After blowing the security of the Playstation 3 out of the water, George Hotz (known as Geohot) and members of the group fail0verlow have faced legal action in the US this week – and it is important that Sony don’t win.
The lawsuit centres around details being published of how to “jailbreak” the Playstation 3, allowing people to run their own software. This involved modified firmware for the console as well as various “keys”, which are used to sign games and other software as genuine. With this information out, there is essentially no element of the system’s security that can’t be compromised.
Sony’s concern obviously is that this will allow piracy on the system – but that’s a bit simplistic, because it’s really piracy by proxy. The information revealed doesn’t let you just run pirated software by itself. Besides, there are already other ways of doing that on the Playstation 3. The modified firmware and Geohot’s software allows you to run homebrew.
In that sense, this comes down to “should you be able to have control of things you buy”.
Obviously Sony and many companies believe that isn’t the case. You’ve bought a Playstation, and you don’t own it. The joys of the End User License Agreement – the document you never read but have to agree to in order to use things you buy. You’ve probably signed away your consumer rights, your house and your firstborn child on those things before.
Sony are well within their rights to protect their system, particularly against piracy, but this legal action will not help to achieve that. There’s no point in getting an injunction against the release of the keys, they are out there, it’s public information. I’ll resist using a ridiculous metaphor here involving horses and gates because they never add anything to the understanding – and instead turn to Hotz’s lawyer for a serious take and see how they described it in their filings. “The cat is out of the bag.” Oh, never mind.
There have been calls (many from Playstation owners) for consoles with custom firmware to be disabled, banned and for jailbreak information to be taken down. Someone even said that “when you bought a PS3, you made a promise to Sony to buy games, and this breaks that promise!”
Why is there this mistaken loyalty to companies? Why do people believe they have their best interests at heart? The Xbox 360 is a notoriously unreliable console that Microsoft should have fixed years ago. They eventually got round to improving the situation, but five years on, the Red Ring of Death is still a threat. People still have hardware that was badly made and could have been sorted earlier. Estimates put the failure rate of the 360 anywhere between 30% and 60% – but as ex-Microsoft exec Peter Moore said in 2007, “ya know, things break”.
Although that’s Microsoft, Sony aren’t squeaky clean either. A lot of the hacking attention on the Playstation 3 comes from Sony removing the “OtherOS” function from the console – a much touted and huge selling point, but they tried to argue that they can remove it because they want to. Forget consumer rights and buying things, they can change it!
T-Mobile tried the same crap this week by almost forcing customers to take an 83% reduction in mobile broadband use, without prior warning. They argued they could change the contract because the terms of service said so. I know I love paying the same to get 83% of what I pay for! Thankfully they backed down on changes for existing customers, though they shouldn’t have tried that bullshit in the first place – and that’s what is important here.
Basically – they don’t give a shit about you, so don’t hold up ideals about them. Sure, celebrate their products, but they don’t give a rats ass except if you’re still giving them money. Digital Foundry mentioned this week that Sony have the functionality to disable a PS3 system remotely. Not just ban them from the Playstation Network (which is sort of fair enough) but stop your hardware from working. Completely.
It is quite simply offensive that they have that. I cannot think of a reason why Sony should have the control over your console. They don’t like what you’re doing? Sorry, you’ve just got a £300 paperweight. Don’t like it? sorry, you agreed to a document saying we can do anything, including saw off your right toe with a kitchen knife.
If I want to run software of my choosing on hardware I have purchased, then Sony should not be able to walk in and go “I’m sorry, someone might pirate things with a jailbreak, it’s dead.” There have also been complaints because people might be able to cheat at games online with a modified system – they could modify their games, make the system believe they’re real copies and ruin matches for everyone else – so we shouldn’t allow jailbreaking at all.
Like piracy, online gaming cheating happens already. And this jailbreak has not caused that in any way yet – it’s all hypothetical. But to say we shouldn’t have custom firmware because someone could cheat is nonsense. Surely it’s the responsibility of the developer and the administrator of the system to ensure you have a good experience online?
Yes – piracy is a problem. But it’s inevitable. And piracy is the problem with piracy. Not the jailbreak itself. Go after pirates, go after people who stick the games online and ban cheaters online. But if I want to run software of my choice on my console – don’t tell me that’s wrong.
…I just remembered. Sony have me on some list of “influential bloggers” in what they call an “advocacy programme” in which they sometimes send me things. I suspect not much will be arriving in the post from now.