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Apple the No. 1 Danger To Net Freedom 354

CWmike writes "Columbia law professor Tim Wu, who coined the term 'net neutrality,' now says that Apple is the company that most endangers the freedom of the Internet. Wu recently published the book The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, in which he details what he calls 'information empires' such as AT&T, NBC, Facebook, and Google. He told The New York Times, 'It's largely a story of the American affection for information monopolists and the consequences of that fondness.' When asked whether the Internet could similarly be controlled by large companies, he told the Times: 'I know the Internet was designed to resist integration, designed to resist centralized control, and that design defeated firms like AOL and Time Warner. But firms today, like Apple, make it unclear if the Internet is something lasting or just another cycle.' Asked which companies he feared most, Wu replied: 'Right now, I'd have to say Apple.'" Wu has been in the news a bit lately.
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Apple the No. 1 Danger To Net Freedom

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:49PM (#34232726)

    Apple's website says there's going to be a big announcement tomorrow.

    I wonder what it could be.

  • Wait...wut? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kashell ( 896893 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:52PM (#34232772)
    As far as I've observed, Apple has done a great job of contributing to a number of open source projects and has used their muscle to force the RIAA/MPAA into the digital space.

    Personally, I'd put the RIAA / MPAA / Copyright Monglers at the top of this list. They're the ones trying to shove the COICA through Congress.

    Which, by the way, they're trying to sneak through by this Thursday.
  • Re:Monopoly? (Score:5, Informative)

    by orphiuchus ( 1146483 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:55PM (#34232810)
    Its a oligopoly, like Coke and Pepsi. Bad for consumers, but not quite as bad as a Monopoly. Its a very hard market failure to correct however, because actually breaking up Microsoft and Apple would cripple computing for 5-10 years. Kind of like At&t. In a decade we would all be better off, but in the short term it would be rough. It'll never happen anyway because the lobby system has become so powerful, and I don't think any politician wants to lose all that sweet money.
  • by ByOhTek ( 1181381 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:14PM (#34233118) Journal

    There are two places where someone can gain that power.

    He who controls the servers.
    He who controls the clients.

    If one party controls a high portion one side, and no one party controls the opposing side, the opposing side has to adapt to the side under a monopoly. If one side is controlled by one party, and the opposing side is controlled by a conflicting party, then they either need to come to a compromise (where both win and the consumers, usually, lose) or one/both of them will be wrestled out by third parties who can work with the other side.

    Basically, if the decline of the desktop/laptop comes into play and Apple gets the iGadgets (Phone, Pod, Pad, etc.), into a high level of dominance, or Apple continues it's popularity upswing too far, then Apple will have the client side under it's belt, and suddenly, it has a very strong control of the internet - If Apple prevents Flash players on it's clients for HTML5, Flash is gone, if Apple prevents HTML5 on it's client for ProprietaryAppleWebMarkupLanguage, HTML5 is gone, if Apple says AmazingAwesomeNewTech isn't allowed, AmazingAwesomeNewTech is gone, etc.

    Mind you, I don't think it's remotely reasonable that Apple will get this kind of power, they have a habit of shaking their iron fists a little too soon. Still, surprises sometimes happen.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:24PM (#34233282) Homepage

    Just how many (great information emperors) have there been?

    Several. William Randoph Hearst [wikipedia.org] (newspapers) and David Sarnoff [wikipedia.org] (RCA, NBC) definitely qualify. Not only did they dominate their respective industries for years, they had the arrogance to go with it. Hearst, of course, actually built a castle [hearstcastle.org]. Sarnoff made his people call him "The General". Thomas J. Watson Jr. [wikipedia.org] (IBM) was certainly a "great information emperor", although he wasn't as personally arrogant. He moved IBM into electronic computers and ruled computing for three decades. Today, Rupert Murdoch [wikipedia.org] qualifies.

  • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:26PM (#34233340)

    >Of course, if you buy Android you'll be using the extremely standards-compliant WebKit engine Apple put together

    Err, webkit is a fork of KHTML, which Apple forked in 2002 and rebadged "webkit." Thank the KDE guys who wrote KHTML under a license that allows such things.

  • by thethibs ( 882667 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:26PM (#34233352) Homepage
    Actually, he does say. Read the interview again.
  • by Defenestrar ( 1773808 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:31PM (#34233434)
    Except that the group of people you call "isheep" do a lot of purchasing. Economics are going to drive this, and the economics (influenced by marketing) suggest that the consumer is very much ok with proprietary systems, DRM (of varying degree), and other things which really lock them into the first company's system. You could make a decent argument that the greatest threat to the internet isn't the total volume controlled, but rather the degree of success had at preventing or obfuscating open standards. I'm not talking about open or closed source - but the ability to buy interchangeable cords to jack in with, or transfer the data you purchased from company A to a device made by company B at a later point in time. If you don't have that, you don't have the option of jumping ship with your assets - and that is a serious threat indeed.
  • Re:Monopoly? (Score:5, Informative)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:45PM (#34233662)

    The only market that Apple competes in that this wouldn't apply to is smart-phones.

    Apple is part of an oligopoly controlling input devices, music players, Web editors, and laptops? Umm, maybe you need to go do a bit more research on what an oligopoly is.

    Music sales, personal computers and music players would all count

    So Apple is part of an oligopoly on the personal computer market? So fully 25% of the market belongs to small players and the remaining 75% is divided among five major companies with no one company dominating. So I guess my question for you is, how do you differentiate an oligopoly from a healthy, competitive market? I mean you can literally choose from hundreds of PC manufacturers when making a purchase. I really don't see it.

    but I would call the market I'm referring to "general computing".

    You need to take an economics course. "general computing" isn't a market. A market is defined by sellers and buyers and the subset of offerings where those sellers are competing for a transaction from the buyer. For example, a person buying a PC might look at a Dell, and HP, an Apple, and a Microtel. All the people offering competing options make up the market. Microsoft does not sell a PC, nor does AMD so they are not part of the market. IBM sells large contracts that include many PCs and support and services, so they too are not part of the market. You see how it works? "General computing" would be an industry (maybe), not a market.

    The oligopoly is between Microsoft and Apple, and although it is close to a monopoly for Microsoft I would still consider it a oligopoly because the only choices most consumers consider are Apple and Microsoft, and most consumers do consider both.

    That's not an oligopoly because Microsoft sells into the desktop OS market and Apple does not sell a stand alone desktop OS. Microsoft has a monopoly in that market. Apple bypasses the market entirely by insourcing and competes in the fairly robust desktop and laptop computer markets. The lack of choice you're complaining about is called a "monopoly".

    The reason I haven't been answering this specific question is because it should be obvious to most people.

    That's not a very good reason, especially because you seem to be misusing the terms and failing to understand the basic principals of markets. It's only obvious if people understand your misuse terms and share your imprecise perception of how markets are working.

  • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:54PM (#34233830)

    Of course, if you buy Android you'll be using the extremely standards-compliant WebKit engine Apple put together

    Err, webkit is a fork of KHTML, which Apple forked in 2002 and rebadged "webkit." Thank the KDE guys who wrote KHTML under a license that allows such things.

    Yes, Webkit is a fork of KHTML, but with a huge amount of code added. Do thank the KHTML team for much of the initial work. Do thank Google and Nokia and several other players for contributing significant amounts of code to the project. But don't ignore Apple's contribution of a huge amount of the code and for taking KHTML, modernizing it, organizing it into a first class HTML and javascript engine, and funding and supporting the effort to make it a collaborative mainstream project that can truly utilize the contributions of several major players. Also, don't overlook that it is indicative of much of Apple's strategy regarding openness and the Web.

  • by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:56PM (#34233854)

    There has been right-click in MacOS and OS X since System 7.6 which was 1997. It really took off in System 8, which is when I started using a two button mouse and trackball.

    For one button mice, you could emulate right click with Control-Click

    It might have worked in System 7.5, I don't remember if it did back then.

  • Re:Greenpeace (Score:3, Informative)

    by dangitman ( 862676 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @03:08PM (#34234050)

    They had a huge number of exclusives and if you wanted to listen to it away from your computer or laptop you were stuck using an iPod or degrading the sound quality further by burning it to CD and ripping it.

    Meanwhile, the competitors (Windows Media... and some RealNetworks thing, I think) often didn't allow burning the DRMed files to CD at all, or any other form of media portability. And Apple had the "Rip, Mix, Burn" campaign that encouraged digital copying, and was the target of music industry outrage.

  • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @03:24PM (#34234322)

    Err, webkit is a fork of KHTML, which Apple forked in 2002 and rebadged "webkit." Thank the KDE guys who wrote KHTML under a license that allows such things.

    That's not really an honest depiction of what happened. Apple did not merely rename KHTML as WebKit and called it done. Apple has extended KHTML far beyond what the original coders have done. Apple has made vast improvements to many aspects of the original code. In fact, Apple made so many changes and so quickly that the original KHTML developers had problems backporting the changes which tells you how much the KHTML liked the changes. In its haste Apple did not do a very good job of documenting the changes but pledged to be better at it in the future.

    Also under the original LGPL, Apple is only obligated to release modifications to the KHTML code; they are not obligated to release any code not connected with the modifications. Before 2005, Apple released their changes to JavaScriptCore and WebCore under LGPL. After 2005, Apple released the rest of WebKit under a BSD type license.

  • by makomk ( 752139 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @05:04PM (#34235578) Journal

    In fact, Apple made so many changes and so quickly that the original KHTML developers had problems backporting the changes

    That's largely thanks to the nature of the changes, though. The big change in Webkit was that Apple modified it to use their own proprietary rendering and HTTP libraries rather than the Qt and KDE ones. This meant that Webkit couldn't be used as a replacement for KDE. It was several years before anyone managed to write a Qt-based version of Webkit at all.

  • So all those music files I bought on the iTunes Store yesterday don't work on my Linux box... oh wait, they do.

    It was as difficult as "dragging and dropping" files from one window to another (although I also access the bulk of my library over a network share, but that might be "too complicated" since it requires "such a level of technical knowledge".

    Right now the only format I can think of off the top of my head that is locked in with DRM (at least in the consumer space - I can't remember if the pro-apps formats [eg, final cut pro project files, motion files, logic pro files etc) are open) are the movies and TV shows on the store.
    * They went for documented, human readable XML for their iLife/iWork apps
    * they keep a duplicate machine parsable XML copy of the iTunes library alongside their binary blob version that iTunes itself uses (presumably for speed)
    * their email format is .mbox
    * their audio codec is AAC and video codec is H264 (both patented, but both open standards not under Apple's control)
    * their address book and calendar data is open (and their address book and calendar servers are open source projects)
    * their HTML and JS engines are open source (and given the work they continue to put into it, doesn't look like they will be be moving to a proprietary solution)
    * they continue to release open source projects for everyone to use and are strongly promoting HTML5 and basing their browser on Webkit means they can't "embrace, extend and extinguish" it (HTML5 that is, by distorting the spec)
    * their entire IDE is free to use, and uses GCC as the compiler. They have also put a serious amount of work into LLVM.
    * their programming language of choice is Objective C, and C itself, although Xcode supports many more.

    So, they have a phone/tablet platform with a managed store. Oh no! danger internet! A store that is compatible with GPL v2 licensed apps, meaning you don't have to limit your app to just Apple's store, and that just because it is free software doesn't automatically bar entry (although the GPL v3 anti-tivo clause does).

    For a company that is supposedly the "biggest threat to the free internet" they sure are hiding it well. The store has DRMed movies, but you can be sure they are trying to get rid of that - just as they did for music when it became clear to the content providers (who demand the DRM) that a DRM-free model would work.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell