Code creep

I’ve just read a wake-up call from Cory Doctorow:

We are Huxleying ourselves into the full Orwell.

Try as I might, I can’t shake the feeling that 2014 is the year we lose the Web. The W3C push for DRM in all browsers is going to […] fuck you in every possible way.

(I may have taken some liberties with the quoting. Full article.)

The Web is abuzz with the NSA, PRISM and TOR. TOR and—generally speaking—end-to-end encryption address privacy concerns with regard to the infrastructure of the Internet and its tampering by external agents. Notwithstanding the graveness of that struggle, Doctorow is making the case for something else here. It’s about proprietary code creeping into the Web.

Proprietary, unaccounted, unaudited—unauditable!—code. Code that is forever vulnerable to attack, and yet that you cannot get rid of. Code that can do whatever it is that its governing bodies want it to do. Code that is guarded by draconian laws, under the guise of protecting intellectual property and the copyright monopoly; laws under which you effectively lose ownership and control of your browsing, as attempts to circumvent, disable or modify said code will get you in legal dire straits. Up until now, you could choose to avoid proprietary code, just as you could choose to trust one particular vendor’s proprietary code; that could however change.

How can it be so? How can this code creep into our browsing under our noses? Web standards. The standards that specify how the Web works and evolves, what (originally: open) technologies are used, and so on. These are followed by browser makers, as we all need to speak the same language for there to be one true Web.

DRM, by design, is made of proprietary, hidden code. If the powers that be decide to mess with standards and push for DRM, proprietary code will be pushed as Web standards. Browser makers will be somewhat forced to follow suit, for fear of their products becoming Web-incompatible; Netflix, mentioned in the article, has a ton of leverage in this regard. Oh, and did we mention that the MPAA—the Hollywood Mafia—is apparently now a member of the World Wide Web Consortium? We’re in for a bumpy ride.

Take Action: Defend the Open Web: Keep DRM Out of W3C Standards

Author: Miguel Fonseca

Engineer at Automattic. Linguist, cyclist, Lindy Hopper, tree climber, and headbanger.

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