2.22.2011

SCEA vs. The World

Geohot
I am finding the evolution of this story absolutely fascinating! For those that don't follow video game news, there is a major uproar happening right now in the world of Sony PlayStation.

There's a fellow by the name of George Hotz, who goes by the online handle Geohot.  He's a well known hacker, and considered by many to be one of the best.  I first became aware of him for his work with the iPhone.  He was one of a few people responsible for "unlocking" the iPhone, which allowed the owner to use it on carriers other than AT&T.  Why would someone want to do this?  Because as experience has taught us, competition is good for the consumer. If someone has a monopoly on goods or services, it basically gives them license to do whatever they want.  As the only carrier offering the iPhone, AT&T can offer only the features they choose to offer and charge whatever they want for those features.  What can the consumer do about it?  Unlock their iPhone to use on another carrier of course!  This is what Geohot made possible.

In addition to using the iPhone on other carriers, you can also download apps on an alternate app store that aren't sanctioned by Apple or AT&T.  Why would you want to do this?  There are hacker apps that give you complete control over the look and feel of the iPhone operating system, or give you the ability to use your iPhone as a storage device to copy files from one computer to another like a USB flash drive, or even to use the iPhone as an internet tether, giving you access to the 3G network on your laptop on the go.

You see, in my opinion, I own the device.  Right?  I mean I went to the store and dropped $200.  It's my phone, not Apple's not AT&T's.  I'm not renting or leasing the phone, so I should be able to use it in any manner I see fit, regardless of whether the manufacturer "approves" of it.  Does it void my warranty?  Yup!  Do I care?  Nope! Why not?  Look back on past experience, have you ever gotten anyone to honor a warranty without them trying to weasel out of it with some legalese or loophole like "wear and tear parts" or "that behavior is by design"?  I used to be on a tech support hotline at an electronics manufacturer, I know all the tricks, okay? Warranties equal the worth of a turd nowadays so I voided mine a week after I purchased my iPhone, it's my right as a consumer and an American.  Is this a controversial view?  Fine, call me controversial!  I did a similar hack to my original Xbox, and now every night I enjoy movies streamed from my server on it.  Can the Xbox do cool stuff like that out of the box?  Nope!  And it's all thanks to hackers like Geohot.

Thank God for the appearance of devices like the Droid and Verizon iPhone, there is finally some competition for AT&T which will hopefully give them some incentive to, oh I dunno, improve their network just a little so EVERY SINGLE one of my calls doesn't get dropped. Anyway I'm way off track, what does this have to do with PlayStation?  Well if you'd shut up for a minute I'll tell you.  So Geohot eventually retired from the iOS scene (iPhone Operating System), which has since been taken over by others and is still going strong.  He then turned his attention to the PlayStation 3.  Now the PS3 has long been known for being the last untouched and fully secure system out there.  It's been around for over 4 years and has remained un-hackable.  Geohot began work on PS3 in late 2009, and in a mere five weeks he had it hacked.

Now a bit of history here.  First thing you should know is that the PS3 is a powerful piece of hardware and it was thought by many that it could do more than just play games.  Even Sony thought this in the beginning and provided a feature called OtherOS.  This allowed you to install an operating system (like Linux) to use the PS3 for, well whatever you wanted to use it for.  In 2009, Sony released an updated and slimmer model of the PS3.  It no longer included the OtherOS feature.  This was unfortunate but ultimately fine with most people who would just keep their original PS3 which still had the OtherOS feature.  Shortly after, Sony released a firmware update for the original PS3 which disabled OtherOS permanently and without warning.  According to Sony this made the PS3 "more secure".  This outraged the PlayStation community, many of whom lost data on their Linux partition and spawned a class action lawsuit against Sony.  If you chose not to accept the firmware update, then you were no longer allowed to access any of the PlayStation Network online services.  One of the first things Geohot did as part of his early PS3 hack was to re-implement OtherOS.

On January 3rd, 2011, Geohot publicly released the hardware encryption key to the PS3 on his website, in effect allowing anyone to run software not authorized by Sony.  On January 12th, Sony filed a lawsuit against him for violation of the DMCA, computer fraud, and copyright infringement.  In the month that's passed since then, Sony has done some things that just amaze, delight and disappoint me all at the same time.  Sony is now the equivalent of "child with rich parents who got made fun of on the playground".  They've released firmware after firmware to patch the holes Geohot has found in the system to no avail.  They filed a restraining order against Geohot, forbidding him from distributing any further information on the hack.  They made a legal motion to get a hold of Geohot's personal PC, to analyse all the data he's accumulated.  Geohot was told by a judge he had to hand over the PC, and "don't delete anything" before handing it over.  The judge then told Sony "Only look at data on the PC relating to the case".  Well that all seems completely iron clad to me! (that was sarcasm).  What a waste of taxpayer dollars.  Sony's next motion in the case was to demand that Google hand over the IP addresses of everyone who watched Geohot's YouTube video on how to implement the PS3 hack.  Google advised Sony in not so many words to "fuck off", and in turn so did the judge.

Sony has now turned its attention to the rest of its end-users, raising several privacy red flags in the process.  The hacking community has uncovered some of the information that is transferred to Sony when you log on to PlayStation Network.  This includes what devices that are connected to your PS3, the information in your USB drives, the type of TV you have connected, just about any information it can find.  In addition, your credit card information is sent in plain text.  Awesome.  In addition, they've recently updated the terms of service to include this wonderful bit:


Yep, they can monitor everything you say and do and your location when you said and did it.  They can also enable and disable whatever features they see fit without warning.  The following is a direct quote from Sony:
  • A Playstation is a combination of hardware and software that ‘is functioning properly in accordance with SCEA guidelines’. The hardware is warranted to run free from defects for a year. The software and firmware (the operating system) only has to function in accordance with SCEA guidelines. This can change at any time and may be automatically changed, changed if the hardware is repaired or changed if a user-installed upgrade is accepted by the user. The purchaser has no right to expect any features provided by software or firmware to continue for the period within which the hardware remains functional.

    SCEA reserve the right to destroy any data, content, functionality or usability automatically without warning the user. This may also happen with warnings and as a result of actions taken at the same time as any service or repair of hardware is undertaken.

    SCEA do not warrantee that the PS3 will continue to play Blu-ray discs, play games online through the PSN, play new PS3 authorised software, play old PS3 authorised software or play any software without explicit authorisation from SCEA. Neither does SCEA warrantee that any authorised games or services, subscription or otherwise, will be available to the owner at any time after purchase.
I don't know about you, but I see a couple of very bad things when I read that.  First, I don't seem to own the PlayStation 3 I paid $500 for.  It sounds more like a rental to me.  Second, I need to use that rental the way it was intended, or Sony can disable it's features at any time, one by one without warning me.  They've already done this twice, first with backward compatibility with PS1/PS2 titles, and then OtherOS.  So what is a PlayStation 3 that can't play Blu-Ray discs or software titles?  Why a very expensive paperweight of course!  In addition, they can deactivate all of my PSN subscriptions and purchases at any time and I would have no legal grounds to get my money back.

So needless to say, this case has really opened my eyes to some things I really should've paid attention to before.  It's typical of companies nowadays to ask you to agree to lengthy agreements that you simply don't have the time to read through in detail.  How many times have you just said "ok" or "I agree" without reading all the legalese?  I know I do it almost daily when I install software, sign up for a service, or for example when I joined Facebook.  I've never read the Facebook terms, and when I do, I bet there'll be another blog about how pissed off I am at them as well.  When you take the time to read and really understand what you agree to when you click "I agree", it's quite amazing what companies are getting away with nowadays.  You don't own anything you've purchased, and anyone can monitor your activities anytime without explanation.  And since you clicked, "I agree" there's nothing you can do about it, because... you agreed to it.

So now Sony has begun banning people from PlayStation Network who are using any type of unlicensed software on their PS3.  This doesn't really matter to me, I unplugged my PS3 from the internet as soon as I began following this story.  But to me, banning people from PSN is a bonehead move on Sony's part.  If you're all pissed off that people might start pirating your software, then is it really a good idea to ban them from the only place you might make a few bucks off of them in the form of PSN titles and downloadable content for existing titles?  You're only opening the door for piracy on downloadables as well.  Mark my words, and mark them well:  The next generation Sony console will require an internet connection or a telephone call to "activate" all software titles a-la Microsoft Windows.

Unfortunately, as is always the case in all matters of the universe, nobody learns anything from past history.  Let's look at the original Xbox as an example.  When the original Xbox became compromised, Microsoft quickly cut their losses and released the Xbox 360 with a much tougher security scheme.  Sony's next best move would be to get PS4 out the door as quickly as possible.  As for PS3, the battle against piracy was over the moment George Hotz released the hardware key.  While Geohot himself is not a pirate, and actually speaks out against piracy, he surely knew that his actions would ultimately lead to piracy on PlayStation 3.  On the flip side of that coin, I can't help but feel that Sony is bullying him and using him as an example to send a message to hackers and their end-users at large that they will not tolerate folks who don't update to the latest firmware on their PS3.  I really hope Hotz wins the lawsuit, because I hate bullies.  But more importantly I hope a win by Hotz sends a message to Sony and other companies that write lengthy terms and conditions that we consumers have had enough of their shit.  While I write this I just read a rumor that Sony is preparing to release a new build of the PS3 with new hardware encryption, which will eventually be unlocked by the next up-and-coming hacker.

Don't get me wrong here, I definitely believe that Sony has the right to protect it's intellectual property.  But I think it can be done without threatening their end users with ultimatums and invading their privacy.  Here's the last message I received from Sony before permanently unplugging my PS3 from the internet:
  • Notice: Unauthorized circumvention devices for the
    PlayStation(R)3 system have been recently released by
    hackers for the PlayStation(R)3 system. These devices
    permit the use of unauthorized or pirated software.
    Use of such devices or software violates the terms
    of your "System Software License Agreement for the
    PlayStation(R)3 System" and the "Terms of Services
    and User Agreement" for the PlayStation(R)Network/
    Qriocity(TM) and its Community Code of Conduct provisions.
    In addition, copying or playing pirated software is
    a violation of International Copyright Laws.
    A circumvention device and/or unauthorized or pirated
    software currently resides on your PlayStation(R)3 system.
    Immediately cease use and remove all circumvention devices
    and delete all unauthorized or pirated software from your
    PlayStation(R)3 system. Failure to do so will result in
    termination of your access to the PlayStation(R)Network
    and access to Qriocity(TM) services through your
    PlayStation(R)3 system.


Go ahead and ban me.  I care about playing video games, not connecting to online services.  I'm an old man who has no need to pwn n00bs to make myself feel better.  I enjoy the challenge of figuring things out, I enjoy beta testing, reverse-engineering and using things in a manner not originally intended.  Taking things apart, tinkering and trying to break them and fix them is what keeps me going.  As I stated in regard to the iPhone, If I spend $500 on a PS3, then it's my right to immediately take it outside and run it over with my Jeep, or cook brats on it if that's what I see fit.  Whether that's the manner of intended use for the PS3 or not, again it's my money.  So no Sony, I DON'T agree to the terms and conditions anymore.  And I've disabled your ability to check up on "your" system.  You want to look up the IP address of this blog and sue me, fine.  I wouldn't put it past a company who wanted to sue people for watching a YouTube video.  I already know free speech is out the window, but you're not gonna get much I assure you.  Video games consistently make more per year than the music and movie industries and aren't going anywhere.  At the end of the day when all is said and done, your board of directors will still have access to their executive bathrooms and private jets whether software piracy exists in the world or not, and it will always exist.

I haven't pirated anything yet, but the way you treat your end-users makes me want to.  Keep that in mind Sony.

Update 2.23.11:  Police and Sony reps have raided the home of another well known PS3 hacker. Also, SCEA job postings have been updated to include Senior Paralegal, Anti-Piracy and Brand Protection, and Senior Corporate Counsel for Anti-Piracy and Brand Protection. Looks like they're forming an anti-piracy brigade!

Further reading:


2.15.2011

My latest video game review

I found it to be long-winded and not as funny as it thinks.

2.02.2011

2011 Blizzard - Chicago Suburbs Style!

So the worst snowstorm in memory came and went through Chicagoland last night.  It brought over a foot of snow with drifts in my yard up to four feet.  There was thunder and lightning during the worst of the storm, I've never seen such a thing.  The lightning reflected off the falling snow and lit up the air with bright blue/green light.  I went out for a Jeep joyride, but experienced no joy, only terror and horror.  For the first time ever, I gave up and drove home as the whiteout conditions and lack of a distinguishable road made it impossible to continue.  I spent four hours the next morning shoveling, and I'm now too sore to do anything but type this text.  I snapped some photos of my snowy doom for all to see here.