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Transportation DRM Electronic Frontier Foundation United States

EFF Fighting Automakers Over Whether You Own Your Car 292

An anonymous reader writes: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act contains anti-circumvention prohibitions that affect everything from music files to cell phones. The EFF noticed that it could apply to cars as well, so they asked for an exemption to be put in place so car owners would be free to inspect and modify the code running on their vehicles. It turns out U.S. automakers don't agree — they filed opposition comments through trade associations. "They say you shouldn't be allowed to repair your own car because you might not do it right. They say you shouldn't be allowed to modify the code in your car because you might defraud a used car purchaser by changing the mileage. They say no one should be allowed to even look at the code without the manufacturer's permission because letting the public learn how cars work could help malicious hackers, "third-party software developers" (the horror!), and competitors. John Deere even argued that letting people modify car computer systems will result in them pirating music through the on-board entertainment system, which would be one of the more convoluted ways to copy media (and the exemption process doesn't authorize copyright infringement, anyway)."
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EFF Fighting Automakers Over Whether You Own Your Car

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:44PM (#49400273)

    If I can't work on my car, I will not buy it. Same with my computer.

    • by danbob999 ( 2490674 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:47PM (#49400295)
      Unfortunately, unlike non-Apple desktop computers, cars aren't designed to be repaired easily. They are designed to look good, so screws are hidden, custom parts are used, and even when there are standard parts (such as tires), they use so many different sizes that you will be lucky to own two cars with the same tire format.
      • by cygnwolf ( 601176 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:50PM (#49400319)
        And you think that they auto makers aren't doing that deliberately?
        • by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2016q1@virtual-estates.net> on Friday April 03, 2015 @05:10PM (#49400477) Homepage Journal

          And you think that they auto makers aren't doing that deliberately?

          No, they don't do it deliberately.

          But they deliberately do not not do it either — that is, they don't care to make it easier for you to fix your car or find spare parts.

          One thing, that prevents manufacturers from going completely bonkers with a design, is the cost of insurance — if a model is too hard (read "expensive") to fix, your insurance will rise, and smarter consumers — whether they do the repairs themselves or not — take it into consideration before buying. But, being able to do repairs — hardware or software — just is not a factor to most people. Or else Apple's products would never have reached the popularity they now enjoy.

          And also, going bonkers with a design is what many people want — Corollas, for example, are very easy to repair (or were 10 years ago). They are still a great model, but I like my Quattro better :)

        • by Balthisar ( 649688 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @11:22PM (#49402395) Homepage

          I happen to work for a very large car company as a manufacturing engineer. No, we don't do this deliberately, and as said below, we don't not do it deliberately, either.

          Our number one goal is customer satisfaction, and if you Pareto it right, the vast majority of customers don't service their cars themselves, and have no interest in doing so. They're more satisfied with fit-and-finish, safety, economy, and features that will delight them. If it were the case that 80% of our customers valued home-serviceability more than these things, then designs would shift towards these things. It's simply not possible to make every, single part easily serviceable given the demands of the modern designs.

          There's not a single powertrain engineer that says, "Hey, let's put this air intake over the number 5 cylinder so that the customer will be discouraged from changing the spark plugs himself at 160,000 km." Instead it's, "Bummer that this air intake is in the way of the number 5 cylinder, but I have to route it here because the cabin air filter, goes here, the oversized washer tank goes there, and I have to figure out how to package the rest of the components, too."

          And modern cars require less service. I used to have to change the points in my VW when I was a kid, every 3000 miles if I recall correctly. These days as long as you change your oil and filter every 10,000 miles, you don't really have to do anything else. Home serviceability is still possible, if inconvenient, but it's more than offset by the larger service intervals.

          For other routine, at-home-typical tasks, there's not a huge barrier versus the past. Brakes, filters, oil plug, are all nearly as simple today as they were in the past. Maybe the alternator or water pump is hard to get to, but then again, you're not replacing these every 50,000 miles like in the past, either.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:52PM (#49400333)

        I thought all cars are 3D printed at home now?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Snort, ROFLMFAO. You can still do a lot of things to them. I just had to explain how to adjust idle mixture on cars with an EFI airflow meter, yes it's adjustable but factory sealed and takes less than 60 seconds to remove. Tires? Screw what the sticker on the doorjamb says, change the size and pressure as you see fit, as long as it doesn't have ABS, in which case you're screwed unless you have the dealer program the new tire size in the ABS computer. Some cars you can hook up a laptop and tune away, some n
      • Well, not having them designed for easier repair is objectively economically harmful. So it's an example of market failure. And forget about "looking good". It's all bogus, there's no contradiction between ergonomics and repairability. They're just making up excuses but real motives are "strategic", that is getting rid of competitors and making entry into market harder.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Nope, it's all about cost of manufacturing. Every one of those decisions contributes to one of three goals: lowering production cost, improving fleet fuel economy, or looking good. Those are the only three things that truly matter. By the way, they have a very negative incentive to make accident repairs difficult; insurance companies penalized cars that are expensive to repair. Insurance is more expensive on German cars, in no small part, because getting parts in the US is more expensive in time/dollars tha

      • and even when there are standard parts (such as tires), they use so many different sizes that you will be lucky to own two cars with the same tire format.

        Even more annoying than that are the myriad of fastener sizes in both metric and standard. Why do I need 2-3 different sockets just to remove the battery cable brackets? Is there *really* a solid reason that one bolt has to be 14mm and the other 1/2"?
        • Is there *really* a solid reason that one bolt has to be 14mm and the other 1/2"?

          While I own a vehicle and have owned other vehicles with a mixture of SAE and metric fasteners, I have never seen one which came from the factory with two different sizes of battery terminal bolt.

          I own a 1992 Ford F-250 with an International 7.3 engine. The motor is all-SAE. The chassis is a mixed bag. The cab is metric... But both battery terminals were definitely SAE.

          I prefer to buy an import from a country where the engineers can count and know what metric is, like Germany or Japan. Every fastener will b

    • by suutar ( 1860506 )

      and this is one reason I want another VW bug. (Plus it's just fun. Given a real engine, anyway...)

      • by Roblimo ( 357 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @08:16PM (#49401689) Homepage Journal

        Two years ago traded my 1994 Jeep Cherokee in for a... 1996 Jeep Cherokee. Yes, it's fuel injected and computer-controlled, but everybody from Autozone to Hector at Segundo Auto (a traditional, highly-skilled "Mexican" mechanic from L.A.) has a reader that works on it. Can I fix my Jeep? My eyes are horrid and I'm sick and weak, but up to a point, yes. I still know how, and I still do the light stuff like tuneups and a/c recharges -- essentially annual service. Plus belts and hoses, which I routinely change because as all taxi and limo owners know, rubber is responsible for at least 80% of all road breakdowns. (check my login name - I used to own a small limo service.)

        Brakes and more physical work? Hector needs to feed his kids, and he has a hoist and air tools -- and doesn't rip us off. Like when my wife went to the Hyundai dealer for a $19.95 oil change and tire rotation and they gave her a $2000 estimate for a 60,000 mile service (includes timing belt change) and Hector did all the work for $200 - not counting the timing belt kit, which includes the serpentine belt, water pump, and front main seal, that I got online for something like $120.

        The day I can't fix my own car or hire someone like Hector instead of going to the dealer is the day I stop driving. Hopefully I'll be dead before things get that messed up.

    • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

      If I can't work on my car, I will not buy it. Same with my computer.

      The problem is that people like you who want to work on their car are becoming more and more rare -- most people just want their car to be reliable and if it breaks, take it to the garage. Few consumers want to open the hood and fix something -- myself included.. at one time I did all of my own oil changes, tuneups (back when a tuneup meant replacing points, condenser and rotor), brake pad changes, etc. But I won't touch a modern car, I'd rather just take it to the garage when it breaks (which is rarely wi

      • If I can't work on my car, I will not buy it. Same with my computer.

        The problem is that people like you who want to work on their car are becoming more and more rare -- most people just want their car to be reliable and if it breaks, take it to the garage.

        No, I think most would rather that someone they know could work on it, only the cars are so needlessly complex and require such special tools that most do not know how to work on them, so people take them to the shop because they don't know what else to do.

        I would love to fix my own cars; and I do do some of the work myself. But even then, there are limits simply due to the computer being so integral to everything.

        Sadly, even most shops now are useless as they just plug the computer in and do what it

      • even the new Galaxy S6 doesn't have an easily replaced battery or an SD slot...

        which is exactly why samsung just lost at least 3 sales in my home. I went and looked at it in verizon today and while it looks nice, it doesnt have what I care about

      • by Sloppy ( 14984 )

        most people just want their car to be reliable and if it breaks, take it to the garage

        Then these people are in for some tough times, because whoever works at the garage, probably also isn't the copyright holder. Therefore it's going to be illegal for them to access the car too.

      • I don't think people who want to work on their car are becoming more rare. People who are ABLE to work on their car are becoming more rare because cars are becoming less mechanical and more software. Meanwhile the hourly rates for repair are going through the roof, so clearly more people would like to avoid that expense if they can. But they can't because the car companies won't let them. Used to be you could buy a brand new car for 1/4 of your annual income, and then work on it yourself for only the price
        • As far as I can tell the cost of a Toyota Corolla is basically the same number of dollars as it was 10 years ago. Which means that after factoring in inflation the car is significantly cheaper than it used to be.

          I have a 2005 Toyota Matrix, and aside from oil changes and tires I've only had to replace one part (the airbag clockspring) which cost a few hundred bucks and which I installed myself.

          • by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Saturday April 04, 2015 @12:47AM (#49402723) Homepage Journal

            As far as I can tell the cost of a Toyota Corolla is basically the same number of dollars as it was 10 years ago. Which means that after factoring in inflation the car is significantly cheaper than it used to be.

            Simple research on cars.com shows that the MSRP of a new 2015 Corolla is between 16,950 and 22,955. The original MSRP on a 2005 Corolla was 13,780 to 17,555. The price has increased between 23% and 31%. In that timeframe, inflation has supposedly gone up 20.2%, so the price of the Corolla has output paced inflation by a factor of 1.15 to 1.5.
            In 2005, the Median household income was $55,238. A Corolla cost 25-32% of that.
            In 2013, the last year for which numbers have been released, the median household income was $51,939. A Corolla costs 33-44% of that.
            In 1968, the Corolla was first introduced in the United States. It cost under $1,700. Median household income was $7,700. The Corolla cost 22% of that.
            Clearly cars are costing more as a fraction of income then ever before.
            This does not even take into consideration that many households in 1968 were single earner households. Now, most households are dual income, but with nearly twice the earners in the household, the cost of a new car is still a higher percentage of income than ever before.

      • By and large, cars are way more reliable than they were 30 years ago. Yes they were simpler to work on, but you had to work on them more. For example, it was easy to change and adjust points, now it is near impossible to adjust electronic ignition, but it lasts for the life of the car (usually)
        Getting 100,000 miles on an older car was an accomplishment, now it is routine.

        • For example, it was easy to change and adjust points, now it is near impossible to adjust electronic ignition, but it lasts for the life of the car (usually)

          No, you can adjust electronic ignition the same way you always have. Just degree the pickup. Usually you can just notch a part out and then install it just so. However, you really really don't want to do this, because it will make it misbehave some of the time. What you really want to do is just get a pluggable, programmable PCM. For most interesting cars you can get one for under a thousand. You can easily swap it out for smog tests if that's your thing. Then you can dial up any timing advance you want.

    • by TarPitt ( 217247 )

      I hope you plan on driving that 1967 Volkswagen Beetle the rest of your life.

  • Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by grimmjeeper ( 2301232 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @04:50PM (#49400309) Homepage

    They say you shouldn't be allowed to repair your own car because you might not do it right

    They say that as if the dealers can do it right. Apparently they've never been to a dealer to get their car serviced.

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      Back in 1994 my parents had a pontiac transport, the thing had been in and out of the dealer(warranty) for repairs(warm stall, cold stall, running stall, on and on). I finally had enough and asked him if I could take it to work(I was apprenticing at a local shop). It took me 10 minutes to figure out what the problem was, do the test, and tell him to take it back to the dealership. The problem? The TPS(throttle position sensor) wasn't working properly giving out of band voltage causing fuel to be cut. 1

      • I finally had enough and asked him if I could take it to work(I was apprenticing at a local shop). It took me 10 minutes to figure out what the problem was, do the test, and tell him to take it back to the dealership. The problem? The TPS(throttle position sensor) wasn't working properly giving out of band voltage causing fuel to be cut. 10 minutes, the car had probably spent 2 weeks over a period of 5 months with them looking at it.

        What's truly pathetic is that I will bet you a dollar that if you look in the factory service manual for that POS you will find the suggestion to test the TPS for problems like that. Dealers actually hire mechanics who can neither read nor follow directions.

  • by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @05:07PM (#49400437)

    They say you shouldn't be allowed to repair your own car because you might not do it right.

    I feel like the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is going to come into play at some point here.

    • The big deal pertaining to autos in Magnuson-Moss was not voiding warranties for use of compatible replacement parts, consumables, etc. It only governs warranties, and not service you do yourself.

  • by Chris Katko ( 2923353 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @05:07PM (#49400439)
    I tried to raise this issue before... with the Tesla auto-updating your cars firmware without asking the owner of the car first, and how that means they can literally put anything in there without your consent. (NSA GPS tracking anyone?)

    Everyone was too busy going "OMG TESLA RULEZ" to care. (A great car sure, but that doesn't mean we need another Apple walled-garden.)
    • by Gordo_1 ( 256312 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @05:38PM (#49400653)

      Hi, Tesla Model S owner here... Technically you do get asked before firmware installs proceed (download happens automatically in the background). You're free to simply not apply the update. However, and more to your point, as with any binary update mechanism, there's really no viable way to determine what's actually getting installed in the process and you would lose out on potentially important bug fixes. Not all that different from Windows Update...

      My personal assumption is that the firmware is a complete privacy-invading cesspool. I love the car overall, so I'll keep it until such time as I get the first mailed speeding ticket based upon my car's GPS location and internal speed telemetry.

  • by Howitzer86 ( 964585 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @05:17PM (#49400517)

    I'm glad the EFF has taken up this fight. To me there's no symbolic difference between the code controlling the digital throttle in my xB and the cable doing the same thing in my 24 year-old Tercel... except that the Tercel does it better. I'm not sure, but I think the values that represent my throttle pressure aren't as smooth as they could be, and it might be due to it not being a float value.

    Wonky throttle values aren't exactly unknown to Toyotas, as Wozniak discovered with his Prius. [slashdot.org] I probably would be unable to fix this bug, but he could. It's also possible that the somewhat rough transition between super-light pressure and the notch above that is actually a developing issue with my engine (it's not that noticeable, so the nuance leads me to believe it isn't physical - or at least that it could be improved in code).

    So what if I could kill someone by editing the code in my xB? I could kill someone by working on my Tercel too. The legal responsibility rests with me either way. There's no real difference except that there exists precedence for controlling what people can do with the code in their gadgets. Perhaps in some crazy parallel universe, not only could automakers argue that the code isn't yours, they could argue that the whole car isn't yours to do with as you please either. I can imagine the same kind of EULA you agree to in software being applicable to the entire vehicle, listing off all the things you can and cannot do to with "your" brand new car. If they say you must go to the dealer for all repairs, then you must do it, and in the event of tempering, they can revoke your license and take your car back from you.

    It's really the car analogy come to life. I have no doubt this argument has been made before. It's just that in the past, computers were computers, cars were cars, and if your car had a computer, it was just an 8-bit micro-controller that managed your vacuum control valves and fuel pressure.

    • So what if I could kill someone by editing the code in my xB? I could kill someone by working on my Tercel too.

      The difference being that when you incorrectly modify the Tercel there is physical evidence of the tampering. With software changes it is quite possible that the code is unrecoverable and there may be no way to show tampering. The car maker then get left liable for the accident when it was actually caused by hacked code.

      • I would think it would be easier to show faulty code than a tampered throttle cable. Of course it depends on how the cable was tampered...

  • The real issue that we're going to be up against is whether 3rd parties will be permitted to continue to manufacture replacement parts. Soon every part incorporates an RFID, and the car refuses to start without all the RFID tags matching the authorization database. Perhaps they'll start with all the parts that they can justify as safety-critical, 'cause, you know, for the children. The government could even push for this in order to make sure that mileage and pollution critical parts are kept unmodified, 'c

  • .....sell cars which maybe used to kill people.

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @05:25PM (#49400573)

    I'll take my stand with the automakers on this one.

    The only way to gain popular acceptance of the substantially automated or fully driverless car is to guarantee that the technology is trustworthy and reliable ---

    that all hardware and software changes are fully documented, competently performed, meet all statutory requirements and will not leave the owner or manufacturer exposed to civil or criminal action somewhere down the road.

    The geek may obsess over his "ownership" of a vehicle. I care more about avoiding a crash and a lawsuit that may cripple me financially.

    • I care more about avoiding a crash and a lawsuit that may cripple me financially.

      Or cripple you physically, forever.

      My view is if you've chosen to have a car with a computer, and that computer somehow affects the momentum vector that is your vehicle, then you, and everyone else you may encounter on the road, has the right to software that has passed rigorous software QA. If you have a hot rod that has no computer, do what you want with it. If you're driving on the same road our taxes pay for, your vehicle needs to be safe.

    • Exactly, I mean it isn't like any of the car manufacturers have ever had any recalls due to bad software or anything....

  • Roll your own! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Apparently this is news to slashdotters, but hot rod enthusiasts are able to completely build replicas early model cars. You can build a 1940 Ford Coupe with steel frame and steel body, 1965 small block built to moderrn quality. Not one bit of electronics except for the radio. Street legal.

    Nowadays building your own car is like paint by numbers. Note: possessing an indoor garage and automotive tools is recommended before attempting to build your own car.

  • Already answered. Smartphones are very programmable,
    - except you don't have root (which is to ensure the system works like the OS maker),
    - except the FCC-approved radio chip (to ensure you use public airspace inappropriately).

    "Programmable cars" have been here since they put in radio tuners. The level of programmability should increase, but they should retain control of safety-critical operations.

  • by Gim Tom ( 716904 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @06:51PM (#49401169)
    I remember when the standard analogy comparing open source to proprietary software was, "Would you buy a car with the hood welded shut?" Sound to me like they are wanting to weld the hood shut.
  • Already too late (Score:5, Informative)

    by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Friday April 03, 2015 @11:01PM (#49402343)
    Already had this problem with my 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid. The hybrid battery went dead. I went to the dealer and asked them to sell me a new battery so I could put it in. They refused, insisting THEY had to install it, and they would not sell me the battery! That's right, kids -- they refused to let me fix my own car, despite the fact that I am a trained electronics technician and hold a Bachelor's degree in Electronics Engineering!

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