What happens when a vehicle manufacturer locks down their products’ software? John Deere’s customers are finding out as American farmers turn to Ukrainian software vendors for software to maintain their tractors.
John Deere’s behaviour is extreme as almost every component of a modern tractor has a software component which leaves farmers at the mercy of the company’s dealers and authorised mechanics.
So understandably the farmers are finding ways to hack their equipment to reduce downtime and costs, something permitted in the US after an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) was granted to vehicle software.
Vendor control over connected vehicles is a bigger problem for consumers than just maintaining the software, as the information collected from these devices becomes more valuable who controls that data becomes more important.
With global supply chains, increased regulatory requirements and demanding markets, the agricultural industries are probably leading the world in applying the Internet of Things and Big Data, so the challenges faced by farmers are things which will affect us all.
As everything from toasters to motor cars become connected and dependent upon code, the conflict between proprietary software, open markets and user rights is going to grow.
Consumers and the free market can only do so much to control the flows of data and who owns them. It’s hard to see how governments can’t become involved in how information is owned, traded and stored.