Anonymous: Freedom Fighters of the Digital Age?

I am not exactly the biggest fan of corporate America. Dropping a check off at the bank today I almost visibly cringed when I saw on their muted television that Paul Ryan wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. Generally speaking, corporate culture strikes me as being utterly ruled by greed, with few exceptions. The utter lack of concern that many amongst the rich have for the common person, without whom they couldn’t have become wealthy, is disgusting. So you would be right in saying that I like it when the little guy scores a blow against the fat cats of the world.

That being said, I do think there is a special circle in hell reserved for hackers like Anonymous, the group that has recently launched a digital war on Sony. For the uninformed, Sony recently filed suit against hacker GeoHotz after he successfully broke the long secure PS3, opening it to modification by other hackers. The suit has prompted a swathe of outrage amongst many other hackers who have begun disrupting Sony’s websites, the sites of the company defending them and have even stooped so low as to harass its employees and their families.

“It has come to our attention that [Sony has] decided to interrupt the free flow of information,” said Anonymous in a video statement. “We will not stand for this.”

I love the phrasing of that. “Interrupt the free flow of information.” It reeks of revolution, of the little man fighting big brother in a struggle to maintain free speech. It’s all bullshit of course.

Let’s say you buy a PS3. You’re free to do with it what you please. If you want to go home and use it as intended, you can. That said, if you want hack it, shoot it, or set it on fire that’s your prerogative. You just better be willing to accept the consequences. Sony clearly states in their user agreement for the PlayStation Network that if you hack your machine they reserve the right to ban your account. Nobody forced you sign up for an account. Nobody’s forcing you to even connect your PS3 to the internet. That’s your choice. It might hobble your gaming experience a bit, but I’d say it’s perfectly fair of Sony to insist upon you following their rules if you intend to use a service they maintain at their own expense.

That’s not limiting the flow of information, that’s just setting some requirements and following through with a consequence when someone fails to meet them.

But what about Sony’s suit? I’ll confess that I’m not a legal expert and I won’t even begin to try an explain what exactly Sony has tried to do to GeoHotz and his community colleagues. That being said, what did they expect?

Consider for a moment the damage that hackers have done to the gaming industry. Developers big and small have lost billions in profits due to hackers stealing their software. The DS and PSP have become some of the worst platforms to develop for on account of how heavily pirated their software is. Nintendo all but had to launch the 3DS if only to keep the handheld market momentarily profitable. Piracy all but erased PC gaming as a profitable platform. If it weren’t for the advent of Steam and the growth of digital distribution it may never have recovered.

Sony probably soiled their collective pants when it was confirmed the PS3 had been hacked. Think of how much they’ve invested in the machine. They just barely started making a profit on each console sold, did hackers really think they’d take the potential devastation of their software sales lying down?

What really angers me about the righteousness of groups like Anonymous though is the fact that their actions will do nothing to hurt the company’s big wigs. Do they really think any profits Sony loses will even be noticed by the millionaires at the top? It’s never those people who suffer. It’s the developers, who very rarely get rich, that are hurt when some idiot pirates their game and in turn slashes legitimate sales to a fracion of what might have been. For every copy of Crysis sold, twenty were downloaded illegally. Pirates did that. Hackers did that.

The inhumanity of corporate culture is the bane of modern man. That being said, at least it’s honest about what it’s doing. It doesn’t pretend that it’s fighting for truth and justice. Say what you want about Sony, or any other company for that matter, but they have every right to expect compensation for their products and services. Just like they have every right to protect those things. Groups like Anonymous wave the flag of freedom, but it’s a banner soiled by the suspect scent of their own self-righteous lies.

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2 Responses to Anonymous: Freedom Fighters of the Digital Age?

  1. Chris says:

    Despite my usual siding with the hackers in these sorts of cases, I agree with you on most of these points. However, I feel the distinction needs to be made between the hackers and the pirates, as hackers are not necessarily directly responsible for the piracy. In the PC market at least, many hackers are merely circumventing DRM that makes the games so ridiculous to play in the first place. Corporations need to come to terms with the fact that they are fighting a losing battle, as the masses far outnumber them, and their futile efforts at protecting their products will only serve to dissuade the honorable folk from buying them, as they (myself included) don’t want to deal with the measures. Steam has made everything much easier by providing a non-intrusive DRM combined with features that actually make it viable to use, which, in my opinion, is a step in the right direction.

  2. Stew Shearer says:

    Fair enough! I can agree that DRM is for the most part self-destructive, especially when it often does nothing more than, as you said, harm the folks actually buying the game.

    I did try to make some distinction between general hackers and Anonymous, but perhaps I could have made it more pronounced.

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