Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Pirate or puppet?

When you use pirated software or services, are you acting freely or are you being used as a pawn in a larger game?

When the now-failed TV business ITV Digital (aka On Digital) went bust pirates were freely accessing its services using widely-distributed codes. The service failed to make enough money and went under.

The pirates might, in an effort to justify their actions, argue that the services were over-priced. They might claim that information should be free.

They may simply feel that they are going to do what they want and do not care about the consequences.

I have a feeling that any user of 'stolen' services/content would care a great deal if they discovered that they were being manipulated by a large corporation. BBC's Panorama claims to have discovered that this happened in the case of ITV Digital.

The documentary alleges that a News Corporation company called NDS developed a 'hacker' website and encouraged its official owner to distribute set-top access codes for its rival's service.

When ITV Digital implemented counter-measures, the website (www.thoic.com - now closed) was used to distribute information on how to defeat those measures.

If the accusations are correct then those users of the THOIC forums were not only behaving illegally but they were puppets being manipulated by one of the large corporations that they most likely despise.

This same situation could easily apply to some of the media-savvy hacking groups currently making headlines. It is impossible to know who really pulls their strings. It is quite likely that large numbers of members don't even know the answer to that.

The irony is that those who believe they are behaving with more freedom than the rest of us, accessing whatever information and other systems that choose, are not exercising their full right to free choice. They don't have enough information to know whether or not they are working to fulfil someone else's agenda.

They could be unknowing agents of criminals, corporations or even geopolitical adversaries (spies).

It's worth thinking about, before downloading that new, illegal copy of a movie, album or ebook.

[This situation reminds me about a story once told to me by a fairly well-known anti-virus company. It had put a license code for a significant length of time (say nine months or more) on the cover disc of a magazine I once worked for.

Some individuals had leaked this code to an internet forum and the anti-virus vendor had seen a large jump in user numbers. This was in the tens of thousands - I think about 30k. Those who distributed the code obviously felt that they had got one over on "the man".

This attitude became more evident when the company decided to 'leak' more of its codes to the internet on purpose. The forum distributed these semi-legitimate codes for a while before realising that it was being influenced by the company it was trying to rip off. It then removed the codes from its site, unhappy that it was being tricked.

I suppose that the thrill of stealing disappears once you know that the apparent victim is glad that you are a potential customer merely sampling the goods.]