Guilherme's Blog

Ramblings, technical articles, possibly recipes?


The concept of ownership is a simple one: if you paid for something, you own it in full. This means modifications, maintenance, and more importantly, possession. Unfortunately, the trend of subscriptions and DRM has taken over markets where it has no place being. Services like Spotify and Netflix are justified in utilizing both subscriptions and DRM: it makes more sense to have access to a film library instead of singular movies, as you will rarely rewatch the same movies religiously. The harm resides in that being applied to juice makers, coffee machines, car parts and appliances.

If I own an espresso machine, I want to be able to brew anything I want, anytime. It shouldn’t matter if it’s an original Keurig capsule or 30 grams of polonium, I paid for the machine and since it is my property, I expect it to work, within reasonable limits, however I want. Nevertheless, Keurig (and worryingly, many other companies) thinks otherwise. To them, not only should you be limited to their own capsules, not all of their own capsules will work with all of their machines, and not because of a mechanical incompatibility, but instead, because of DRM.

The prospect of having to “defeat” a juicing press that refuses to make juice has been rightfully torn to pieces years ago. Unfortunately, slowly but surely, we have gotten accustomed to being locked out of our own property. Worse still, in cases such as HP’s ink subscription, you need to keep paying for items you already bought and received, lest they stop working altogether.

Although this is new in hardware applications, software lockouts have reached hilariously egregious levels decades ago. From rootkits that came with music CDs, to single player videogames being rendered unplayable after authentication server shutdowns (the most recent one impeding users from redownloading DLC for a number of Ubisoft games), companies have no bounds when it comes to respecting property.

Subscriptions have become the norm for some professional applications (a few going as far as implementing dark patterns to make cancelling as expensive and impractical as possible), with no realistic justification for it. If I so wish, I should have lifetime access to software, upgrading along the way when deemed necessary. Consumers should have the option of deciding what option best suits their needs, instead of being coerced into disadvantageous schemes.

There is no justification for forcing users to keep paying to retain features already present in hardware or software (exempting cloud services and similar cases, of course). The “Razor-blade” model (“give away the razor, sell the blades”) is an excuse for maximizing profits, not being beneficial to the customer in any way, shape or form.

To top it all off, even when no DRM or subscriptions are present at face value, maintenance is still made difficult, either through conventional obfuscation means, or by forcing parts to “authenticate” themselves as genuine under the guise of “safety”. This leads to users being incapable of modifying or maintaining their devices themselves, cementing them as a consumer, not an owner. Once the device breaks, they’ll be forced into buying a new one or performing costly repairs at an authorized shop. As we progress, devices can only be interacted with on a minimal scale, as software gets gradually more closed down and hardware gets locked up just as much.

The gradual erosion of technical liberties presents a larger problem, which is presenting barriers to becoming interested in “tinkering”. With phones, cars and computers becoming mere items to be used and discarded, there is no incentive to learning the inner workings of them. Technology should not be used, but rather understood. One can only hope these aren’t enough to deter the curious and inventive.

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