The basic theory of cheating is to assume that the cheater is ‘‘rational’’ and won’t spend more to cheat than they could make from the scam: the cost of cheating is the risk of getting caught, multiplied by the cost of the punishment (fines, reputational damage), added to the technical expense associated with breaking the anti-cheat mechanisms.
This is a fundamentally incorrect assertion that plagues the rest of the essay. Dan Ariely's The Honest Truth About Dishonesty starts with a presentation by a con man who asserts that the secret to success is lying and cheating because the odds of being caught are vanishingly low, and continues with the observation that prosecution and reprisal for malfeasance is rare and that therefore, the best path forward in life is to break as many rules as you think you have a reasonable belief you won't get caught breaking. It then explores the honest behavior of people in environments where they can get away with dishonesty, and provides examples of why people act fundamentally honest enough that their self-images as honest people aren't damaged. Which pretty much leads exactly to the rest of the conclusions of the piece:
You’ve probably heard stories of inkjet cartridges that under-report their fill-levels, demanding that you throw them away and replace them while there’s still plenty of (precious and overpriced) ink inside of them. But that’s just for starters. In 2015, HP pushed a fake security update to millions of Officejet owners, which showed up as a routine, ‘‘You must update your software’’ notification on their printers’ screens. Running that update installed a new, secret feature in your printer, with a long fuse. After six months’ wait, the infected printers all checked to see whether their ink cartridges had been refilled, or manufactured by third parties, and to refuse to print with any ink that HP hadn’t given its corporate blessing to.
This isn't HP opting to be dishonest. This isn't HP doing all they can get away with. This is HP riding the line between "we are dickheads" and "we are defending the quality of our supply chain for the betterment of our consumers while simultaneously boosting our revenues because we are virtuous and clever."
Which is a different problem and worth acknowledging, studying and designing around:
n The Honest Truth about Dishonesty, Ariely uses several experiments to investigate the nature of dishonesty. In one, he discovers that, in a refrigerator in a college dormitory containing cans of Coca-Cola and dollar bills, the soda cans would disappear faster because students don't want to be thought of as thieves. In another experiment, an actor playing a University of Pittsburgh student took a test at rival Carnegie Mellon University. He deliberately and clearly cheated on the test and acted confused about some of the rules of the test. Ariely measured how the rest of the group responded and concluded that cheating is contagious. In addition to reporting on experiments he conducted, Ariely mentions his own experiences with dishonesty, such as once riding a train on a forged Eurail pass and being told, as a burn victim, that he would be all right despite the medical evidence to the contrary. He offers that honor codes and close supervision may decrease dishonesty somewhat but do not account for the psychological rationalization.
It could be argued that Doctorow can consider himself virtuous by making arguments about virtue and dishonesty in the software industry despite the fact that he has no basis of knowledge in either because he's a populist who exposes audiences to uncommon knowledge. However, he is dishonestly exposing a greater audience to a misperception about theft and dishonesty by not investigating the greater causes of this behavior.
Shit ain't so simple, catchy title or no.