Sunday, July 24, 2016

Corporations want to own your ass.

CORY DOCTOROW / 10:31 AM FRI JUL 15, 2016

For 90 years, lightbulbs were designed to burn out. Now that's coming to LED bulbs.

In 1924, representatives of the world's leading lightbulb manufacturers formed Phoebus, a cartel that fixed the average life of an incandescent bulb at 1,000 hours, ensuring that people would have to regularly buy bulbs and keep the manufacturers in business.

But hardware store LED bulbs have a typical duty-cycle of 25,000 hours -- meaning that the average American household will only have to buy new bulbs every 42 years or so.

The lighting industry is panicked about "socket saturation," when all household bulbs have been replaced with long-lasting LED bulbs. There's signs that they're moving to limit the longevity of LED bulbs, albeit without the grossly illegal cartels of the Phoebus era. Philipps is seling $5 LED bulbs that have a 10,000 hour duty-cycle. Many no-name Chinese LED bulbs are so shoddy that they're sold by the kilo, and buyers are left to sort the totally defective (ranging from bulbs that don't work at all to bulbs that give people electrical shocks) from the marginally usable ones.

JB MacKinnon's excellent New Yorker piece tells the story of planned obsolescence and home lighting, but only skims the surface of the Internet of Things future of "smart" bulbs. It's been less than a year since Philips pushed out a firmware update that gave its light fixtures the ability to detect and reject non-Philips lightbulbs -- and thanks to laws like the DMCA, which have metastasized in the IoT era, it's a potential felony to alter your light fixture to override this behavior and force it to work with non-Philips bulbs.

The IoT's twin dark patterns are control (forcing you to use original consumables, only get service from the manufacturer, and limiting features to those that benefit the manufacturer, at the owner's expense) and surveillance -- and that's the other side of this. As bulbs get smarter, they're being positioned as IoT hubs that do everything from relaying your wifi to connecting to your thermostat to serving and coordinating with your home security system. This gives them the power to gather farcical quantities of potentially compromising, sensitive information about your life inside your own home, and since a federal court just ruled that the Terms of Service accompanying these products have the force of law, there's little you can do (or sell) that will help people get out from under this kind of spying.

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