How the iPhone Is Killing the Net

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Manufacturer Control

Besides loss of generativity, tethered appliances are a threat because they can be controlled remotely by manufacturers. The iPhone, for example, seeks out and erases user modifications. Zittrain finds it ominous that appliance manufacturers can change these products after end users have bought and installed them. He says this feature of appliances creates an increased threat of intervention by regulators.

"The most obvious evolution of the computer and network -- toward tethered appliancization -- is on balance a bad one,'' he writes. "It invites regulatory intervention that disrupts a wise equilibrium that depends upon regulators acting with a light touch, as they traditionally have done within liberal societies.''

Zittrain cites three ways that manufacturers can control tethered appliances: preemption, meaning that they can design against particular uses; specific injunction, meaning they can remotely change the product in response to legal action such as a court order; or surveillance, meaning they can use the appliance to provide information about the end user to the manufacturer. Zittrain points out that the FBI can eavesdrop on any automobile with an OnStar navigation system just as it can turn a cell phone into a microphone. Similarly, makers of digital video recording systems can cause a feature to self-destruct if required to do so in a patent infringement law suit.

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