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The Agony of Digital Rights Management

The semiconductor industry likes to think it doesn't have to worry about software or Digital Rights Management (DRM). I'm often told "those things will work themselves out on their own."

But the truth is, DRM defines how a user will interact with technology. And it defines how different devices are able to communicate. Can you play that movie you downloaded on your tablet, smartphone, or TV? That's DRM, and it's also the digital ecosystem from a consumer's point of view.

One of the themes from this year's Consumer Electronics Show was that we've moved beyond devices. Moore's Law has ensured that we've reached an age where one notebook or another is pretty much the same. So the struggle for the hearts of consumers is now about convincing them which ecosystem, or user interface, is the best for them. That will decide what phone they buy, which TV, which tablet, etc. And all of this is built upon DRM.

So what did CES tell us about DRM? That it's going to be a long, hard battle for our rights as consumers during the next five years. I say this, not because anyone at CES told me, but because of how the security sessions went. Led by a Department of Homeland Security moderator, the mobile security panel showed that they're afraid of technology, and that their solution to all the security problems out there is to tether us more firmly to the grid. Every step you take will require authentication.

But security is gained by being as far off the grid as possible, not by being tethered to it. All in all, the worst idea I heard at CES, for our "safety," was the idea of tethering our debit cards to our smartphones so that you can only use your debit card if your smartphone is right there with you. For your safety. Or extreme annoyance.

Yet, did anyone on the panel discuss Sony's loss of its PS3 customers' personal data? Personal data that it stores for its customers' "security"? No. As consumers, our biggest security vulnerability comes from the corporations. The lists of passwords and usernames we're forced to create, along with the PINs and security questions -- those are all security leaks waiting to happen. If I lose my computer, my data is lost and my identity may be compromised. If Sony loses its computer, millions of people's data is lost.

So why is the security discussion focused on me and my computer instead of where the real problem is?

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