from PERSONAL LIBERTY
Reports that American farmers are turning to foreign hackers just so they are able to work on equipment sold to them by John Deere shine light on a new problem in the era of software-controlled durable goods.
In a bygone era, it wouldn’t be uncommon to find a grease-covered farmer working his tractor over to avoid costly downtime on the farm, sometimes even employing jerry-rig solutions meant to hold just long enough to get through the growing season.
But as tractors, like everything else, become more technologically advanced, companies like John Deere are installing locks that make it impossible for certain maintenance to be performed without the help of a costly technician.
According to a report out from Motherboard, John Deere required farmers to sign a user agreement in October which essentially makes it impossible for farmers to repair or modify machinery containing the company’s software.
Worse yet, if a farmer loses a crop because of equipment downtimes waiting on a repair technician or the inability to afford the costly dealership repair, the contract bars the farmers’ rights to sue for “”crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment … arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software.”
“You want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic—he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can’t drive out of the shop,” one farmer and right to repair advocate told Motherboard. “Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorize the part.”
In an effort to fight back, many farmers are seeking out hackers, usually located across the globe, who can provide pirated versions of the Deere software to enable homespun repairs.
“There’s software out there a guy can get his hands on if he looks for it,” A Nebraskan farmer and repair mechanic told Vice. “I’m not a big business or anything, but let’s say you’ve got a guy here who has a tractor and something goes wrong with it—the nearest dealership is 40 miles away, but you’ve got me or a diesel shop a mile away. The only way we can fix things is illegally, which is what’s holding back free enterprise more than anything and hampers a farmer’s ability to get stuff done, too.”
The right to repair problem, however, isn’t relegated just to tractors. All manner of companies are increasingly using Digital Rights Management and End User License Agreements to effectively strip ownership rights from their customers.
We touched on this a little last year, when customers of one home automation company found their expensive devices would be remotely disabled for good. Just like that…
Most of us own cell phones, computers and tablets, all of which could become subject to similar manufacturer shutdowns. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Newer cars are becoming little more than engines wedged between blocks of software. If you’ve tried to work on anything new recently, you know that an aptitude for computer programming is becoming as important in the garage as a good set of wrenches.