12 Ways the Tech Industry Is Screwing You (and How to Fight Back)

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Annoying DRM in Digital Downloads

Digital downloads are great, but they tend to be less flexible than a physical purchase because the media you buy is often saddled with DRM (Digital Rights Management)--basically, code that restricts how you can use the media you legally purchased. DRM is fading as an issue with music downloads these days, as both the iTunes Music Store and Amazon.com currently have no DRM in their downloadable music files. But it's still a pain with movies, games, books, and other downloadable media.

Many apps claim to be able to strip the DRM out of your movies, but it's difficult to endorse them. Aside from the fact that they're somewhat pricey ($50 or so), you can't assume that they'll stay effective, since the developers are engaged in an endless cat-and-mouse game with the publishing companies. If DRM is getting in the way of your movie watching, your best bet is probably to buy the disc version of the movie and then rip a copy of it yourself with Handbrake so you can watch it however you like.

A second copyright protection system can foul up your viewing experience, too. If your Blu-ray movies or other 1080p content play only in low resolution, you might be running into HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection), an encryption scheme pioneered by Intel that attempts to prevent unauthorized movie copying or sharing by securing every video device involved in playback.

If you want to watch a Blu-ray movie from your PC, for example, your Blu-ray drive, video card, and display must be HDCP-compliant; otherwise, you won't get the best resolution possible, and the movie might not play at all. This situation is particularly painful for HDTV owners who have older 1080p TV sets and want to use component video (analog), since it's not HDCP compliant--you'll need to attach an additional device like HDfury to get it to work.

Games don't offer you the option of a DRM-free disc. If DRM is a deal-breaker for you, research your games before you buy them; Ubisoft is somewhat notorious for including DRM functions that require you to stay online and continually connected to the company's servers to play the game Assassin's Creed 2, and Blizzard Entertainment took a lot of flak for crippling offline play in StarCraft 2. Various pirate groups release cracked, DRM-free versions of popular games on file-sharing sites; but in using them you risk getting slapped with a DMCA violation or infected by malware, and some features or bug fixes might not work.

Restricted App Choices

Though you may be willing to accept a little DRM--after all, even Hollywood stars have to eat--not being able to install whatever you want on your iOS devices of choice probably still rankles you. Jailbreaking your iPhone or iPad is easy, but it also invalidates your warranty--and you don't want to throw away the $100 you spent on an AppleCare extension.

The obvious solution is to go for an Android device instead: You can install any app you want without voiding your warranty by downloading the .apk file onto your phone's memory card and using Apk Manager to install it. Even Android phones, like the Droid X, can prevent you from modifying or removing certain built-in apps, however. So regardless of whether you're an iOS loyalist or an Android upstart, you'll have to take matters into your own hands.

The good news is, jailbreaking your iOS device (or getting "root" access to your Android device) is perfectly legal. The bad news is, it will void your warranty. It's possible to reverse the jailbreak/rooting process by reinstalling your phone's original firmware, but that won't do you any good if your phone is unexpectedly "bricked" (read: not bootable) while in its jailbroken state and you need to bring it in for a warranty-covered repair.

Don't try any jailbreak or root methods without reading the comments and associated forum posts. If lots of people are having problems, wait until things get better. The iPhone Dev Team Blog, xda-developers, and PCWorld's own Geek Tech are all good places to learn how to liberate your phone.

Price-Match Prevarication

You've been here before: One store has the laptop you want at the price you want to pay, the other costs a little more but has a better return policy (and some store credit that you want to use up). Everyone has a price-matching guarantee--so no problem, right?

"We're sorry," the manager tells you, "these are two different laptops."

"What? But the specs are the same!" you cry.

"Look here," says the manager, "this USB port is on the left, not the right."

This scenario plays out fairly often around the holiday shopping season: A laptop vendor will sell a Best Buy-exclusive laptop for $300 (in limited quantities), and offer a similar (but not identical) model for $350 elsewhere. To avoid the Best Buy rush, astute consumers may try to price-match at the second store--only to get denied by that stray USB port. Regrettably, the only way to save yourself a wasted trip is to do your homework before rushing out the door for a cheap laptop.

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