Sony vs. Anonymous: The great hacking debate

The main thrust of the pro-hacker argument is that if you've paid for something, you should be allowed to do whatever you like with it

Infamous hacker group Anonymous launched Operation Sony recently, citing Sony's legal action against PS3 jailbreaker George "GeoHot" Hotz as an abuse of the judicial system and an attempt to censor information which should be in the public domain. Anonymous believes that Sony is "victimizing" its customers for sharing the information on how to jailbreak the PS3, and claims that the privacy of thousands has been violated.

The main thrust of the pro-hacker argument is that if you've paid for something, you should be allowed to do whatever you like with it. Indeed, it's true for plenty of other things in the world -- buy a car and you're free to strip out its engine, install a badass bodykit and lower the suspension to such a degree that speed bumps become a significant obstacle. Buy a computer and you're free to change and upgrade the hardware in it to keep it relevant in the modern market. Buy an Android phone and you're free to customize the system software as much as you want. So why not the PS3?

Sony takes a dim view of unauthorized system modification and is keen to point out that jailbreaking the PS3 is a violation of both the license agreement for the PS3's system software and and the terms of use for PSN. In short, by turning on the PS3 in the first place, you've agreed to follow their rules. Their main concern with it is the matter of piracy. While jailbreaking can be used for a variety of purposes, including using homebrew software, installing other operating systems and customizing the system to users' own preferences, a large proportion of people use such methods for piracy.

But hackers and pirates are not necessarily the same thing. Just hacking a system is not necessarily doing anything wrong. The trouble with the PS3 situation, though, is that making the "hack" publicly available opens it up to more unscrupulous types to take advantage of it for illegal and/or immoral purposes. Whether it's piracy or cheating at online games, it's the usual story: if something has the capacity to be used for wrongdoing, someone out there will use it for wrongdoing, even if that wasn't the original intention.

Anonymous claims that such restrictions placed on a device you've paid money for is a violation of free speech and your rights as a consumer. But by even using the PS3 you are agreeing to a legal document that says you'll use the system in the way that Sony deems to be "appropriate." While some people may not like a company having that much control over what they can and can't do, the simple answer to Anonymous' argument is the tried-and-tested "if you don't like it, don't use it."

But that's not enough. Anonymous wants freedom. Anonymous wants to be able to do what it likes, and it will stamp its feet and crash websites until it gets what it wants. It's apparently already started; at the time of writing, PlayStation.com isn't working, suggesting Anonymous may be kicking off its "war" with its usual trick of a DDoS attack on a high profile website.

Sure, Anonymous is making a fuss, getting noticed and provoking discussion. But it has all the subtlety of a five-year old lying face down in the middle of the grocery store, kicking and screaming because they couldn't bring their favorite toy with them. There are far more important issues in the world than jailbreaking the PS3 -- issues people are dying for, in some cases -- and yet this is where it chooses to focus its attention? I might have more sympathy if the group discussed matters in a reasonable manner rather than throwing things around as soon as something it doesn't like happens.

As it is, though, I find myself wanting to side with Sony in all this.

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com as The Great Hacking Debate

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