Thursday, July 08, 2004

A new world of vendor lock-in: encryption authentication of batteries

Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things

NEC's 'smart' batteries: invitation to monopolistic DMCA nightmare

NEC has announced that its batteries will have cryptographic authentication schemes to prevent 'low-quality counterfeits.' Jason Schultz comments on the way that the DMCA turns such a sytem into a license to screw your customers by shutting out competitors who make cheaper batteries:

The software will be introduced in Japanese digital cameras by year's end and is expected to be used in 50 million units by 2007. The software is ideal for use in mobile phones and batteries, but NEC Electronics is also considering extending this technology to 'smart' keys, printers and ink cartridges, as well as bundling the technology into hardware options.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, software-based authentication is the wave of the future. And now, with the DMCA, a near-monopoly! Future, here we come.

Lock-in is binding customers to your products. Microsoft built its monopoly on binding customers to their proprietary (now DMCA protected) file formats.

In the old days hardware lock-in required patented oddball connectors. Now it's much easier and cheaper. To be fair I think this would have happened without the DMCA; the DMCA just makes it illegal to break the encryption.

update: Thinking about this a bit more, the best guide to what we'll see is HP ink jet printers. HP printer heada are keyed (by patent) to their printers. HP can (and does) give away the printers; they make their money on the consumables.

Cheap encrypted interfaces for physical devices extends this strategy. Ultimately many consumer electronic devices may be very cheap or free -- but we'll pay for them through the batteries. The battery manufacturer has complete control over product life-cycle -- if they stop making the batteries the device becomes garbage.

Any sort of consumable that's bound by encryption keys to a dependent device may have the same effect. If cars end up being run by fuel cells ...

I don't think we can imagine where this will end up. The only thing that will slow this down are (I hope!) high fees for use of this (certainly) patented innovation.

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