What’s Happening to Sony

John Dvorak is far from the most salient technology reporter out there. His years of trolling about the imminent death of Apple never really panned out, and most of his other “observations” trail actual news by a few weeks. So its no surprise that he’s oblivious about why Sony has been under attack for the past few weeks. It would be a surprise, however, if Sony were equally confused. If they haven’t gotten the message by now, they probably never will: their view of the marketplace is dying. The Internet is killing it.

When Sony launched the PlayStation 3, they pre-empted the homebrew scene, who’s efforts to unlock the Dreamcast and the original XBox drastically increased the functionality of those devices, but put their go-to-market strategy under strain. Sony decided to include a feature called OtherOS which allowed tinkerers a “sandbox” in which they could install Linux (or another OS) and experiment with the powerful hardware in the game machine. It was a good move.

So a few years after the fact, when they released a software update that added no new features, but did permanently disable the OtherOS feature, you can understand why it was pretty much universally considered a bad move.

When a brilliant but harmless at-home tinkerer, the young GeoHot, exploited a gaping hole in the Playstation 3’s hardware architecture, re-enabling the ability to launch Linux, Sony didn’t respond by patching the hole, or by re-activating the feature. Instead they sued the young college student for all he was worth, filing legal injunctions to halt his PayPal account, take down his website and require social media websites, like YouTube, to turn over identifying information of anyone who might have viewed GeoHot’s posts of how he unlocked the hardware that he had purchased with his own money.

To be clear, GeoHot owned the hardware, used his own tools and his own observations to learn how the device worked and then enabled it to be more useful. I’m pretty sure inventors have been doing this for centuries. Only now its illegal.

Unfortunately for Sony, that legality is a relic of an era they have failed to outgrow. An era when only big companies owned innovation and ideas, when only bureaucracies had the authority to publish information, and where the group with the most money usually wins. Yes, GeoHot settled and agreed never again to publish information about the PS3, but that doesn’t mean Sony won.

Sure, the giant company squashed the tiny individual. But now tiny individuals all over the Internet have responded in kind, exploiting more gaping holes in Sony’s old-world technology offerings. Long-known backdoors not sealed, unencrypted username and password lists, credit card information stored in plain text on exposed servers… Sony is a stupid, plodding behemoth, swatting at a million flies who combined are smarter, more innovative and more effective than ironfisted control over information and ideas.

We see it happening over-and-over again: a shift of power from organizations to individuals. Whether its a thousand hackers turning from curious exploration to retaliation against a company that thinks it owns ideas and the people who buy their wares, or individuals across the nation of Egypt sparking a Jasmine Revolution over the Internet and over-throwing a dictator who’d held onto power for decades. The Internet connects people faster and across greater distances than ever before. A heirarchy is not needed to spark and shape ideas: a swarm can do it better. Loyalty is to ideas and activities that allow us to explore them, not to companies or boards of directors. A company or a government cannot afford to be stagnant — and they certainly cannot afford to move backward — because if we can’t find what we want, we can invent it ourselves: without a budget or a chairperson or an executive committee. The world is a smaller place, and whether you go by the name Sony, or Mubarak, if you can’t change, you can die by a thousand cuts…

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