Sony has been generating a lot of news lately, some of it the typical (announcements for new games and peripherals) but some of it is very atypical. Sony is waging a war in court over who really owns their Playstation 3 console once it's been sold: Them or the Customer?
The genesis of this legal battle has been building for a while, but the debate truly crystallized a few months ago when Sony, fearing that users would figure out how to hack their console through Linux, which was allowed to be installed alongside the PS operating system, decided to remove the feature from all of their consoles old and new which included systems already sold.
How Was This Possible?
The fact that Sony was able to do this shows off the dark side of internet connectivity and the amount of control a company can maintain over a product you've purchased. Most of us are familiar at this point with an OS update. You wake up one morning and your computer or console has a little notifier that a system update is available to download. Some of them even tell you what they are going to do. But how would you like to wake up to a system update informing you that it is going to delete a portion of your system and remove functionality? Even worse, it warn you that if you decide not to download the update, your device will be effectively bricked.
This is exactly what Sony pulled with their 3.21 update to remove Linux installations, which was released appropriately enough on April 1st 2010. As with any update, users could refuse to update but with the knowledge that they would be locked out of the PSNetwork as well as be unable to watch any movies or play any game produced after the 3.21 update. When forced to choose between an offline console that could only play what games and movies they had, and an update that deleted Linux, most made the obvious jump. They either had to erase Linux, or Sony would brick their console.
Some made a third choice: Hack the PS3 and put Linux back on it. Now, eight months after the removal of Linux, a hacker known as Hotz has cracked the system allowing users to install Linux on their consoles again.
Sony is suing him in court, just received a federal warrant to seize all of his computer equipment, and even requested a subpoena (which was fortunately denied) to force Google to give up the names and IPs of anyone that even looked at details of the hack. Several new system updates as forced as the last have gone live already in an effort to shut out those trying to put Linux back on their system.
So here's the question everyone has in mind. Who really owns your console? Sony is making the best argument they can, mainly by forced updates and lawsuits, that you don't own your console, they do. Your purchase is a long term rental, not a sale.
The scary part is this also could apply to both Nintendo and Microsoft. Both of them have periodic updates that can force you to lose part of your experience. If you deny a Microsoft update, the console will disconnect you from Xbox Live. If you deny a Wii update, you'll be unable to play any new games that will follow that update (unless of course you install the update from the game disc, which is brilliant). Both consoles have the ability to do exactly what Sony is doing now: force you into a path you don't want to go.
So who really owns your console? Well, if you own a PS3, Sony's made it very clear that you don't own it at all they do. But the same could be said for your X-box or your Wii if either of those companies ever decided to crack down. Neither of them has, but quite frankly I find the possibility worrying. Sony's making a statement: You don't own your console. They do, and they can do with it as they please while you can only do what they allow you to.
Personally, I think this is just flat out wrong. If you've spent the money on a console, that console should be yours, not the owners. Some people have made the comparison that a console is like a car, with certain rules of the road. Sony's argument is against the Linux hack, which they argue could lead to other hacks. I say that if you're going to sue someone over what someone could use something for, then we just shouldn't be allowed to buy cars. Ever. They could be used as a two ton instrument of destruction, no license needed.
To make an analogy, Sony maintaining so much control over their product would be similar to (continuing the car analogies that gamers seem to love) you purchasing a nice luxury Benz,only to wake up one morning to find the dealer at your door, telling you that they are removing the stereo system since violent music could lead to an accident. If you deny them the removal of the sound system, they'll remotely deactivate the car so it can't drive. If you attempt to put in your own sound system (in the car you bought) they will sue you for vandalism. It's obviously wrong. No one would buy cars from a company with such a record. But if that's so obviously wrong, why are we letting a console developer get away with it?
The problem is that just like the car example, the current adopters of the tech are the ones finding out the hard way. At this point, there isn't much you can do either unless you feel like switching services. Even voting with your wallet, the classic way of letting a company know you're unhappy, won't really work when said company already has your money.
I don't have any ideas outside of denying them any new sales. But I will say this: If I buy a console, I expect to own it.