SONY’s PSN outage teaches us many things…

If you have owned or still own a PlayStation 3 console or know someone who does, you are probably aware of the PSN (PlayStation Network.) It’s the network that you are required to log-in to in order to do practically anything online using the PlayStation 3 console. This includes on-line multiplayer gaming, checking PlayStation Home, and completing the mandatory game and console software updates. For those of you who are unfamiliar with thePlayStation Network PlayStation 3, you are required to download and install console software updates and, upon purchasing a video game, you are required to download and install an update for each individual game. Failure to do this will result in your inability to use any of the PS3 features that require an internet connection (which is numerous.)


The back-story:

The network was taken offline by SONY on the evening of Wednesday, April 20th (at around 5:30pm EST.) The outage was only supposed to last “a day or two.” Yet it is still going on to the date of this posting. During this time, the blogsphere erupted with outrage and anger as on-line gamers could no longer connect to the network to play their games. Anonymous was blamed as well as GeoHot and a few other prominent “hackers.”

Anonymous hacked the PSN back in March, but stopped the attack abruptly when they realized that innocent bystanders (gamers) were being affected. They, instead, decided to attack the careers page of SONY. Since the outage, Anonymous has denied responsibility for this attack and GeoHot has followed suit.

SONY brought a lawsuit against GeoHot for creating alternative software for the PlayStation 3 and the courts decided in SONY’s favor. The result of this was the release of everyone’s private information who visited GoeHot’s website. Rightfully, Anonymous took issue with this and subsequently hacked the PSN back in March. Anonymous has never denied responsability for any of its hacks. So, I would not think they are lying about this.


Our lesson(s) in all of this:

There are several lessons and several things that should disturb any free-market’er and libertarian alike.

First, is the the obscenity that a company can use the government to force a private individual to give up other individual’s private information. This is an extension of the “intellectual property” fallacy that many conservatives support. The DMCA (Digital-Millennium Copyright Act) expands the size and scope of “Copyright” law.

Second, is another dynamic to the above obscenity. A private individual purchases a product outright and decides to alter that product. He is then sued by the company that makes that product for altering that product. And our court system doesn’t defend a private individuals right to use rightfully purchased products in their own way. Rather, the courts side against violating the person’s rights and forcing that person to violate others’ private information.

Third, is the fury and rage and passion that is expressed in this particular case. That is, we are seeing a literal virtual explosion of anger, not at an illegal war, not at the violation of civil liberties, not at an expanding debt. Rather, we see this outrage over a video game console. The PSN has over 70,000,000 accounts registered. Those millions of people are outraged at their inability to play a video game. This is a grotesque example of how mis-educated our society is.

Fourth, is the fact that console updates were only released when a work-around was discovered that allowed users with alternative OS’s to log-in to the PSN. In fact, the firmware update v3.21 actually removed a feature that was made available to prior PS3 customers. This was the ability to install an alternative operating system. Now, an update is not supposed to remove features. Yet, SONY customers still purchased and continue to purchase the PS3 and purchase SONY PS3 products. Ever since this “update” SONY has been in a virtual war with jailbreakers (those who install different operating systems on anything from cell phones to gaming consoles.) *Note, it is impossible to “jailbreak” a PC because the only thing that happens when you alter the PC is that you simply void the warranty. Gateway isn’t suing people who install Linux on their computer nor is Dell suing people who change out hard drives. This is only a phenomenon with smaller computer-like devices.


And the most important lesson here:

What do you do when your connection to a network is monopolized by a company? That is, using the PSN outage as an example, say we didn’t have private ISP’s, say we had a corporatist monopoly or a government monopoly over internet access? (while corporatist monopolies are present in some regions, there are private ISP’s in others.)

I’m not a ‘gamer’, as it were. I rarely play video games and I mostly use my PS3 to stream Netflix (one of the things I can still fortunately do even in the face of the PSN outage.) But, when I do play online video games, I only use the PC.

When it comes to PC games, you have many servers to choose from hosted by mostly private individuals. Some of them even turn a profit in building a server following and using advertising on their server websites. Others are able to build effective servers and have the infrastructure to lease them out to people who wish to host their own server. This is a sparkling example of the free-market in action. Private individuals voluntarily choosing servers bought and maintained by other voluntary individuals. And since this is highly de-centralized, there is no way there could be a ‘system-wide’ hack or server outage. If the server you are playing on crashes, you simple go back to the menu and choose another server, problem solved.

If you compare the PC gaming structure to console gaming structure you will find an almost polar opposite. When it comes to the PSN, you go through SONY servers to even access the network and you go through SONY approved servers to play games online. There is practically no choice in gaming server, you are forced to use the only one SONY will let you use. This is more like a corporate dictatorship than the free-market. But, this is only comparing the network infrastructure. SONY is a private company and if people are willing to deal with a network monopoly, then so be it.


In the end:

People buy consoles because they are an easy one-stop-shop for their gaming needs. They buy one console that comes already built and ready to go and they just jump into gaming. With PC’s there are many variables, it is more difficult for the average user to set up, and components can get expensive. This is why console gaming is so popular with the less tech-savvy crowd and those that simply just want to game without the fuss of building and maintaining a PC.

But, when you purchase a console, you are ‘paying for it’ by having to play by “their” rules. That is, the money you save when choosing a console over a PC and the ease of set up, you ‘pay for it’ with much less flexibility.

A PSN network outage is quite common, especially given that any and every server is hosted only by one company. But, this outage is certainly uncommon given its long duration. But, in the end, as long as no personal information was used for malicious purposes, I’m glad it happened and every day the PSN remains offline is all the better.

Why? Because, this is helping to illustrate the dangers of centralizing the internet. That is, the internet works best when it’s uncontrollable and when you have a wide variety of choice.

About Andrew Weit

I voted for Obama in 2008 and realize what a big mistake I made. I am now working to change this mistake and join the pro-Liberty tide that is the Ron Paul 2012 movement.
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