Thursday, October 3, 2013

W3C gave in to corruption and will poison the future




The web works well

The web works. It works well and if you're reading this, it works well for you.

  • Are you using a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone? I don't know.
  • Are you using Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Unix? I don't know.
  • Are you using Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or another browser? I don't know.
  • Are you using ADSL, Cable, Fiber Optics, 3G, GPRS? I don't know.
  • Is your processor from Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, or other? I don't know.


The reason the web works well regardless of your choices of hardware and software is because we define standards and norms. 15 years ago, when Microsoft had established its monopoly over web browsers, it stopped caring about standards and the Internet started rotting. Web programmers stopped following the standards and started developing web pages that would only comply with Microsoft's rules. Consequence: websites were non-standard and displayed correctly in IE alone. Meanwhile, the good browsers that spent efforts on following the standards looked bad because they rendered websites exactly like websites were coded: poorly!

The W3C (WorldWide Web Consortium) is the organization that has been overseeing the establishment of web standards. If you're not familiar with the subject, let's say they're the people who created HTML, CSS (style sheets) and all the standards that make the web work well. Up until recently, transparency and interoperability were key to making the web a healthy environment where internet users could (if they so wanted) scrutinize the content of web pages and reveal shady practices like websites spying on your browsing history, stealing information from your cookies, uploading viruses to your computer, etc.


DRMs and corruption


I mentioned this in an article about video games: DRMs are the software equivalent of locks. DRMs are bad for many reasons. 1st reason is: all of them get cracked. Not most of them. ALL of them! Then there are other considerations about freedom and duping consumers. I won't go into all the details. Let's just make a quick mention of digital content that depends on a platform like iTunes or Steam. You think that you bought songs on iTunes or bought video games on Steam? you're wrong. These songs and these video games don't belong to you. You don't own them. When you die, there's no property of this content that can be passed on to your next of kin. When you want to sell them, you can't because you don't own them. And when (not "if") the companies managing these services will go bankrupt or when they simply decide to shutdown the servers, you have no legal recourse because you were only paying for a service and you didn't own the content. Damn! I should write a full article about DRMs...

So... what do you do when you're a company doing bad things or selling evil products? Lobbying, corruption, and if needed: litigation. Many companies love DRMs because it takes power away from consumers and puts it all in corporate hands. Then it's your job to make sure you remain in a leading position of the market so that you control this power.

DRM lobbies have been pressing the W3C for years in order to integrate DRMs in the web standards, so they can have black boxes of shady software doing whatever they please on your computer while you have no way to scrutinize what they're actually doing. And they recently succeeded. Will they watch you and listen to you and analyze what you say while you watch a video on your computer? of course they will, but you'll have to wait until the DRM is cracked before someone will get a chance to prove it. And if you look at legal terms of services (TOS) nowadays, more and more of them force you to waive your rights of legal action. So you can't sue them.


What's the predictable future? Where will DRMs lead the web?

A de-standardization of the web is an obvious future. While HTML5 was intended as a standard format in which to include videos (with already quite a few formats, some of them free and some of them proprietary), we'll probably see more video providers forcing you to use their black box in order to access their videos.

Also (even though it partially relates to videos): advertisement. In 2013, it's easy and convenient to remove most of the unwanted ads through plugins like Ghostery or Adblock, while allowing some decent advertisement on the websites of our choice. But with black boxes, you get the final product displayed on your screen and you don't have the freedom to chose what gets filtered or not.

From time to time, you copy pictures or photos from the web in order to send them to your friends or reuse them on your website, for whichever purpose? In the future, that will be difficult unless you're a skilled computer user because content will be full of software locks preventing you.

Software taking over your webcam and microphone to assess your environment or outright spy on your private life? Sure! The black box comes with TOS mentioning that you grant them access to your hardware. And anyway... who reads the 5 pages of agreement when it's so easy to just click the button "I accept" at the bottom? Hardly anyone already reads the 200 characters licenses for Facebook apps or Smartphone apps. A wallpaper requesting to access your list of contacts and your hardware? it's outrageous but nobody reads the TOS so of course companies do it.


Conclusion

The W3C just removed control of your web browser from your hands and gave it to private third-parties.

DRMs are costly (and you'll be charged for them) and ineffective to prevent piracy while they do create problems for honest consumers. Welcome to the future of the Internet!

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