Wednesday, May 14, 2003

What? Me Worry? The image of Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Newman comes to mind.

The idea behind Palladium seems innocent enough ... software and hardware that will work in tandem to protect users' data from malicious hackers, viruses and spyware. The sales pitch makes users think ... HOT DAMN! Another weapon in the war against information theft.

But critics think something more sinister is at hand. And they may be right. Microsoft tries to deflects the accusation that it is in league with the media industry to override consumers' rights. They insist that the draconian buzz around Palladium (aka Next Generation Secure Computing Base or NGSCB for short) is mythic.

But any mad scientist can tell you that any invention meant to help humanity can also be turned into a weapon to victimize it. And in the digital world, Palladium has the potential to be just that.

Privacy advocates warn that NGSCB can, and probably will, be abused by content providers to Enforce copyright protections (with a capital "E"). In other words, imagine working on that report and Palladium discovers that you are working on an unregistered piece of software? BLAMMO, it goes into lockdown and you don't get your report done. In addition, Palladium will rat you out to Microsoft and the FBI could come a knockin'. So your boss has fired you and you're doing time in SingSing.

Microsoft wants you to believe that this "mythology" surrounding Palladium makes no sense because no one would "choose to commit professional suicide by creating software or hardware that won't allow it's users to use their system. Well, when it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that any company CONTROLS 90% of the OS market, one can do whatever they wish.

And the fact the word has gotten out about Palladium makes Microsoft skittish. Otherwise, why change the name - which they recently did - to NGSCB. Why confuse the issue even further by plans to include the software in the next version of the Windows XP operating system, code-named Longhorn?

Technology has a natural habit of leaping ahead of the legislative arms which are meant to keep it in check. So while Longhorn/Palladium/NGSCB may sound like a good idea to protect copyright and media rights, it may also allow companies to implement restrictions against computer users that they currently are not able to enforce through the law. And since the political process tends to avoid the path of most resistence, they may choose to be powerless to stop it.

Which only leaves market forces ... otherwise known as you and your wallet.

And that may be the most powerful defense of all.


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