With a little help from a friend, I happened on 3 different stories in the news this week and that all relate, to some degree or another, to connected devices, including IoT devices and vehicles. If you ask me, it’s hard not to conclude that these 3 stories aren’t symptomatic of a trend. See for yourself:
The first story from this article relates to BMW, in South Korea, that now offers drivers access to certain functionalities installed in their new cars subject to the payment of subscription fees. The article mentions as an example heated seats which may only be used once the user agrees to fork over monthly fees. Failing this, BMW deactivates (or does not activate) the functionality remotely, so that, even though the vehicle technically includes it, it is inoperable. You read this right: you buy the car but not everything works off the bat, until you agree to pay monthly fees, in addition to your purchase price. After all, you just paid $80,000 for that car, what’s $20 per month?
The second story on that theme comes from this article and relates to JOHN DEERE tractors. As you may have read recently, with the war in Ukraine, Russian forces are not only destroying things but also looting, including production and property found on farms. This happened to a bunch of tractors (a couple of millions dollars worth, apparently) which the Russians “confiscated” and quickly sent back to Russia as spoils of war. Unfortunately for them, once the tractors made it to their new home, Russian forces realized the machines has been (remotely) deactivated by the manufacturer, after they were reported stolen. As Russia just learned, it today’s world, yup, even farm equipment is connected, big time.
I happened on the third story through this article which deals with one of Amazon’s subsidiary admitting, this week, that it sometimes provides police with images from RING cameras (installed at customers’), without either consent from those owners or any warrants. Given this is done to help maintain order and ensure safety in our communities, why bother with such trivialities, right?
All three cases are symptoms of the control that manufacturers of connected devices and equipment do retain nowadays. This may be used for good or ill, but the bottom line is that we, as buyers of technology, can no longer assume we will retain control over OUR things, not total control anyway. In the age of the Internet of Things, the truth of the matter is that control will often rest elsewhere, something that can be so even though we may have bought a thing outright.
Next time you buy something that is connected, do ask yourself (and whoever’s selling it to you) to what extent the manufacturer may interact with it remotely, not only to update its firmware but also to disable it or do other things. The answer may surprise you.