October 06, 2002

Palladium and selling oneself into slavery

Regarding Palladium and similar systems, Seth Schoen recently mused:

I was writing about trusted computing and the claim that trusted computing systems give you new features without taking away features you had before. ...

In particular, the suggestion is that you can run any software which you could run before. ...

So there seems to be a clear technical sense in which you can do what you did before and you are only gaining capabilities and not losing them.

Still, people who believe this may still believe that Palladium is not a good thing overall for many users, or will still introduce disadvantages. How can that be?

To argue that point by analogy, you'd want to find examples of where gaining something, or possessing something you didn't possess before, is a disadvantage to you in the end.
[Long list follows in entry]

Why overcomplicate things? It seems very simple to me: Any system which allows control where it didn't exist before, can be said to being "gaining" or "possessing" the brand-new ability to enforce that control. Concretely, consider a Libertarian-esque "ability to sell oneself into slavery". Now, you don't have to sell yourself into slavery. But if it's an option - that is, if you gain or possess something you didn't have before, namely, the option of selling yourself into slavery - it should be clear how it can be a disadvantage. An option to give up rights can leave you worse off than not having such an option, via an expectation or arrangement that makes such giving-up of rights, commonplace (which is exactly what these systems are designed to do, enforce the giving-up of usage rights).

A more realistic example is gaining the unchecked ability to request physician-assisted suicide in the case of serious illness. One might ask, as long as it's an option, how can it be a disadvantage? Well, think of a possible interaction with "cost-containment". Suppose an insurer offered a lower premium if you agreed in a contract, that if a suffering a terminal illness, past a certain point, you would request physician-assisted suicide instead of medical treatment ("cost-containment" with a vengeance ...). While this is a somewhat macabre example, the economic logic of it should be clear. As well as the way it could turn out to be a disadvantage.

More humorously, to become, with one click, Bill Gates' Towel Boy, may not be a blessing.

Myself, I'd just say something like "Gaining the ability to sell yourself into slavery is not necessarily good for you.".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight | on October 06, 2002 01:52 AM (Infothought permalink)

Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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