Friday Roundtable: Anonymous vs. Sony

Having brought 21-year-old PlayStation 3 hacker George ‘Geohot’ Hotz to court on the charges of DMCA violation, computer fraud and copyright infringement, Sony is on the cusp of a digital vendetta. Unfortunately for the multi-billion dollar corporation, the ensuing lawsuit, considered grossly over-severe by some and fully justified by others, has attracted the attention of the renowned collective of internet activists, Anonymous. Believing Sony’s actions to be outrageous, the group has now dedicated itself to undermining the company’s services in whatever way possible.

So, who’s in the wrong here? Can Sony really comfortably bring a young and gifted computer expert to court will full knowledge that he could face a ruinously lengthy jail term if found guilty? Equally, is Anonymous correct in imposing its dubious ideology on thousands of innocent Sony customers by disrupting online services and menacing individual employees? In this week’s rather serious Friday Roundtable, Armand, Joe, Martin, Sebastian, Rexly and Chad share their opinions on the rapidly evolving conflict.

 

 

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Armand:

Companies like Sony can do pretty much anything they want with all their money and power. The very public manner in which they’ve gone after Geohot and trampled over his life is above and beyond anything I’d call restrained. Sony is just using its power to make an example out of this kid. Even if one doesn’t agree with Geohot’s actions, I just think Sony are using him to scare others. Thousands of people hack their PS3 (if not more). Tens of thousands more hack their other systems. To go after one kid in such a public manner knowing full well the guy has no chance to defend himself in court is just intimidation and heavy-handed tough-guy tactics.

Anonymous: the hacker collective intent on making Sony pay.

If Anonymous (which I doubt is any one group of people, and is likely more of a loose collective) want to hit Sony and draw attention to this ordeal, I’m not exactly opposed to it. I see it as a form of civil disobedience, which has a tendency to inconvenience people. The point is to piss off enough PS3 users who will then complain to Sony, who in turn then has to consider that their tactics may not have been too wise.

No matter how bad Geohot gets it from Sony’s lawyers, console hacking isn’t going to stop. Sony chose to make this a public battle, and now the public is feeling the effects of it. Considering how crazy these user agreements we all sign every day without reading can be, it could be any one of us getting sued next for some bullshit or another. It’s good to know the little guys have somewhere to look for a bit of backup, even if it’s not through the most morally flawless methods.

 

Joe:

I don’t think Geohot intended for any of this to happen, but he publicized his methods, thereby giving the key to the kingdom to the pirates and now, unfortunately, he’s paying the price. Similarly, he jailbroke the iPhone, which was fine; but when he jailbroke the iPhone, it didn’t interrupt service for millions of paying customers.

The thing is, people keep saying, “It’s my PS3 and I can do what I want with it,” and that’s true to an extent. The firmware on your PS3 is only licensed to you by Sony (check your EULA!) and therefore modifying it is a breach of the terms you agreed to at the time of sale, knowingly or not, and is illegal. I have little tolerance for pirates. Their arguments always change but are never able to hold any water. Whatever “noble cause” they claim to be fighting (DRM or whatever), it all boils down to “I don’t want to pay for things.” Try that with a car, or with groceries. It won’t work.

I’m an adult and there are things that I want that I can’t afford. I don’t steal them. I don’t know why Anonymous is doing this; they claim to be retaliating against Sony by taking functionality away from their customers, but they’re destroying PSN, removing functionality from Sony customers. Doubleyou-tee-eff.

 

Martin:

Is hacking a PlayStation 3 stealing?

I agree with Joe on this one. I don’t disapprove of Sony’s counter-measure in this instance: this guy has done wrong and should suffer the consequences. But, ultimately, I think it’s an ineffective method of combatting this sort of thing. Strangely enough, I see this as an analogy to the war in Afghanistan in some ways; it’s a heavy-handed approach that actually causes more problems and costs more than it solves.

 

 

Sebastian:

See, the thing is, it’s stealing. We all know it’s stealing. He made it possible to steal, and violated the terms of service which really just try to ensure that you don’t do anything stupid with your system (or, you know, steal). He did something illegal. I’m not sure of Sony’s overall tactics (which may have been a little extreme) but still, he did something that he knew was against the law.

And as far as Anonymous goes? They aren’t helping. The “I paid for this, I can do what I want with it” method makes no damned sense. No, you can’t. When has that ever been true in the history of ever? It’s like saying, “I paid for my webcam, I can use it to spy on people if I want!” You’re not allowed to do illegal things with something just because you paid for it. I paid for my beer! So what if I gave it to a child? I can do whatever I want with it!

 

Armand:

Sony sold the system on the promise of an open platform (OS), then took it away. They weren’t held accountable, and never will be. What Geohot did is no different then what he did with the iPhone, and he’s not the one disrupting PSN.

I understand Sony makes us agree to their terms when we so much as look at a PS3, but this sort of thing is getting out of hand. I don’t own anything I buy anymore, just sort of borrow thanks to these agreements, and every year companies like Sony seem to be scratching away at more of my rights as a consumer, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

I don’t think anything is going to change because of this silly little hack, but it does bring me comfort to know companies like Sony aren’t getting to do whatever they want, however they want to. It’s their decision to make this so public that has led to the hack. If they hadn’t decided to use this guy as an example, none of this would be happening.

As I said, pirating was already happening on the PS3, and it was relatively easy to do. I spoke at length with a guy who’d cracked hundreds of PS3s about piracy long before Geohot made the headlines. He acted to help homebrew and backwards compatibility. He didn’t contribute to pirating, and the suggestion that he did is just plain wrong.

 

 

 

 

They call it freedom, but is it simply pretentious internet heroism?

 Sebastian:

The reason they took the OS away was because of the security vulnerabilities. People were using it to break the PS3, and they saw that as a big enough security threat to remove it. Does it suck for people using that? Yes, of course it does. But why should Sony be blamed for people that were using that to “break” the PS3?

What is in the terms of service that isn’t covered by common sense, when referred to the rights of a consumer? Retaining not only the integrity but the stability of an online interconnected system demands and requires the installation of such terms. Without it…well..what happened on the PS3 with Modern Warfare 2 would/did happen. The system became vulnerable, and Activision had to issue the patch to fix it. While I would love a back-up system for my games, I’m not willing to do so by contributing to the destruction of a system. I can’t do whatever I want with something just because I paid for it.

 

Martin:

I don’t really think it’s fair to hold Sony to a promise. Business is business, and while ideas are easy to come up with, they’re not so easy to implement. Plus, doing something illegal to prove a point over something so trivial (people aren’t being killed or significantly inconvenienced, so lumping it into the civil disobedience category would also be a bit extreme) is just absurd.

If so many people wanted these features, they should have mass campaigned for them. And even if Sony still didn’t implement them, oh well, they’re a private company with the right to make their own business decisions.

 

Rexly:

The only reason why they are targeting him is because he boldly went where no one has gone before: right to the root key. If you guys remember, Geohot stated when presenting the code that he did not condone piracy. Hell, he even wrote that he would have liked to work for one of the big three console companies and getting the root key out was just his way of presenting his talents.

As for Anonymous’s actions, I could care less about the DDoSing, but come on. Targeting employees and their families is just too much. Have they no decency? There is a line between protesting your dissatisfactions about certain issues and this. It’s just getting way too personal.

 

Sebastian:

While I don’t really agree with the blanket statement that the private company has the right to make their own business decisions (while it’s true, its just kind of…mean, you know?), I think that if there’s no deception, and the decisions make logical sense, there should be very little negative press for that company. “We did this because this happened.” They weren’t losing money on Linux, and it wasn’t affecting their business plan in any way, besides the security threats. The reality is, there was no other reason to remove the OS feature beyond that. They weren’t losing money from keeping it on there, and there was no deception inherent in the removal of the OS. Sony didn’t gain anything by taking it away.

Posting the key to cracking a PS3, for whatever reason, pirating or otherwise, is illegal, and can cause what I’m just going to call “PS3 warfare” from now on. He could have posted it to give puppies a bigger smile for all I care, but it would still have been wrong. Like I said, most times I’m on Anonymous’s side, like the Westboro Baptist Church thing, but with this, I must disagree with them; I don’t think it’s helping. I don’t think Sony can do whatever it wants against him, but he went to the root key and opened the system. I don’t want to have to deal with any more PS3 warfare than necessary.

Not to say that’s not why he did it, because I agree with Rexly’s point, but I’m just laughing thinking about a worse way to make an impression on a company than breaking their really expensive product. It’s like me making an impression on you by blowing up your car.

 

Should PS3 gamers be expected to put up with online disruption?

Chad:

To me, it seems like Anonymous are acting like spoiled children, kicking and screaming because they’re not getting their way. Sony is within their rights to regulate who uses their systems and for what purpose. Anonymous has trodden into the realm of becoming asshole black-hat hackers with this. This is what an average PSN user (like myself) would call a “dick move”.

I guess I fail to see the point of console-homebrew when the PC is a much more friendly platform for it. Also, the early PS3s did have PS2 compatibility. It was removed as a cost-saving measure that contributed to allowing Sony to stop taking a loss on every system sold. God forbid a business wants to make money.

I spent a little time in hacking communities in high school and I can say that most of the people involved were not in it to make any ideological points; they were in it either for a challenge (which is why I was there), or they wanted free stuff, i.e. pirates. So, why should Joe Sixaxis suffer? PS3 owners just have the misfortune of having pissed off a bunch of people who happen to look for things to get pissed off about.

My opinion: Anonymous has crossed a line.

 

Armand:

George 'Geohot' Hotz, the man behind the scandal.

If hacking a PS3 can open it up to backwards compatibility from the user community, I don’t see how it was so expensive for Sony to keep it in. The PS3 didn’t turn profitable because they took out simple features like this. It was a bloated, over-priced system no one wanted to make games for because the programing code was too esoteric.

People can be cool with civil disobedience until it affects them personally, and then suddenly the protesters are a bunch of jerks.

We keep letting the big game developers take away more and more of our consumer rights every year. Pretty soon, gaming is going to be riddled with pay-to-play models where you never own a system or game you pay way too much money for, and we’re allowing it to happen.

This isn’t about pirating and this isn’t about profit; it’s Sony making an example out of someone. Sony’s lack of financial success early on wasn’t because of either of these features. Pirating was rampant long before Geohot. Every single one of us has either hacked a system, or has a friend who has, so let’s not get high and mighty about it. Hacking a Kinect is no different than this. They are all breaking user agreements that we have no say over, and no way to fight.

This sort of attitude is what’s going to be clamping down on the future of gaming, a future that will be more profit-driven than for the sake of games. It will be the reason the internet stops being a free space and instead taken over by the few giants like AT&T and Verizon. And we just let them roll over us and do what they want, all the while defending their right to uphold the laws written to favor the big powerful corporations while squashing the little guys.

Their lobbies help write these laws. Their lawyers help shape their policies. In the end, this hurts gamers and developers

 

Chad:

The thing is, this ties into Anonymous as a larger issue. They functionally attempt to get what they want through fear. I agree with them on the Westboro Baptist Church being a metric ton of pricks, but in that case it’s still just the lesser of two evils to me.

It’s not so much an issue of Sony’s property as it is the organization (if supposed anarchists can be called that) of Anonymous’s methods. Anonymous to me is something like a cyber-mafia. What they essentially run is a protection racket. If you speak up against them, you set yourself up for the inability to access the internet, the leaking of your private information and financial ruin. Considering some of the crap Anonymous has pulled over the years, it’s hard for me to view them as benevolent.

Also, PS2 backwards compatibility is a slightly more complex thing than a “simple feature”. They excised the Emotion Engine chip on the PS3’s redesign. Early PS3s didn’t emulate: they functionally had a PS2 grafted inside them. PS1 emulation, on the other hand, is software based.

 

Geohot 'jailbroke' the iPhone. Is that any different?

 

Armand:

Here is how I see it.

Geohot (someone I don’t even really care for) committed an act no more illegal than anything any of us have done. We’ve all broken these user agreements. His stated intentions were pure (as to whether or not these were his real intentions is unclear to me). Sony decided they would make an example of him because he’s an easy target. Take down Geohot, and maybe scare off some of the more malicious hackers.

This is a kid without any real money or power, an easy target that would go down quickly. When he decided to fight back, his only option was community support and charity, unlike Sony who has enough money to sue just about anyone they want. They punished him for this, by sending the Feds to raid his home, take his stuff and once again make an example out of him. Tactics similar to the worst of organized crime, no less.

This whole time, Sony is operating under the belief that this is safe for them, that they can help cement their rules about who “owns” the products they sell. Hacking your PS3 isn’t the same as handing alcohol to minors or driving you car into whatever you see on the street. No one actually gets hurt. Anonymous hit Sony in the one place they might understand: their pocketbooks. All the PSN users who can’t access their accounts right now have fallen into the crossfire of a war on consumer rights. Sure, they’re all being inconvenienced, but those inconveniences will pale in comparison with where gaming will be in ten years if the industry continues in the direction it is going.

As to what Rexly said about them targeting employees of Sony, that is not something I can support (if it’s true). But in the process of fighting for people’s rights, some people will get inconvenienced. There is no way around that. It’s inconvenience that keeps us sitting placid in our homes while the state of our economy, government, country, educational systems, civil and consumer rights get trampled more and more each day. While we can’t be bothered to do much more than sign the occasional online petition to enact social change, some people risk their freedom, their rights as free citizens and their futures to fight for us on our behalf. I’ve run with enough anarchists to know they aren’t holy knights in shining armor. Far from it. But these people are fighting for our rights nonetheless.

When the internet sees bandwidths clamped down soon (and it is going to happen), will we complain if hackers fight back? After all, the internet is run by private companies who have to worry about their bottom lines and pleasing stockholders who can’t get enough. One must realise that this sort of thing is rarely neat or friendly. Revolutions and uprisings for people’s rights come at great costs, and it’s often hard to tell between any real sort of “good” or “evil”.

BnB writers have shared their thoughts, and now it’s your turn. What do you think: Is it black and white or shades of grey? Is Anonymous a childish, unorganised monstrosity or an ingenious tool to defeat corporatism? Is Sony acting well within its rights or wrongly exemplifying a man barely surpassed adolescence?

The table is yours.

 


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