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I am watching this address by Richard Stallman at TEDxGeneva 2014.

At minute 5:04, it talks about a compelled PS3 update. Sony, he said, compelled the users to update their PS3 system, threatening them to take away other functionalities if they don't (in particular, the functionality to be connected to the internet).

  1. Do you have some bibliographic reference of this phenomenon?

  2. Why is that such a scandal? I mean, I get his point. He points that the user should be free to decide for himself/herself whether to update or not. But it also seems to me that the PS3 may had some kind of software bug which would allow people to be hacked if connected to the internet, or to cheat in online games. So if they don't update their system it would seem reasonable to forbid online gaming, for example, to avoid people cheating and being undetected.

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This is surely a reference to the PS3's OtherOS feature, which was removed in firmware update 3.21 around April 2010.

When originally released, the PS3 could boot and install Linux-based operating systems. This functionality was removed after release. The PlayStation blog says:

Consumers and organizations that currently use the “Other OS” feature can choose not to upgrade their PS3 systems, although the following features will no longer be available;

  • Ability to sign in to PlayStation Network and use network features that require signing in to PlayStation Network, such as online features of PS3 games and chat
  • Playback of PS3 software titles or Blu-ray Disc videos that require PS3 system software version 3.21 or later
  • Playback of copyright-protected videos that are stored on a media server (when DTCP-IP is enabled under Settings)
  • Use of new features and improvements that are available on PS3 system software 3.21 or later

While it is an overstatement to say a non-updated PS3 could not access the Internet at all, it is true that it would be locked out of all Sony-provided network-based features (and altogether locked out of any future games/media that required a sufficiently high firmware level).

This was a significant scandal, since it permanently removed a major advertised function of the system. (It even launched a 7-year-long legal battle, which Sony settled in 2017, though I don't think a conclusion was decisively reached if Sony was legally in the wrong for their removal of an advertised feature.) Sony said the system could run Linux-based systems and be used as a gaming machine. This update, more or less, forced users to choose one or the other: they could enjoy use of all games' network features only if they submitted to Sony's removal of the OtherOS feature.

Sony stated this was done for security reasons, which may be true, but they made no future effort to remedy security issues to keep or restore the OtherOS feature. This is in congruence Stallman's point: any feature that becomes inconvenient for a proprietary software vendor to maintain (or to allow to continue to exist), no matter how major, can be removed at any time.

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I think he's referring to the 4.66 "mandatory" update, which is pretty well-documented out there on the internet. Here's one report I found on (what seems to be) a gaming site:

Sony has officially updated the PS3 firmware to 4.66. This is a mandatory firmware update which is required to be able to connect online on the PlayStation 3.

It's a scandal because if you own hardware, it should be up to you to decide what code it runs, and when and if it updates. How many meetings have I seen interrupted by people whose Windows laptops just suddenly decided to update themselves?

I agree that releasing software with bugs in is problematic, but it's also very likely unavoidable, and the correct response is not to strongarm your users into applying updates on your schedule. In any case, from a free-software standpoint, the model that requires you to participate in distributed gaming by paying for a device which you then don't control, and which can therefore be relied on to dob you up if you try to use it in a way which others might not approve, is a broken model. Using that model to justify forcing me to apply updates is anathema.

Moreover, although I accept that some updates are motivated by usability fixes, proprietary corporations have a very bad track record when it comes to restricting themselves to mandating only those updates which relate to user wellbeing.

Edit: the OP makes a good point about the social cost of individuals not keeping up with patches. If society, en bloc, finds it of net benefit to require that people keep up with their patches, then society is free to make regulations to require it. But those will come through the normal social processes of regulation - debate in legislatures, drafting committees, press scrutiny - and so on; not through some corporation declaring ex cathedra that it has unilaterally decided that a particular patch must be applied For The Good Of All.

If as a society we were to engage in such an exercise, I'd venture that the software creators would be required to yield much corporate ground (in terms of eg scrutiny, control, benefice) in return for the power to mandate that a particular update be applied. And such a tradeoff would, to my mind, be right and proper.

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  • how do you respond to me saying that if everybody had updated their Windows, we would not had WannaCry? Jan 5 at 9:47
  • @raffaem see edit above.
    – MadHatter
    Jan 5 at 10:01
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    One particularly infamous update was in 2010, which removed the PS3's ability to boot Linux. This resulted in a lengthy legal battle (the argument being that the wholesale removal of such a fundamental, advertised feature was a bait-and-switch against purchasers of the PS3). Sony said that the feature was removed for firmware-security reasons, though some people suspect the feature was removed because people were buying the PS3 for its impressive CPU/GPU without buying games (@raffaem)
    – apsillers
    Jan 5 at 11:18

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