Mac OS X + Intel = Tight Control?

Reading one of my favorite sites Slashdot this evening, a disturbing post that Apple’s Mac OS X kernel uses DRM compelled me to go off and read more about so-called “Trusted Computing” and Apple’s tie to Intel. I also thought about all the other ways we’ve got content producers, computing/software vendors and trade organizations colluding-to-control — with government playing right along — but this post will focus on Apple and Intel.

Trusted Computing is an alliance of Microsoft, Intel, IBM, HP and AMD (there’s a good objective article about trusted computing here and one from the Electronic Frontier Foundation here).

A couple of snippets from that first article:

Every major hardware and software company has embraced Trusted Computing (TC), a technology that involves placing special security hardware inside every PC. Opponents say it’s designed to prevent competition, hinder interoperability, and perhaps give vendors permanent control over every PC they ship-even after it’s been bought and paid for.

Vendors disagree, of course. According to the Trusted Computing Group (TCG), the trade association that sets the specification for the Trusted Platform Module (TPM), the most important component in TC, it will improve network security. The TPM ensures that the machines at each end of a link can be certain of each other’s identity and configuration. TCG members say this will let enterprise networks detect and isolate client machines containing viruses and other malware, and warn computer owners if a machine has been tampered with.

It goes on (emphasis mine):

Despite its name, TC isn’t really about trust. It’s about verification to make trust unnecessary. This is achieved through digital signatures, which can be used both to authenticate a machine and to confirm its configuration. By signing measurements of a PC’s hardware or software, or a user’s biometrics and presence data, a TC device can vouch for a machine’s state, not just its identity.


Concerns are high that Trusted Computing — by verifying you and the very specific authorized device — will allow content providers, OS vendors and computing platform vendors to be in a significantly stronger control position about what we listen to, use and view…and what other competitors will be allowed in to the party. Also concerning is that potentially our activities online can be fully tracked, traced and verified (you shouldn’t worry if you’re not transacting or web surfing somewhere you shouldn’t be, right?).

Interested in High Definition television? Apple and Intel are here too. Next time you’re at Best Buy shopping for that new, hot HDTV, you should know about the High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) that is on the shelf sign and what it means for you. It’s not just an interface…it’s a control point so you can’t copy HD content in any-way-shape-or-form. On the HDMI organization web site it talks about how they’re implementing control over how content can be used by you:

What is HDCP?
HDCP is a content protection technology available for use in connection with HDMI that was developed by Intel Corporation (with input from Silicon Image). HDCP is not licensed by HDMI Licensing, LLC, but by Digital Content Protection, LLC (a subsidiary of Intel).

Hmmm…there’s Intel again (Apple’s future partner). (Amusingly, someone has already allegedly cracked HDCP).

Apple’s involved in HD too. They have a stated direction with HD. At MacWorld this past January, Steve Jobs invited the president of Sony, Kunitake Ando, to talk before the audience about what Jobs had said earlier about Apple’s intention to “make this the year of high definition video.”. A rumored video iPod-like device is in the works with an iTunes-like movie store. Could the Intel maneuver and DRM in the Mac OS be the table stakes to get in the movie distribution business? I
believe the answer is a resounding “yes” and the new Mac OS X kernel — running on an Intel chipset — will allow Apple to deliver movies with the MPAA’s blessing.

So if you spend several thousand on an HDTV, a cable or satellite setup and/or PVR, the only way you can copy that content is via a crappy, low resolution analog-out. Sorry consumer (says the industry), we don’t trust you and even if we verify, we’ll make it very, very difficult for you to copy anything with decent quality. With Trusted Computing, any device with a CPU (virtually everything out now and coming…even your TiVO is a PC running Linux) will ensure that any industry (music, movies, publishing, software) can verify it’s you before the stuff you’ve already paid for can be used.

Technology is moving faster than people’s ability to absorb it and react — either positively or negatively. Even I can barely keep up with moves by the RIAA, MPAA, and legislative activity around DRM, DMCA or industry moves like HDCP, et al. Often I don’t even know which battle to get in to and which side to take. Wish I had a way to trust and verify a company or elected representative and their stance on consumer and entrepreneurial advocacy vs. a control one.

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About Steve Borsch

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