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‘Everyone loves a sneaky conspiracy theory. Today we bring you seven conspiracies from the world of high tech.’
We all love a good conspiracy theory. Roswell is one. The assassination of JFK is another. Some people say the moon landings never happened, that it was one elaborate ruse and a high budget Hollywood flick. Others say the 9/11 attacks were an inside job. Some of these are plausible and many are discredited, but most importantly, almost every conspiracy theory finds believers. There is something deep-rooted within us that finds the allure of ‘being in the know’ too hard to resist.
Today we will look at some of the most famous conspiracy theories in the world of technology.
Deliberate product sabotaging
The theory here is that companies sabotage their own products so that consumers can be ‘persuaded’ to engage in behaviour that inflates the company’s bottom line. An example could be that Apple’s iTunes which is extremely frustrating to run with PCs but runs like a dream on MACs. Conspiracy theorists believe that Apple deliberately makes running their products on PCs a pain so that consumers can be persuaded to buy more MACs. The other commonly cited example of deliberate sabotaging is that of antivirus companies writing viruses themselves and then releasing antivirus software to tackle the viruses.
In the mobile era, many iPhone users are convinced that older iOS patches are deliberately designed to slow down the phone so that you can go out and buy a new one. Though these claims are typically made without evidence, it is not hard to buy into these theories.
The Halloween Documents
This is an example of a company doing its absolute best to maintain its monopoly. By the late 1990s, Microsoft had already ascended the heap and confirmed its position as the world’s leading light when it came to personal computers. Though they maintained an air of casual diffidence about the then-emerging open source movement, leakage of its internal documents circulated among its executives (termed The Halloween Documents) confirmed what everyone thought was just an empty conspiracy theory. Microsoft actively did whatever it could to prevent the rise of open-source software and operating systems such as Linux.
Fake error messages
Microsoft once again makes an appearance. This story dates back to the nineties, when Windows 3.1 was the new thing in town. A software firm called Caldera acquired DR-DOS, which was a competing operating system to MS-DOS, which Microsoft used. The theory is that Microsoft included encrypted code that enabled fake error messages to appear on Windows 3.1 when built on DR-DOS, but did not appear when built on MS-DOS. Though it appears paranoid at first glance, leaked documents from Microsoft’s stable proved that these accusations were not without base. One of Microsoft’s executives was quoted as saying: ‘What the user is supposed to do is to feel uncomfortable, and when he has bugs, suspect that the problem is DR-DOS, and then go out and buy MS-DOS.’
Unix as virus
For many devoted tech enthusiasts, Unix is the ultimate operating system. Inexpensive and secure at the same time, Unix offers all the functionality of interface-based operating systems and more, at a fraction of the cost and effort. Even today, most corporate choose to work with Unix as the first choice for all their infrastructure and secure boxes. Back in the 1970s, when Bell Labs was working on developing Unix, a theory did the rounds that AT&T’s motivation for creating it is to ensure that they have a back-door entry to all their competitor’s infrastructure. In short, Unix would be an industry-wide virus that everyone would want to host, which would give the parent company access to global information.
But then when AT&T sold the rights to Unix to Novell in the early 1990s, the theorists went underground. But then who knows? Maybe even Novell is in on it?
Big Brother Battles
With tech, one of our biggest fears is that we’re constantly being watched, that our privacy is being eroded bit by bit. (Some would say no one has any privacy any more.) A manifestation of this fear is the ‘all purpose password’ that opens up a computer completely to a hacker. Such tropes are quite common in science fiction and science thriller stories, where the mad scientist locks his computer with a password and the hacker should guess it in order to get in. Typically these scenes involve a dramatic solving of a riddle.
Real life hacking systems are more complicated than that, of course, but with the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations programme becoming an open secret in recent times, it is clear that we’re being watched, perhaps with the collusion of big corporations which install discreet little key into our devices without our knowledge.
Unless you were too young back then, most of you will remember the widespread panic that took over the planet during the change of the millennium. The theory was that many computers that existed during the 90’s used a two-digit abbreviation system for their internal clocks, which meant that when the year 2000 came along, everything would be reset to 1900 and the systems would go haywire.
At least that was the theory. Nothing actually came out of it eventually, and it turned out that computer systems were designed well enough to cope with that change of date, but that did not stop many of the Y2K ‘consulting companies’ from making a healthy profit out of people’s fear.
Wage Fixing
This is no longer a theory. Recent events have proven this to be a fact. Hiring executives at Apple, Adobe, Google and Intel had a mutual ‘anti-poaching’ agreement that said they would not ‘steal one another’s skilled tech talent’, thus keeping workers locked into the company they were working for and the wages from increasing from competitive hiring. Steve Jobs has been found to be the central figure in this conspiracy, thanks to some leaked internal emails that flew between Google and Apple a few years ago.

Ankit Gupta

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