SOCIETY has a curious inability to differentiate between
tools and the people who use them. Researchers have identified the heuristics
behind this and yet we continue to make the mistake. Japanese electronics
manufacturer Sony is recovering from a crippling attack on its Playstation
Network gaming service. Some irresponsible articles in the press have pointed
to the fact that Amazon's EC2 cloud services were used in the attack - as if
Amazon is enabling hackers. It isn't.
The same logical fallacy is used in the piracy argument
where lawyers for big software companies, music labels and film studios target
the platforms used by pirates, such as Bittorrent and other peer-to-peer
services. They honestly believe that content pirates are criminals and that
they can disable them by getting rid of applicable tools. So far, so bad.
In reality piracy is driven by convenience. Apple showed
this to be the case when it launched the iTunes Music Store and proved to
record labels that people will pay for music and download it if the option
exists. Convenient beats free.
In other cases, pirates do what they do because the content
they are accessing is stupidly not made available in their territories and
there is no other way for them to access it.
Whether or not this legitimises them breaking the law is a
separate argument - my point is that the problem of piracy has little if
anything to do with the tools used by pirates.
Societal phenomena like pornography, piracy and hacking are
not affected by availability. Hackers will always find tools, even if they make
them themselves. You could get eTV to stop showing porn, in which case viewers
would turn to the internet or elsewhere to get their hands on it.
Bread knives can, and have, been used to stab and kill
people. I've never heard of a judge suggesting that bread knife manufacturers
be prosecuted or otherwise chastised for this.
Of course, bread knives are more often used for cutting
bread. If they were used in murders as regularly as guns there might be a
greater outcry against them, but that still wouldn't validate the approach.
Bread knives would still be useful tools for those of us not using them as
Censorship and embargoes are archaic mechanisms that never
worked, but now just make their supporters look stupid too. As the saying goes:
guns don't kill people, people kill people.
In the case of the Sony, hack attackers would have used any
cloud platform, connected computer network or other resources to pull off the
attack. The problem is the attack itself, and why it was planned.
Sony has reversed its policies on open source and working
with online communities. In the past the company has been found guilty of
spying on its own users and planting software on computers to do so. Sony
itself has been guilty of hacking and the target of much resentment from users
of its services that are savvy enough to understand the company's actions.
The reason it was targeted in this latest attack may or may
not have anything to do with the actions I've listed above - but they are
better places to look for the problem than Amazon's cloud services or, for that
matter, any other tool that could have been used in the attack.
In his book The Tipping Point, author and journalist Malcolm
Gladwell says: "The world, as much as we want it to, does not accord with our
It might look like eTV and Amazon EC2 are the problem - but
they just aren't.