The DRM takedown of your car
Everything is becoming more connected. It’s the internet of things concept that people (I don’t know which people but the nebulous group that gets to name things) keep pushing forward.
One of the things that is becoming more connected is your vehicle. For those who live in the US and are not in New York City, an automobile is often one of the first pieces of property a person owns. Entire identities are reliant upon the four wheels that carry a person from one place to another.
Customization of those four wheeled vehicles has also been a thing for decades. Hedges says that the online aftermarket auto sales channel will exceed $6 billion in 2015. (That’s about the size of the trade book market.) In 2013, the total size of “automotive specialty-equipment products reached $33 billion”.
It’s no surprise that car enthusiasts are looking to modify the electronic features of their rides. But some manufacturers aren’t excited about this and technically the DMCA actually prevents this. Kind of how unlocking your phone from its carrier or stripping the DRM from ebooks needs a special exemption from the US Copyright office due to the restrictions in the DMCA, the same act prevents the owner of the vehicle from modifying the onboard computer. John Deere is worried that internet in the car might lead to greater music pirating.
On a more serious note, as electric cars like the Tesla Model S gain traction increased dangers from hackers exist. In the annual 10K report, Tesla notes: “If our vehicle owners customize our vehicles or change the charging infrastructure with aftermarket products, the vehicle may not operate properly, which could harm our business.”
In a contest, a set of hackers showed how they could pop the doors open of the Tesla Model S while the vehicle was in motion. While wide scale hacking of vehicles might be a few years off, the current trend is to more fully integrate computers and the internet with vehicles.
GM is advertising its LTE enabled vehicles where the car serves as a hotspot. Note to most smartphone users: your phone does the same thing and probably for cheaper rate. Even auto reviewers aren’t sure what onboard wifi is good for besides checking your emails. Although some vehicles will read your tweets and text messages out loud.
The onboard internet does provide the car manufacturer with more information about their customers. When they log on. What sites they visit. How long they spend in their car. Etc. etc. (See how GoGo inflight internet service provider tracks everything).
The evolution of the internet of things brings both benefits and drawbacks, but the law isn’t evolving fast enough. Although sometimes it doesn’t have to. When I was in the AG’s office, we brought suit against a company selling credit cards based on a law that was originally designed to target door to door sales people in the 1930s. So it’s not that the existing framework can’t continue to protect people but we’d be foolish not to recognize that changing technology demands a change in our legal structure. The problem might be, however, that those in power lack the understanding of how the internet works.