Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Software Businesses

How Proprietary Software Lets Companies Cheat (locusmag.com) 228

"Proprietary software makes it possible to design products to cheat ordinary users..." writes Richard Stallman -- linking to a new essay by Cory Doctorow: Carriers adapted custom versions of Android to lock customers to their networks with shovelware apps that couldn't be removed from the home-screen and app store lock-in that forced customers to buy apps through their phone company. What began with printers and spread to phones is coming to everything: this kind of technology has proliferated to smart thermostats (no apps that let you turn your AC cooler when the power company dials it up a couple degrees), tractors (no buying your parts from third-party companies), cars (no taking your GM to an independent mechanic), and many categories besides.

All these forms of cheating treat the owner of the device as an enemy of the company that made or sold it, to be thwarted, tricked, or forced into conducting their affairs in the best interest of the company's shareholders. To do this, they run programs and processes that attempt to hide themselves and their nature from their owners, and proxies for their owners (like reviewers and researchers). Increasingly, cheating devices behave differently depending on who is looking at them. When they believe themselves to be under close scrutiny, their behavior reverts to a more respectable, less egregious standard. This is a shocking and ghastly turn of affairs, one that takes us back to the dark ages.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

How Proprietary Software Lets Companies Cheat

Comments Filter:
  • Shovelware sucks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Snotnose ( 212196 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @06:39PM (#55171153)
    At least on PCs I could figure out what was crap, and delete it. With my phone, I know what's crap but I can't delete it. Worse, that crap lives in internal memory, which is usually too small and too expensive compared to an easily installed SDCC card (why is a 64G SDCC card cheaper than a 16G internal storage upgrade?).

    I've love to see a class action suit filed that would force Facebook, Groupon, Snapchat, and dozens of other apps I'll never use explain why they are taking up precious and expensive space in my phone.

    Hopefully once that hurdle is cleared it will create a precedence for the other abuses.
    • make the MFGers of phones allow users to remove offending apps, i have a samsung S6 and i disabled microsoft office and facebook and a few other factory installed apps, but i can not remove them from the device
    • Re:Shovelware sucks (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mikael ( 484 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @07:36PM (#55171371)

      It's not just Android. Even with PC's and Windows, many pieces of hardware now require a "cloud account". These included security web cameras with internet connection. In order to use the PC and Android application, you need a cloud account. Even to control the camera from a Smartphone. These days virtual machine applications require internet access to "keep up to date".

      I bought a telephone handset for my mobile ... and of course it requires cloud services because it needs voice recognition in order to activate smartphone applications. It's getting ridiculous.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Bert64 ( 520050 )

        Many security cameras require a cloud account for a valid reason... Because of NAT, how else are you going to view your cameras from outside of your home network?
        The average slashdot reader may be capable of setting up a VPN, but most people aren't, and having cheaply designed devices accessible on internet-routable ips is dangerous too if you dont know what you're doing.

        The devices i saw at least made the cloud account optional, you could still access them standalone over a VPN... I've configured such a VP

        • by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @10:50AM (#55174039)

          Many security cameras require a cloud account for a valid reason...

          That's not a valid reason. It would be a valid reason to provide the option, but not to make it mandatory.

          Personally, I simply refuse to buy anything that requires an account anywhere in order to function.

      • nVidia has started this crap as well. Last time I wanted to upgrade my gfx card drivers it insisted on having an account.

    • Re:Shovelware sucks (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @07:45PM (#55171405)
      The phone manufacturer or carrier got paid to include those apps on your phone. So in a way you're benefiting from it via a lower phone price, though it can be hard to tell with how quickly they depreciate.

      To get rid of it, you gotta root the phone. To get rid of the Google apps (which are linked to the Google Play Store), you have to root the phone and install a vanilla version of Android compiled straight from Google's open source, and don't install the Google Apps bundle. As you probably guessed though, this means you give up access to the Google Play Store and any apps which you may have purchased through it.

      My suggestion would be to make a law where the manufacturer or reseller (carrier) must provide warranty service for as long as software not essential to the device's operation remains on it. So if they want to get paid to put Facebook on the phone and make it impossible to delete forever, then they need to provide warranty service for the phone forever. Basically if they want to behave as if they still partially own the phone, then they need to continue to provide warranty service for it.
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        The last couple of versions of Android let you disable the baked-in apps to a greater or lesser degree. They still waste some space, but once disabled and their functionality replaced they don't do much harm, and you get a cheaper phone.

        Having said that, I prefer to buy phones without bloatware these days, rather than get one on contract. And in the UK, even phones on contract can be vanilla unlocked models if you just avoid going to the network directly.

      • So in a way you're benefiting from it via a lower phone price.

        This is utter BS.

    • by Luthair ( 847766 )
      Windows 10 won't let you remove a lot of its shitty built-in apps normally, some even not with CLI.
  • Yep, he's right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by johnnys ( 592333 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @06:39PM (#55171155)
    I think Richard Stallman must feel like Cassandra these days. All the bad tidings he's been warning about for years are coming true.
    • Is there really no phone you can buy to avoid this? Just because somebody sells something doesn't mean you have to buy it, there are plenty of smartphones out there that you can wipe the entire OS and install a replacement like Replicant or Lineage. These essays always make it sound like the world is ending just because there is a company out there selling something that you don't like.

      Also what specifically are these "shovelware apps" that "lock customers to their networks"? I certainly have seen some pre-

      • by Zero__Kelvin ( 151819 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @07:51PM (#55171429) Homepage
        99% of the people who buy phones are not technically savvy enough to even understand that there is a problem, never mind find the phones that solve it, so there really is (almost) no phone that you can buy, when the collective you refers to the masses and not a small subset that frequents Slashdot.
        • 99% of the people who buy phones are not technically savvy enough to even understand that there is a problem, never mind find the phones that solve it

          So the first question is defining the problem: what specifically are these "shovelware apps" that "lock customers to their networks"? [slashdot.org]

          The second question is how can you go about avoiding that problem. You say 99% of people don't even understand that there is a problem, maybe there actually isn't a significant problem at all. Certainly if carriers shipped devices with apps that you were forced to use that you then had to put your data in and could not extract it out when you wanted to switch to another devic

          • I assure you that when you have little internal storage and can't get rid of dropbox, Uber, and other apps, it is a problem. You may not be forced to use them, but you are forced to let them eat up your valuable available storage. This problem is real, and I have had to deal with it. Since even you didn't understand the problem, I think I've made my point, and thanks for helping drive that point home :-)
            • I assure you that when you have little internal storage and can't get rid of dropbox, Uber, and other apps, it is a problem. You may not be forced to use them, but you are forced to let them eat up your valuable available storage. This problem is real, and I have had to deal with it.

              So the whole "problem" here has been mischaracterised and it's just a simple matter of needing more storage space. Looks like there's lots of solutions [androidcentral.com] or buy a phone that is supported by LineageOS.

              • The handset is powered by Qualcomm's beastly Snapdragon 820 SoC, and offers 4GB of RAM along with 32GB storage.

                How do you expand that built in 32 GB storage? Would a hammer be enough or does one need powertools or corrosive chemicals?

                Same goes for that 4GB of RAM, choked with processes and services and various crap you simply don't want to be running in the background, trying to be "smart" for you until you're barely managing not to throw the phone at the wall.

                • How do you expand that built in 32 GB storage? Would a hammer be enough or does one need powertools or corrosive chemicals?

                  It's called an SD-Card slot, an SD card is a memory card that allows you to expand the phone's available storage. Quite some time ago Android added the ability for applications to be installed on SD cards as well. Buying a phone that gives you this option of adding storage (or even better one that is supported by alternative OS distributions) is a way of "voting with your wallet". There is a vibrant and active community [lineageos.org] working to solve exactly the problem you are complaining about so support them by helpin

                  • That's still not a good enough solution, because until only the most recent versions of android, the sd card was mounted as a separate volume and managing apps on that volume was damned near impossible.

                    If all you do on your phone is use the base functionality and listen to music, videos, etc, then you're fine. But anyone who wants to install various applications is still going to be hosed. Especially when something like facebooks apps take up almost an entire gigabyte all on their own.

                    Now that the most re

            • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

              One thing to do would be to require phone capacities be advertised based on the space that's actually available for user storage. Ie what's left after the OS and any mandatory crapware has been installed. That would allow users to easily identify that there is a downside to the bundled crapware and hence the reason for the lower price.

      • Re:Yep, he's right. (Score:5, Informative)

        by johnnys ( 592333 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @07:53PM (#55171437)

        He's not just focussing on phones: He's talking about all kinds of new tech that is Internet-enabled or surreptitiously recording your private information and not fully controlled by the consumers.

        He's talking about thermostats provided by your power utility that are controlled remotely by that utility to reduce your power consumption when they feel like it.

        He's talking about vendors who are locking the owners into expensive service contracts or buying parts and supplies at forced inflated prices, using CFAA and DMCA to keep users from doing their own mainternance.

        All of these problems occur because of the way that consumers and citizens are prevented from having full control over the devices we purchase: With the business-slanted contracts and laws that prevent us from knowing what the software is doing and what our devices are surreptitiously reporting back to businesses and governments.

        Richard Stallman has been warning about these problems for many years.

        • He's not just focussing on phones: He's talking about all kinds of new tech that is Internet-enabled or surreptitiously recording your private information and not fully controlled by the consumers.

          Yes and each thing is a different case, there isn't one solution that solves all problems. Which is why I was asking about that one case.

          He's talking about thermostats provided by your power utility that are controlled remotely by that utility to reduce your power consumption when they feel like it.

          And you can use a different thermostat, even an open source smart one [hestiapi.com] or even build one [particle.io]. The same goes for the router your ISP gives you, you very often get much better performance with a different one.

          All of these problems occur because of the way that consumers and citizens are prevented from having full control over the devices we purchase

          And can be solved by exercising your right to choose what you buy.

          With the business-slanted contracts and laws that prevent us from knowing what the software is doing and what our devices are surreptitiously reporting back to businesses and governments.

          There's no law preventing distribution and supply of FOSS devices, indeed we've seen that in many industrie

        • > He's not just focussing on phones
          > He's talking about thermostats
          > He's talking about vendors

          Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.

      • by amorsen ( 7485 )

        You can install Lineage, but then you can't pay with your phone, and certain games assume you cheat.

        • They recently (a few months ago) changed it so they were still classed as a Secure OS, and Root was no longer installed as default - you had to dl and install a separate Zip and install post Lineage install.
        • certain games assume you cheat.

          It seems like every time alternatives to abusive products are brought up, someone say "but.. but.. games!"

          Of all the corrosive effects games companies are having in the tech world, this attitude has to be one of the most obnoxious and insidious. Most of the other issues can be avoided by not playing games from abusive companies.

          This one, however, is actually decreasing the chances of shaking off this horrible trend for everybody, not just gamers.

          Fuck games.

      • by Octorian ( 14086 )

        Is there really no phone you can buy to avoid this?

        Are your willing to have software developers/vendors laugh in your face when you actually want their software to run (or run without issues) on your phone? If the answer is yes, then I'm sure you can find options. If the answer is no, then you're SOL.

        Unfortunately, so much we do on mobile these days is absolutely dependent on proprietary applications and protocols, which means that you can't really have a full experience without depending on those outside the F/OSS community.

        • Are your willing to have software developers/vendors laugh in your face when you actually want their software to run (or run without issues) on your phone?

          What specifically? Is there really so much critical software that won't run on say LineageOS?

          Unfortunately, so much we do on mobile these days is absolutely dependent on proprietary applications and protocols, which means that you can't really have a full experience without depending on those outside the F/OSS community.

          So the answer is to pour effort into developing those missing pieces rather than whine that the status quo isn't what you want.

        • Unfortunately, so much we do on mobile these days is absolutely dependent on proprietary applications and protocols, which means that you can't really have a full experience without depending on those outside the F/OSS community.

          Like what, outside of some games?

    • by jbn-o ( 555068 ) <mail@digitalcitizen.info> on Sunday September 10, 2017 @08:21PM (#55171555) Homepage

      For years Eben Moglen has been pointing out "Stallman was right" in his talks. Moglen regularly cites how Stallman got there years before the corporate-minded press (and thus repeater sites like /. don't promote that point of view). It's very much the problem we see with the open source advocacy for nonfree software (or, put differently, the open source enthusiasts' unwillingness to stand by their pitched development methodology). I understand it rankles to read someone pointing out that free software and open source aren't the same, but when it comes to endorsing proprietary software they certainly are not and this endorsement ought not be pushed aside. Red Hat has a cozy relationship with Microsoft [slashdot.org] which includes bundling .NET software despite patent claims that render such software nonfree [digitalcitizen.info] particularly if one wants to do something with the software they can do with free software—adding covered code to another project.

      You still see people here (even on this topic) posting something that demonstrates an unfounded belief they have more control over their nonfree OS-running computer than they have. "At least on PCs I could figure out what was crap, and delete it.", for example. Taking "PC" not to mean "personal computer" but computer running Microsoft Windows, there are plenty of examples of programs that either don't include working uninstallers or installers that purposefully leave something behind which can't be easily uninstalled (Sony's rootkit which also interfered with CD ripping, for example).

      /.'s user-driven censorship scheme effectively increases the odds that freedom-talk goes unseen. If you want to see your post never get moderated up (and thus be less likely to show up for most /. readers using default settings), try pointing to any of the GNU Project's malware pages [gnu.org]. These pages are highly informative lists which are helpfully divided into useful subcategories. They all explain how nonfree or proprietary software most computer users run deserve the alternative name "user-subjugating" and point to stories written by others, naming names and leaving no doubt as to their authenticity. /. wants clicks and like any click/like-oriented publication, adherence to established corporate norms is the heart of the effort. Stories like this come along once in a while but clearly the mainstay of tech press is convincing people to argue over minor technicalities while they narrow the allowable debate to which proprietary programs shall run on one's system.

  • Corporations do not have customers, they have marks.

  • . . . there are cell providers who will sell you a cheap phone from a generation or two back, but have the image set so you CAN'T re-flash it with a generic image. . . .

    Hint: if it's last-year's phone and offers "free" cell and net. . .steer far away. . .

    The crapware and mandatory upsells after your tiny allotment of "free" minutes and data are not worth the (alleged) savings. . .

  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @06:56PM (#55171215)
    This sort of behavior works great for companies...until it doesn't anymore. When it stops working the companies which relied upon it start to fade away. IBM once relied on a similar lockin strategy. When they lost it, they began to fade. They are only still around because they had so many real assets (as in real estate).
    • by mikael ( 484 )

      They started selling services and support of custom hardware.

      • That is true, but the further removed they get from the days when you HAD to do business with them, the less clout they have. IBM used to be THE computer company. Now they are a glorified Cray Computing.
  • "Increasingly, cheating devices behave differently depending on who is looking at them."

    Great gaslighting tool!
  • When they believe themselves to be under close scrutiny, their behavior reverts to a more respectable, less egregious standard.

    Doesn't that sound familiar?

    It's Dieselgate writ small -- and this time around, there is no government agency tracking this sort of shit. That's why I rather suspect it will fail to make the radar of lawmakers until something particularly egregious happens. It probably will happen though.

    Making a plan now and waiting until it's politically expedient to trot it out is better than having to make up policy on the fly, although it also allows greater chances of nasty poison pills getting embedded in it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... treat the owner of the device ...

    You don't own the software. Worse, you agree the provider/manufacturer of the device, can change the software at any time.

    ... began with printers and spread to phones ...

    Who do I complain to when a Samsung firmware update installs Facebook? Software isn't held to the 'built to purpose' responsibility that hardware is. But again, you didn't buy the software.

    How many printer reviews mentioned the RRP and expected output of the required printer cartridges? How many phone reviews and retailers list the crap-ware installed by the provider/manufacturer?

    Thi

    • ... treat the owner of the device ...

      You don't own the software. Worse, you agree the provider/manufacturer of the device, can change the software at any time.

      Need to distinguish carrier-lockin from manufacturer lock-in - they are different.

      If it is a phone with a "Carriers adapted custom versions of Android" then you don't actually own the _device_ either - you are renting it until it is paid off on contract and many people never even do that because they get a carrier-provided "upgrade" and carry on renting. If you _buy_ your phones sim-free _then_ you _own_ the device, and guess what - no carrier-special garbage on it, no carrier lock-in, no carrier-special a

    • you agree the provider/manufacturer of the device, can change the software at any time.

      I most certainly do not, and I take active measures to make sure this doesn't happen.

  • Co-inky-dinks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @09:02PM (#55171707)
    I just posted on the thread about Equifax about how they identify more with hackers than customers. We have reached the bizarre and unsustainable state where in computing, the customer is simultaneously the customer, the product, and the enemy.
  • netflix can drop the rooted phones block or google can enforce some rules / have dev mode be able to do more.

  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @10:27PM (#55171983)
    hardware and software, i want to be able to install my choice of Linux on it and know all the hardware will function properly because the hardware is open source so the open source Linux will be able to run the phone's features & functions
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      You could get most of that, but the modem will always be the problem. Especially in the US, networks are very picky about what they let connect. To get certified is expensive, and if you tell them that it's an open platform that lets people run their own arbitrary code they are going to deny you.

      Cellular networks are a shared resource, and only work if every device on the network behaves. If anyone could go to xdadevelopers and download a hacked modem.bin that grabs all the bandwidth and tags it data with t

  • by mveloso ( 325617 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @11:03PM (#55172087)

    In RMS' world, end-users are honest and can support themselves.

    In real life end-users lie, cheat, and do stuff to equipment then say to support "I have no idea why it doesn't work, you need to replace this POS."

    Unlike RMS, companies live in the Real World, where incompetent people do dumb things then complain when you can't fix it.

    Put RMS on level 1 support and see what he thinks afterwards.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo&world3,net> on Monday September 11, 2017 @08:03AM (#55173277) Homepage Journal

      Or just design your product so that it doesn't soft-brick when the user screws up, and make the factory reset process easy. As long as you can do that any other warranty issues will be judged by if there is physical damage or not.

      The reason companies do this shit has nothing to do with support. It's all about retaining control of the product after sale, turning a purchase into a licence agreement that benefits them and opens up additional customer farming opportunities.

  • This is a shocking and ghastly turn of affairs, one that takes us back to the dark ages. /quote

    Well, guess I missed the news about the Black Death being back in town...last I looked we still had aircon and running water too.

  • For the *most* part I am always a bit surprised about the complaints. I mean it is like buying a shovel, that is designed to have spikes on the handle, for the only discernible reason being so that you also have to buy their special gloves in order to use it... When said persons are questioned on if they think that was a good idea, inevitably the response is, "Ya but it is a really GOOD shovel". But is it?

    This is of course predicated on the fact that there are many other shovels laying around without spikes

  • Technology in general is almost becoming too complex to resolve this on the side of user freedom. Clearly what's needed is an open source computer design. Everything from BIOS/FIRMWARE/CPU/GPU/NETWORK/SOUND needs to be open source/open spec. I doubt it'll ever happen though. There's just not enough money/demand in it. Everyone wants an open computer platform with the caveat that it runs at 3-4ghz speed and runs x86 software. This is always going to be a fatal hindrance to it existing. x86 is locked up so ti

Most people will listen to your unreasonable demands, if you'll consider their unacceptable offer.

Working...