The Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Enemy Or Why VP8 Is Important Even If It Came From Google

Microsoft. Google. Apple. And on and on. Large corporations dedicated to profit.

There’s nothing wrong with making a profit. The issue is how you make it. That’s why Microsoft underwent an anti-trust trial, which cost the company dearly. There are legal requirements that businesses act ethically. These requirements aren’t always enforced evenly by the regulatory agencies, but they do exist. And companies continue to breach the regulations. In some cases it’s more profitable to do so and pay the fines. In some cases they are able to hide the breaches, and no one outside of the company learns about them (which is why some jurisdictions have Whistleblower laws which protect employees who report corporate wrongdoing).

I know a fair bit about how companies can work near the edge of legality, and over it. While I’ve never worked for a company that did this sort of thing, I’ve seen a lot of companies playing games with the law. One thing that I can state categorically, is that any company which does not work ethically  is not acting in the best interests of their customers, or their owners. It is possible to increase short-term profits by unethical actions, but there will always be long-term damage from these actions to the corporation, which will drive down shareholder value, ruin the corporate brand, and kill customer loyalty.

The Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America are a good example of how not to treat your customers. In a recent joint letter addressed to Victoria Espinel, the United States Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, the MPAA and the RIAA argued that all computers be required to scan themselves for ‘infringing content’ and remove any found. They don’t mention what they would do if something went wrong, and the scanning system deleted all of your pictures and home movies. They don’t care.

They also don’t mention that this would make running any operating system other than those supplied by Microsoft and Apple illegal. They don’t mention that it would need a more powerful processor, or that it would use more electrical power. No. They just want to treat all of their customers as criminals. This is not ethical behavior.

Then we have Google. If you use Google, it tracks you. It is possible to limit Google’s tracking ability by taking certain actions by setting your browser to remove all cookies when it closes, but this has major disadvantages.

Google follows you. Everywhere. It doesn’t matter what you are looking for. Google will find it for you, and keep records. Google claims the records are anonymized, however since we don’t know how Google does this, we don’t know that they are doing it properly. There was a case several years ago where AOL posted some supposedly anonymized information, and it was proven that the information wasn’t anonymized enough, and that it was possible to back track from the information to find the person who made the search. Bing, Microsoft’s ‘Decision Engine’ does the same thing.

And this is why the ‘Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Enemy’.

We, the consumers, are in a war. A war we didn’t want. A war over us. All of the companies named make the proper noises about how the customer comes first. In some cases (Apple for instance) they’ve built a reputation for serving the customer, while at the same time knifing the customer in the back (read your ITunes agreement – carefully – you’ll freak).

There are times though when the war does the consumer some good. Consider Adobe’s Flash – yes it works – kind of. Quite frankly it’s a terrible piece of junk in many ways, but it does allow you to watch video online. And then there’s Microsoft’s Silverlight. It’s worse than Flash. The consumer has the choice between bad and worse. This isn’t what capitalism and competition are about. Which is why HTML5 and the Google VP8 codec are so important, even though the codec comes from Google. Since Google has open sourced the code behind the VP8 codec, this means that anyone can make improvements. While there have been complaints about Google’s code quality, it will improve rapidly, giving the world a vastly improved video experience online.

This does not make Google our friend. Google didn’t do this for the consumer. Google did this for Google. The largest user of Flash video is this small site called YouTube, which Google owns. That Google’s actions will do the consumers good is a byproduct of Google trying to make money. Google doesn’t really care about the consumer, it only cares about Google.

There’s been a lot of articles about VP8, from a variety of publishers. You can find them here, here, here, etc. Some of the most important ones Dr. Roy at Techrights wrote. Dr. Roy has my utmost thanks for all the research time he saved me.

But everyone is missing something. What if VP8 becomes the de facto standard? Remember that VP8 is an open standard. Totally open. This means that adding DRM to it will be difficult, if not impossible. So VP8 kills off Windows Media Video (WMV) and Quicktime as a video standards, just like MP3 killed off Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Quicktime as audio standards. Remember that one of the reasons that Microsoft and Apple fought MP3 was because MP3 weren’t compatible with DRM, and the Frauhoffer Institute controlled the specification. Now we have the same situation with VP8, and we already know that Steve Jobs is panicking. You have to ask yourself why…

Simple – VP8 will destroy the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, ACTA, the new Canadian Copyright Act, the WIPO copyright treaties, and every other law which attempts to protect DRM. The ripping noise you hear is Hollywood tearing its hair out in clumps.

And now you know why the patent trolls at MPEG.LA are trying to sidetrack VP8 adoption. Which still doesn’t make Google our friend. Remember that.


Wayne Borean

Friday May 28, 2010


11 thoughts on “The Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Enemy Or Why VP8 Is Important Even If It Came From Google

    1. I’ve been debating a “smart” phone from Sprint. I have four choices. There is Blackberry. I seem to remember something about RIM having a problem a year or so ago, when all the Blackberry users might have lost their service. There are Windows Mobil products. Nothing further neesds to be said about that. There is the Palm Pre, which looks like a nice little tool. Unlike some of the competition, it has a real slide out keyboard, besides the touch screen. Finally there are Android products. They attract me, the most open, and presumably they can be legally tethered. But I can’t help but remember that those street view vans that were driving around were also war driving, and not only that, but capturing un-encrypted wi-fi content.

      Servio Rodriquez, an InfoWorld “Open Source” blogger, though I think his main claim to fame is finding anything he can that is wrong with the open source model, points out that Google did not use a standard open source license for FP8. I believe they used the Adobe license with a twist to protect against patent abuse, but which is not an OSI license. I don’t know what is going on. I do know I don’t want to use h.264.

      1. Word on the street is that Google is looking into making VP8 GPL compatible. I don’t know if this is true, and I don’t know how long it will take. Still it would make sense, as the GPL is the most used license.

        I know a couple of people with Android phones, and they are happy. Warning about the Palm Pre – the original models took forever to boot up, and I don’t know if they every fixed that problem.

  1. And BTW, in fact Google executives spoke out against DRM at Google I/O, talking about how watermarking is better.

      1. Laurel,

        While watermarking could be used as part of a DRM system, it’s not DRM itself, rather it is an identification method. I have not addressed watermarking (or for that matter addressed much thought to it – TPM/DRM is a far bigger issue).


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