, but also to analyzing rivals’ signals. Who will be the first NFL team to hire a cryptographer?

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iPhone Unlocking Secret Revealed

The iPhone unlocking story took its next logical turn this week, with the release of a free iPhone unlocking program. Previously, unlocking required buying a commercial program or following a scary sequence of documented hardware and software tweaks.

How this happened is interesting in itself. (Caveat: This is based on the stories I’m hearing; I haven’t confirmed it all myself.) The biggest technical barrier to a software-only unlock procedure was figuring out the unlocking program, once installed on the iPhone, could modify the machine’s innermost configuration information – something that Apple’s iPhone operating system software was trying to prevent. A company called iPhoneSimFree figured out a way to do this, and used it to develop easy-to-use iPhone unlocking software, which they started selling.

Somebody bought a copy of the iPhoneSimFree software and reverse engineered it, to figure out how it could get at the iPhone’s internal configuration. The trick, once discovered, was easy to replicate, which eliminated the last remaining barrier to the development and release of free iPhone unlocking software.

It’s a commonplace in computer security that physical control over a device can almost always be leveraged to control it. (This iceberg has sunk many DRM Titanics.) This principle was the basis for iPhoneSimFree’s business model – helping users control their iPhones – but it boomeranged on them when a reverse engineer applied the same principle to iPhoneSimFree’s own product. Once the secret was out, anyone could make iPhone unlocking software, and the price of that software would inevitably be driven down to its marginal cost of zero.

Intellectual property law had little to offer iPhoneSimFree. The trick turned out to be a fact about how Apple’s software worked – not copyrightable by iPhoneSimFree, and not patentable in practice. Trade secret law didn’t help either, because trade secrets are not shielded against reverse engineering (for good reason). They could have attached a license agreement to their product, making customers promise not to reverse engineer their product, but that would not be effective either. And it might not have been the smartest thing to rely on, given that their own product was surely based on reverse engineering of the iPhone.

Now that the unlocking software is out, the ball is in Apple’s court. Will they try to cram the toothpaste back into the tube? Will they object publicly but accept that the iPhone unlocking battle is essentially over? Will they try to play another round, by modifying the iPhone software? Apple tends to be clever about these things, so their strategy, whatever it is, will have something to teach us.

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Intellectual Property and Magicians

Jacob Loshin has an interesting draft paper on intellectual property among magicians. Stage magic is a form of technology, relying on both apparatus and technique to mislead the audience about what is really happening. As in any other technical field, innovations are valuable, and practitioners look for ways to cash in on their inventions. They do this, according to Loshin, without much use of intellectual property law.

This makes magic, like cuisine and clothing design, a thriving field that operates despite a lack of strong legal protection for innovation. Recently legal scholars have started looking harder at such fields, hoping to find mechanisms that can support innovation without the cost and complexity of conventional intellectual property law, and wondering how broadly those alternative mechanisms might be applied.

What makes magic unusual is that practitioners rarely rely on intellectual property law even though magic tricks are protectable by patent and as trade secrets. Patent protection should be obvious: patents cover novel mechanisms and methods, which most magic technologies are. Some classic tricks, such as the saw-a-person-in-half trick, have been patented. Trade secret protection should be obvious too: how to do a particular trick is valuable business information whose secrecy can be protected by the inventor. (The audience sees the trick done, but they don’t really see the secret of the trick.)

Yet Loshin, and apparently most magicians, think that patent and trade secret are a poor fit. There are basically three reasons for this. First, part of the value of a trick is that the audience can’t figure out how it’s done; but a patent must explain the details of the invention. Second, tricks are subject to “reverse engineering” by rival magicians who watch the trick done, repeatedly, from different parts of the audience, then do experiments to try to replicate it; and of course trade secrets are not protected against reverse engineering. Third, there’s a sort of guild mentality among magicians, holding that knowledge can be shared within the profession but must not be shared with the public. This guild mentality can’t easily be implemented within current law – a trade secret must be carefully protected, and so cannot be passed around casually within a loosely defined “community”.

The result is that the guild protects its secrets through social norms. You’re accepted into the guild by demonstrating technical prowess and following the guild’s norms over time; and you’ll be excommunicated if you violate the norms, for example by making a tell-all TV special about how popular tricks are done. (There’s an exception for casual magic tricks of the sort kids do.) The system operates informally but effectively.

As a policy guy, I have to ask whether this system is good for society as a whole. I can understand why those inside the profession would want to limit access to information – why help potential competitors? But does it really benefit society as a whole to have some unelected group deciding who gets access to certain kinds of information, and doing this outside the normal channels that (at least in principle) balance the interests of society against those of inventors? It’s not an easy question.

(To be clear, asking whether something is good or bad for society is not the same as asking whether government should regulate it. A case for regulation would require, at least, that the regulated behavior be bad for society and that there be a practically beneficial way for government to intervene.)

The best argument that magicians’ guild secrecy benefits the public is that tricks are more valuable to the public if the public doesn’t know how they are done. This is almost never the case for other technologies – knowing how your iPod works doesn’t make it less valuable to you – but it just might be true for magic, given that it exists for entertainment and you might enjoy it more if you don’t know how it’s done.

But I have my doubts that publishing information about tricks actually makes them less entertaining. Goldin’s patent on the saw-a-person-in-half trick – which explains pretty clearly how to do the trick – was issued in 1923, but the trick is still a staple today. In theory, anybody can read Goldin’s patent whenever they want; but in practice hardly anybody has read it, and we all enjoy the trick despite suspecting how it’s probably done. And do we really need to read Gaughan’s patent to know how a “levitating” magician stays up in the air? Gaughan’s cleverness is all about how to keep the audience from seeing the evidence of how it’s done.

One effect of the guild’s secrecy is that the public rarely learns who the great innovators are. We know who puts on a good show, but we rarely know who invented the tricks. The great innovators may be venerated within the profession, but they’re unknown to the public. One has to wonder whether the field would move faster, and be more innovative and entertaining, if it were more open.

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HR 811 Up For House Vote Tomorrow

H.R. 811, the e-voting bill originally introduced by Rep. Rush Holt, is reportedly up for a vote of the full House of Representatives tomorrow. Passing the bill would be an important step in securing our elections. I have supported H.R. 811 from the beginning, and I am still firmly behind it. I hope it passes tomorrow.

H.R. 811 gets the big issues right, requiring a voter-verified paper ballot with post-election audits to verify that the electronic records are consistent with the paper ballots.

The bill is cautious where caution is warranted. For example, it gives states and counties the flexibility to choose optical-scan or touch-screen systems (or others), as long as there is a suitable voter-verified paper record. Though some e-voting activists want to ban touch-screens altogether, I think that would be a mistake. Touch screens, if done correctly – which no vendor has managed yet, I’ll admit – do offer some advantages. Federalism makes sense here: let localities make their own choices, as long as basic standards, such as the paper-trail and audit requirements, are met. Down the road, we may be glad that we left room for better touch-screen systems to develop.

The current version of the bill allows inferior paper-trail systems, such as ones storing ballots on a continuous reel of relatively fragile thermal paper, to be used through 2010, in places where they were already in use. The full requirement of a durable, permanent, privacy-preserving paper record takes effect everywhere in 2012, but starts immediately in places not already using a paper trail. Though less than ideal, the grace period is the best reasonable choice under the circumstances. A change of this magnitude takes time, so some kind of grace period is necessary. We could argue over whether it should be two years or four years, but at this point the most important thing is to start the clock ticking, by passing a bill.

If your representative is on the fence, this is a good time to call and urge a vote for H.R. 811.

[UPDATE (Sept. 6): The schedule has slipped so the bill will not be up for vote today. So there's still time to call your congressperson.]

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New business models in the recording industry

The New York Times Sunday Magazine has a fascinating piece that interviews and discusses Columbia Records’ hiring of Rick Rubin as their new studio chieftain. Rubin has been a well-known music producer (among other things, he orchestrated the famous mash-up of Aerosmith and Run-DMC and worked with Johnny Cash later in his life), and is quoted in the article saying many things that Freedom-to-Tinker readers will find familiar.

For example, on DRM and spyware:

By the time [Columbia executive] Barnett first approached Rubin about coming to Columbia, Rubin had already decided that he would have nothing more to do with Columbia Records. This was because of the company’s handling of the Rubin-produced Neil Diamond record “12 Songs” in 2005. Diamond was a hero of Rubin’s, and he spent two years working on the album, persuading Diamond to record acoustically, something he hadn’t done since the ’60s.

“The CD debuted at No. 4,” Rubin told me at Hugo’s, still sounding upset. “It was the highest debut of Neil’s career, off to a great start. But Columbia — it was some kind of corporate thing — had put spyware on the CD. That kept people from copying it, but it also somehow recorded information about whoever bought the record. The spyware became public knowledge, and people freaked out. There were some lawsuits filed, and the CD was recalled by Columbia. Literally pulled from stores. We came out on a Tuesday, by the following week the CD was not available. Columbia released it again in a month, but we never recovered. Neil was furious, and I vowed never to make another album with Columbia.”

Still, Columbia managed to hire this guy and he’s now pretty much running the show. He thoroughly acknowledges that the music industry’s real problem is that its former business model isn’t going to work in the future and the solution is about completely changing the pricing model to be cheap enough and the quality of service to be good enough that piracy will no longer be rational for consumers.

Rubin has a bigger idea. To combat the devastating impact of file sharing, he, like others in the music business (Doug Morris and Jimmy Iovine at Universal, for instance), says that the future of the industry is a subscription model, much like paid cable on a television set. “You would subscribe to music,” Rubin explained, as he settled on the velvet couch in his library. “You’d pay, say, $19.95 a month, and the music will come anywhere you’d like. In this new world, there will be a virtual library that will be accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere. The iPod will be obsolete, but there would be a Walkman-like device you could plug into speakers at home. You’ll say, ‘Today I want to listen to … Simon and Garfunkel,’ and there they are. The service can have demos, bootlegs, concerts, whatever context the artist wants to put out. And once that model is put into place, the industry will grow 10 times the size it is now.”

Rubin sees no other solution. “Either all the record companies will get together [for a unified subscription model] or the industry will fall apart and someone like Microsoft will come in and buy one of the companies at wholesale and do what needs to be done,” he said. “The future technology companies will either wait for the record companies to smarten up, or they’ll let them sink until they can buy them for 10 cents on the dollar and own the whole thing.”

I’ve always thought that something like this could be a successful business model. Of course, enforcing such a scheme (i.e., ensuring that the music dries up if you don’t keep spending your cash) requires a DRM strategy, which clearly isn’t going to fly.  Is there an alternative?  How good would a music service have to be that you would have no incentive to store local copies? If I’m totally comfortable keeping my email and calendar “out there” on the Internet, why shouldn’t I be comfortable keeping my CD collection (1500+ and growing) out there as well?

The article goes on to quote other industry experts on the difficulties of getting a subscription model correct, but I have to admire Rubin on his focus:

“I don’t want to waste time,” he said, sounding a little frustrated. “The existing people will either get smart, which is a question mark. Or new people will understand what a resource the music business is and change it without us.” Rubin paused. “I don’t want to watch that happen.”

It’s hard to argue with that. The primary focus of the article was on how Rubin is all about refining and polishing the music, and it’s great to know that somebody like that will help bring out the best in our artists. I just hope they can really sort out this whole business model thing in a technologically feasible fashion. My fear is that yet another new snake-oil company with yet another DRM scheme will promise to “solve” the piracy problem, when we all know that the real solution lies instead in completely rethinking the business model. Make the price cheap enough and the quality of the service compelling enough, and people will prefer it to the hit-or-miss world of piracy.  Let’s hope it can be a hit.  (Until then, I’ll stick with buying CDs.)