Saturday 27 December 2014

Sony was right to cancel 'The Interview' (and other thoughts)

'The Interview'

Even if the morality of ‘giving in to terrorists’ is debatable, Sony’s directors have every right to make commercial decisions based on what they consider to be in the best interests of their company. Following Sony’s decision not to screen ‘The Interview’ (a film about an assassination attempt on the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un) on the 17th of December, following a hack by the ‘Guardians of Peace’, Barack Obama’s intervention last week to demand that the film be shown was as dramatic as it was self-righteous. The leader of the free world stood up for the right of free peoples to speak their mind. However, the Christmas Day hack on Sony’s Playstation network - perhaps in retaliation for their decision to release the film - shows that the company remains very vulnerable to cyber attacks. Obama spied a universally popular headline and jumped at it; he offered a lecture on ethics and principles - he didn’t, however, offer Sony any advice, expertise or hardware to help beef up their cyber defences.The cost of the first hack may well be over $100m, whilst the second caused huge reputational damage as thousands of consumers were unable to use their new Christmas presents. This is all against a film which was never likely to earn much more than its $44m production cost. Having been coerced into cancelling ‘The Interview’ and then prodded into releasing it, the Sony directors and shareholders are no doubt rueing being caught between a shady state actor (North Korea) on the one hand and a sanctimonious headline-grabber (Barack Obama) on the other.

An unbundling for Christmas

Google makes my life easier: it handles my emails, runs my calendar and hosts this very blog. However, I did feel a little uncomfortable (whenever it was - they seem to change their interface all the time) when they decided to give me one account for all their various services. I can now access all their products at a click; indeed I get cross-selling emails all the time. It is slightly irritating, but something that I am happy to tolerate to access the services that I use. 

Now, the European parliament is doing something about that very problem. ‘European parliament votes yes on Google breakup motion' ran one headline in late November. In actual fact parliamentarians were calling for tougher regulation of the internet search market in Europe - where Google hosts 90% of search traffic - as opposed to an actual break-up. Such a motion appears to the pundits as European Union vs US tech round two (round one being the ‘right to be forgotten’ saga). It is easy to portray it as the EU once again attempting to stand Canute-like against the tide of history and progress. European parliamentarians, when they are noticed in their home countries, appear as a collection of faceless, uncharistmatic and irrelevant technocrats (hands up anyone who can name their European parliament representative).

Yet the EU apparatus has authored a whole range of useful consumer protection legislation, from giving customers the ability to challenge unfair terms in template online contracts to capping roaming costs. In this instance they aren’t seeking to break-up Google, or to foist home-grown alternatives on the peoples of Europe; they are simply investigating a slightly irritating monopoly.

The right honourable Russell Brand

British comedian, actor, radio host and activist Russell Brand - perhaps best known as being singer Katy Perry’s former spouse - is a colourful character in every way. He appeared recently on BBC Question Time, a current affairs program, where he passionately railed against the anti-immigration United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), bankers and the political class in general. In his 2014 manifesto, ‘Revolution’, Brand called for a fairer society and has continued to build his political profile since - refusing to comment on rumours about his possible candidacy in the London 2016 Mayoral election. He doesn’t, however, appear to have any plans to stand for a seat in the 2015 UK parliamentary elections. This is a shame - although his generally hard-left views are not particularly revolutionary, it is patently obvious that he cares deeply about inequality and improving society. No doubt the establishment machinery would turn on him if he did run as a candidate, much in the same way that the Tory and Labour machines dig up and circulate every piece of dirt that they can find on UKIP, but it would surely boost the profile of UK politics to have a genuinely popular (8.8m twitter followers) figure rubbing shoulders with all those career politicians in Westminster.

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