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Out to Get You

This is post no. 35 for Kev Quirk's #100DaysToOffload challenge. The point is to write many things, not to write good ones. Please adjust quality expectations accordingly :)

Phil Lapsley's excellent book Exploding the Phone about phone phreaks is awesome. Well, as long as you do find epic stories accompanying 60s era analog phone networks fascinating. (It's, by the way, really impressive how much they got done basically just with relays and audible tones.)

Exploding the Phone, book cover

There is one particular remark that I ended up remembering, by one of the protagonists; sadly, I don't remember where exactly it showed up in the (not especially short) book, so, sadly, I won't be able to quote it appropriately. It might even have been a different book. But... anyway: the point was...

... all these companies are out to get you in the end. They all have their agendas; they're not acting only in your best interests, no matter how nice they seem. You'll be OK though, as long as you keep this in mind.

Take, for example, a car salesman. They're clearly not your friend; they'll use all their tricks, will bring you the Special Offer of the Boss (only for you and only today), so... keep your eyes open. But... they won't steal your credit card number of threaten you with a firearm, trying to get you to buy that new Corolla. That would be... just too much for this game.

Likewise: the phone company, one of the major actors in the aforementioned book, was definitely doing its fair share in half-illegally recording calls, trying to intimidate people and enforcing its obnoxious monopoly on phone handsets. They had their bureaucratic rules, authoritarian higher-ups and were clearly interested in extracting as much profit as possible. However, they weren't limitlessly evil. They were producing a valuable service, they actually hired some of the phreaks, and getting actual income is a reasonabe goal anyway.

There are reasons for this. Among others:

they just weren't that powerful.

Yes, they had tons of money, but... the phone network wasn't especially... smart. Basically, they took a decade or more to fix a giant security hole; until then, it was hard to determine who had blue boxes and how much usage they got (... hence the half-illegal call recording system). The actual intelligent components of the system were human, and thus, somewhat harder to coordinate and control.

Likewise... products often ship (... or at least used to) with a little slip of paper, encoraging you to register the product with them. They get a customer they can contact and try selling more things to (... thus, they'll get to be a little bit more selfish), and you... um, not sure what exactly what you get (probably that's why I never really submitted the things).

This, however, has changed significantly. We now have tech to store and replicate tiny fragments of human souls. Worse yet: we have a global network available, over which said tiny fragments can cheaply talk to their mothership, discussing your behavior with it.

Their general intentions, however, didn't change. They can tell their little soul fragments to refuse doing anything until you do go and register your product with its manufacturer's sales force. They'll put plenty of effort into trying to get you and your friends click on things that will eat your time most efficiently, in the hopes of you clicking on ads. Meanwhile, many of these are monopolies, so they can also afford making your life visibly worse, since you do lack alternatives anyway.

AT&T couldn't easily catch you if you put an unauthorized plastic cup over your phone microphone (... they had to sue its manufacturer instead). Discord, on the other hand, will gladly ban you for not using their official client; they probably call this "security" and think it's justified enough so that actual people spend time programming boxes that look for suspicious individuals like you.

If they had to assign an actual human to do this, they wouldn't bother. Not worth it. But compute is cheap, and it doesn't take too much effort to write some code to do it for everyone equally, once if you're large enough.

It's all the same story with selling your eyeballs to the highest bidder, too.

As of today, they're reasonably good at this.

Not as good as there was an actual car salesman following you everywhere, but... way better than a box of relays could be. Also, they're getting better.

Most people don't particularly care.

... comments welcome, either in email or on the (eventual) Mastodon post on Fosstodon.