18th Oct2011

Commerce and Commercialization

by sam

Recently, companies have been increasingly “appliancizing” and “tethering” their products and services to the point where the user has no control.  Appliancizing refers to making products have a specific functionality and no “wiggle room” for users to modify it while tethering is when the supplier has the right to modify the device after you have already bought it and you cannot do anything about it.  The question is, is it better to have easy functionality but be a “slave” to the manufacturer, or use and open source which is not as user friendly.

In Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet he references an example of tethering involving TiVo’s lawsuit against EchoStar.  EchoStar installed DVR (digital video recorder) functionality in its products and TiVo sued them for infringing TiVo’s patents.  EchoStar was forced to remotely deactivate the DVR component of products, especially the ones that people had already purchased with the understanding that they could use it like a TiVo.  I would have been extremely angry if I had my television shows recorded and as I was ready to sit down and watch them only to find out that they had all been deleted.  I have tried researching whether or not the customers got some kind or refund but it wasn’t mentioned in anything I read.

There is another component to tethering that scares me and excites me at the same time is the fact that the appliances have the ability to send information on what you are doing back to the manufacturer.  On one hand I love when my DVR at home records suggestions based on the shows that I frequently watch.  However, on the other, It scares me that eventually they could use this to show only commercials that they think I would be interested in.

Now that I know about tethering I have realized how much of my life is tethered; Netflix, Hulu, Comcast, and so many more things.  Open sources seem to be the way to go, but can be complicated and I wouldn’t even know where to start.  The question is…where do they draw the line?