Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Ownership in the Digital Age

Buying stuff used to be so simple: you gave money to a merchant and in return you received a product.

But times have changed, society has moved on, and the concept of ownership has undergone a rather radical shift. The problem is, nobody ever told us.

The rise of the digital age has brought with it a wealth of new types of products and new ways of interacting with them. Nowadays we've got MP3 players loaded with music, ebook readers containing the latest novels, iPads and smartphones, downloadable videogames and web applications.

All these modern products are essentially still just that: products. A company makes them and sells them and eventually they end up in the hands of you, the consumer.

What has changed is that due to their built-in internet connectivity, all these products aren't as static as they used to be. Where once you bought a novel or an album, it was static and unchanged. If the book had a misprint, it wouldn't just magically disappear overnight. If the album had 11 tracks, it wouldn't suddenly have 10 tracks the next day.

But modern technology changes the static nature of stuff. Nothing is solid and immutable any more. Everything can, and does, change.

Amazon's Kindle ebook reader has built-in features that allow Amazon to make changes to - or even entirely remove - the ebooks that you purchase, without your consent or even your initial knowledge.

Apple's iPhones and iPads as well as Google's Android mobile phones have built-in features that allow Apple and Google to remove apps that you've downloaded via their respective app stores. Apple can also use its iTunes store to remove music that you've purchased if they deem it necessary.

You no longer own the product that you bought. Instead you are leasing the product, paying for the privilege of using it, subject to the continued good graces of the product's manufacturer. They can, and do, remove your access to the product if they believe you have violated their EULA (End User Licence Agreement).

The boundaries of ownership have changed. Corporations are keenly aware of it, and have been (ab)using and expanding this new system of corporate ownership of your stuff so that nowadays almost everything you buy that is digitally enhanced and online-capable is never truly yours.

Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business/opinion/watching-web/how-the-internet-has-changed-the-concept-of-ownership-14975229.html#ixzz12PtDlVdu

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