Connectivity can be a force for autonomy and freedom, or it can be
used for control and subjugation.
The Nintendo 3DS is an example of the latter.
Okay, yeah, I just said a cute video game console is a threat to personal freedom. Hear me out. If you haven't read the highlights of Nintendo's Terms of Service for
the 3DS yet, you should do that.
On one hand, it's "just" a games console. On the other hand, it's a
computer, marketed to children, which monitors your location (based on
proximity to wifi access points), uploads your photos and messages to
Nintendo's servers (giving them a license to re-use that information
in various ways), and tracks your activity. Now that's entertainment.
If you wanted your Nintendo computer to stop doing those things, you
could try to install some 3rd-party "homebrew" software on it. Except
then, according to the Terms, Nintendo would "brick" your device —
render it inoperable, when the modified software is detected. Would
you accept Ford disabling your car because you had a mechanic friend
fix a problem using some aftermarket parts? Microsoft breaking your
computer hardware because you installed Firefox?
The ability to stop your electronics from spying on you is an
important freedom to defend, even if you don't ever plan on purchasing
a Nintendo device. Such terms, and the Digital Restrictions Management
software that enforces them, are a problem in all areas of digital
life. It's the same fundamental strategy as Apple controlling what you
can install on the iPhone or iPad, or Sony sending police officers to
a programmer's house because he showed other people how to modify
their own computers to make them able to run non-Sony-approved
If we don't set a strong precedent against this behavior, it will
become more prevalent. If we lose the ability to install what we like
on our computers, then we lose the ability to use those computers in
any way that isn't pre-approved by a corporation. We lose it not only
because we ourselves can't install some software — maybe we hate
changing anything on our computers at all — but because the people
who write the software we rely on lose that freedom, which ends up
impacting even the most non-technical of computer users.
Companies like to portray anyone arguing for this freedom as criminals just wanting to illegally copy software. But that's obviously not true -- a person who follows all laws, even the most absurd, might still want to install something to stop Nintendo from receiving copies of her photos or reporting on her location. Companies use the threat of illegal copying to justify massive infringements on real personal freedoms.
People often say, "well, just don't buy it then". I agree — don't buy
it. But don't think this is merely a consumer issue. Terms like
Nintendo's are backed by the force of criminal law — the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act in the US for example — which can put you in
jail for helping people to modify their own computers. So this is more
than a mere preference issue, it's also one of law and
ethics. It's not a free market when one side has coercive state
resources in play to prop up its arbitrary business model.
To help send this message, I just donated to send 5 bricks to
Nintendo. I hope you'll send one or five too. The campaign has a goal
of sending 200 bricks by the end of today (Monday, May 16th). Nintendo
clearly wants to get into the brick-making business, so surely they'll
appreciate the extra inventory.
(Disclosure: While I do work for the Free Software Foundation and am
paid partly to run the Defective by Design campaign, I really did
donate, and support this campaign personally.)