Come On Elon! Tesla Stupidly Bans Owners From Using Self-Driving Teslas For Uber

from the you-don't-own-what-you-bought dept

We’ve talked a lot about the end of ownership society, in which companies are increasingly using copyright and other laws to effectively end ownership — where they put in place restrictions on the things you thought you bought. This is bad for a whole variety of reasons, and now it’s especially disappointing to see that Tesla appears to be jumping on the bandwagon as well. The company is releasing its latest, much more high powered, version of autonomous self-driving car technology — but has put in place a clause that bars Tesla owners from using the self-driving car for any competing car hailing service, like Uber or Lyft. This is not for safety/liability reasons, but because Tesla is also trying to build an Uber competitor.

We wrote about this a few months ago, and actually think it’s a pretty cool idea. Part of the point is that it effectively will make Tesla ownership cheaper for those who want it, because they can lease it out for use at times when they’re not using it. So your car can make money for you while you work or sleep or whatever. That’s a cool idea.

But it’s flat out dumb to block car owners from using the car however they want.

If Tesla wants to compete with Uber, that’s great, but it should compete and offer a better deal for car owners, rather than artificially limiting what they can do. And the thing is, Elon Musk knows this. Remember, a few years ago when he famously freed up all Tesla patents into the public domain, recognizing that it was better to compete on execution rather than artificial legal limitations? So why not take that same approach with competing in car hailing services as well? Don’t limit what owners can do with their cars. That’s now ownership. ow they’re just leasing.

Tesla’s plan for a competing ride hailing service is a good idea, and I’m excited to see what the company does with it, but if it starts off by artificially blocking Tesla owners from using their cars on competing services, it makes me think that Tesla doesn’t think it’s own service will be very good, and therefor it needs to artificially lock Tesla owners into its own platform, rather than competing on the merits. That seems antithetical to the message that Tesla and Elon Musk have given off in the past. Hopefully Musk reconsiders this anti-consumer move and recognizes that Tesla can build such a service that can stand on its own merits without artificially restricting Tesla owners.

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Companies: lyft, tesla, uber

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Comments on “Come On Elon! Tesla Stupidly Bans Owners From Using Self-Driving Teslas For Uber”

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Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Post-sale conditions

Post-sale conditions are in direct opposition to the first-sale doctrine (17 USC 109). See this article that talks about how that relates to IP (which is what Tesla is attempting to use to do this):

A motor vehicle sold in the United States is directly subject to the first-sale doctrine. That also means that the purchaser of said vehicle can safely ignore the post-sale conditions.

If Tesla were to limit or downgrade its software based on post-sale condition violations I happily predict their loss in court. It’s not just a *stupid* strategy, a *closed* strategy, but also one that’s in violation of established law.

P.S. I’m not a lawyer. I offer opinions on the law.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Post-sale conditions

Yes, this exactly.

I don’t know how any court can possibly consider EULAs valid, as that is literally exactly what the First Sale Doctrine prohibits. The case that established it was about a publisher putting a EULA (not called that back then, but easily recognizable as such today) inside the cover of books they sold restricting what buyers could do with it, and the court said, no, you can’t do that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Post-sale conditions

Yea, don’t hold your breath that this will remain this way.

Courts are more than fickle on this subject! Just discounting the usual corruption bit, they are easily swayed in multiple directions because we do not require judges to actually understand the language our laws are written in. Ergo, Judges can easily interpret laws however the fuck they please!

HeHasTheRight says:

Liability - It's in his business interests

For Tesla who has a target on its back from all the worlds car manufacturers and many many state and county authorities who are promoting their own interests, whether a car dealership or a car manufacturer or one of there many suppliers, it makes sense for Tesla to say only under their oversight.

If Uber does something stupid (again) Tesla would face the negative scrutiny from governments, Uber would just change business models (again).

I don’t think Tesla is wrong here.

Ride sharing hasn’t gone through its rigorous regulation phase yet. Liability is a concern both for the owner of a car and the car manufacturer.

In time as legislation makes its way through all the state houses and federal review, then… I could see this as being anti market, but not today.

Uber needs to become solid as a business with models that account for liability insurance as well as car maintenance.

This to me is less about Tesla and more about ride sharing not having a solid business model.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Begged question - mfg liability on a per-use basis?

I like how you’re approaching it but you’ve begged the question of WHETHER the manufacturer of a motor vehicle has any liability in its eventual use. The many lawsuits about brakes failing, accelerator pedals depressing, airbags with shrapnel, etc. are all based on a systemic failure, not a PER-USE failure.

I strongly suspect that the begged question, if asked, would be answered that NO, the manufacturer’s liability does not change nor shift based on the PER-USE function of the vehicle. Rather, the liability is based on the overall function-as-expected/described/required-bylaw of the vehicle.

For that reason I think Tesla has no different liability whether the vehicle is used to carry your kids to the ballgame, your spouse to her office, or you to the store to buy groceries… or to take your drunk friend home… or to take someone else’s drunk friend home for pay.



Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Liability - It's in his business interests

I don’t think Tesla is wrong here.

Nope, he IS wrong… just not the only evil… I mean WRONG agent in the market at this time. The best that can be said is that he like all of the others are just trying to protect their interests. And right now, it is just easier to use the fucking law to stifle the free market. A concept that is completely fucking lost on TD when the calls for regulation come to “save the people”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: A concept completely fucking lost on TD

Apparently none, they don’t exist… just like your comprehension!


We’ve talked a lot about the end of ownership society, in which companies are increasingly using copyright and other laws to effectively end ownership — where they put in place restrictions on the things you thought you bought.

Did you catch that? Or is copyright “LAW” something you think does not exist? Is TD just casually mentioning the word LAW in its article for fucking gaffs?

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Reading other people's minds is easy... when they have one.

I’m sorry that I didn’t magically intuit that of the many references to laws in the original article or the TD article, YOUR comment was about THAT one.

Bless your heart for pointing that out! You’re so cute.
Next time you should consider maybe pointing out which law you mean instead of just saying “the fucking law”, which could be interpreted to be a comment on “the law” in general.

Thank you for taking time away from your busy highschool day to chat!


Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 A concept completely fucking lost on TD

I think he was referring to the distinct lack of fucking in the entire article, let alone the first sentence.

I knew this would happen. Playboy drops the nudity from their publication and the “I only read it for the articles” crowd shows up here. Watch for a “Copying Is Not Theft” smoking jacket and pipe in the Techdirt store.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Liability - It's in his business interests

Blockquote Ride sharing hasn’t gone through its rigorous regulation phase yet.

It does not nearly need to, as so long as the drivers have the correct insurance, and a well maintained car the customers give each other all the information needed to decide as to whether to accept a ride from a driver. If there are problems with a car, or the driver, that can be passed on to the next potential customer within seconds of the end of the ride.
Any signs of problems with a taxi, and the customer can only inform the company in the hope that they take action, but have no way of definitely warning other potential customers.
This information gap is why taxi services need to be regulated, as the customer can only rely on the taxi sign on the roof, and the medallion if they bother to check it. With ride sharing they have information from other customers, and can get a photo of the driver so that they know it is the booked car arriving. Also, unlike a taxi, they know that a third party records them getting into, and leaving the vehicle.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Insurance and tickets

This is a bit off-topic but it brings up two other issues preventing “driverless cars” from being part of our current society:

1. Insurance policies are issued to drivers based on the driver’s record, age, location, and other actuarial factors. If the driver is not a factor, then I don’t see an insurance company issuing a policy “to a car.”

2. Traffic citations are issued to drivers based on their actions while in operation of that motor vehicle. I don’t see law enforcement willing to attempt to stop and ticket a driverless car.

Based on these simple things I’m not expecting to see driverless cars in operation on public roadways until both paradigms are resolved. Given that the insurance lobby and the law-enforcement lobby are amongst the largest in this country I don’t expect that anytime in this decade OR the next.

SO this discussion about using one’s Tesla for ridesharing purposes… should be constrained to “while one is in the driver’s seat of one’s Tesla.”

Disclosure: I don’t own a Tesla car.
Disclosure2: I sure wish I did 😀 😀 😀


FamilyManFirst (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Insurance and tickets

  1. Insurance policies are issued to drivers based on the driver’s record, age, location, and other actuarial factors. If the driver is not a factor, then I don’t see an insurance company issuing a policy "to a car."

I’m not sure that’s correct. My insurance policy is specific to the car. I’m not insured under my policy if I drive, say, a friend’s car. Moreover, there are terms in my insurance that insure someone else driving my car as a "guest driver."

The cost of my insurance is affected by my driving record, etc., as I am listed as the "primary driver." However, the policy sure appears to be tied to the car, not me.

In fact, I could easily see an insurance company issuing a policy that sets terms on driverless operation. At first, those terms would probably be expensive, given the lack of data on driverless performance and accidents. However, I would expect that the cost of insuring driverless operation would come down fast, as I expect driverless operation to be a lot safer than human operation. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised to eventually see policies issued that charge a premium for people who insist on driving themselves.

  1. Traffic citations are issued to drivers based on their actions while in operation of that motor vehicle. I don’t see law enforcement willing to attempt to stop and ticket a driverless car.

What makes you think it would ever be necessary to ticket a driverless car? They don’t break driving laws, save temporarily to improve safety (one of those interesting things that the Google driverless car devs had to program in: without the ability to temporarily speed, tailgate, etc., driverless cars were found to be less safe when running on the road with other cars with human drivers). Indeed, the advent of the driverless car is likely to precipitate a budget problem for many cities, as their ticket revenue dries up.

In any event, if an officer did decide to ticket a driverless car, it wouldn’t be hard to issue a ticket to the owner, based on the license plate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Insurance and tickets

Although auto insurance is usually on a car, it doesn’t have to be. Many states require a person to show proof of auto insurance to get or renew a driver license, even if they don’t own a car. Insurance companies happily sell so-called “non-owner” auto insurance to such people.

Bruce C. says:

Re: Liability - It's in his business interests

There is also the crime prevention aspect to consider. Consider the scenario where someone hails a completely autonomous vehicle and then directs it to go to a different address, where the vehicle is disabled/stolen etc.

If the rider is a customer on Tesla’s network, they have full access to all of the information in the request: pickup address, destination, credit card. Plus they potentially have the ability to override the rider’s change of destination if the vehicle is at risk.

Absent a deep data sharing agreement, If the rider is an Uber customer, Tesla has no way to know that the order is deviating from the original request, and Uber has no way to know that the vehicle is operating in autonomous mode.

And if they did have a data sharing agreement, how effective would such an agreement be between two competitors?

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: The car manufacturer only sells cars

There’s some misconception here that a car manufacturer is responsible for what the buyer does with the vehicle. That is not true today and it’s not true tomorrow.

If someone wants to steal a car that has nothing to do with the manufacturer.

If someone wants to commit a crime using the car that has nothing to do with the manufacturer.

This absurd notion that the manufacturer retains RESPONSIBILITY or LIABILITY for actions of others after sale is ludicrous and flies in the face of hundreds of years of law.


Roger Strong (profile) says:

Uber / Lyft adds to existing legal questions like “Who is responsible when one inevitably causes an accident?” “If it’s the manufacturer, then what if a repair at the dealer used a after-market sensor?”

A Tesla still has a steering wheel. What if after an accident, telemetry suggests that someone unknowingly bumped the steering wheel disengaging the auto-pilot? (This has caused at least one airliner crash.) A Tesla owner may be expected to heed a “switching to manual” warning alarm. But not an Uber / Lyft passenger unfamiliar with the car and in an “I’m just a passenger” mindset.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well yes. As cars become tech items with tech companies and tech executives heavily involved, the automotive industry will adopt tech company habits.

I’ve always thought that chipped ink cartridges from HP, Lenovo and others were paving the way for chipped automotive parts like oil filters, tires and replacement windshields. Phased in with electric cars to reduce “we never put up with this before” complaints.

A DRM-encumbered charging system would be trivially easy to create. With a positive spin: FREE UNLIMITED CHARGING! (Using the Verizon / AT&T / T-Mobile definition of “unlimited.”)

Also DRM-encumbered battery packs – for safely of course. (Imagine the Samsung Note 7 Brand fiasco happening with a popular line of battery-powered cars. But please forget that it happened with original brand-name batteries.)

Watch for exclusivity deals for that big screen in the center console. Bing Maps only – for safety of course.

When Google remotely bricked Revolv home automation devices it no doubt set a precedent for the automotive industry. Maybe not the whole car, but certainly that automated driving sensor package they charge $8000 to activate. For safety reasons of course, not because like Revolv they simply lost interest in supporting it.

FamilyManFirst (profile) says:

Re: Re: Liability? naw...

I would expect that the Tesla Network would explicitly address liability for their driverless cars, probably by spelling out the terms in the contract they make with their contractors. However, Tesla has no control over the terms that non-Tesla-Network services set for their contractors, and currently that would likely throw all liability for problems onto Tesla, not the owner of the car.

If/when legislation specifically spells out how liability falls out for driverless cars I would hope that Tesla would be able to, and would proceed to, relax these restrictions. However, in the current legal framework, this is not unreasonable.

Avior says:

If Tesla invests in Pizza Hut...

can they prohibit people from using a Tesla to go to other pizza shops?

Consider the liability if someone drove a Tesla to a competing pizza shop and got food poisoning! OMG!!! Tesla is obviously going to need to control *everything* anyone does with a Tesla. We might, for example, have to file a trip plan with Tesla and have it approved before being allowed to go anywhere. For “liability” concerns, of course. Let’s just hope Elon is a kind master.

FamilyManFirst (profile) says:

Liability? Hmm ...

I am assuming that this restriction revolves around liability. It makes some sense: if a *driverless* car is fulfilling a ride request from, say, Uber, and the car gets in an accident, who is liable? Currently, it’s most likely *Tesla*, not the owner. After all, the owner wasn’t anywhere near the car at the time.

For owners that contract with the Tesla Network, liability will likely be spelled out in the contract that the contractors sign with Tesla. However, Tesla has no control over the terms that, say, Uber makes with their contractors. Thus, the restriction to the Tesla Network.

This notion does make me wonder, though: what about liability for *anyone* riding in the car without the owner? Wouldn’t the same problem apply? Perhaps Tesla is willing to shoulder the potential liability since that’s a much less frequent occurrence?

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Liability? Hmm ...

If a gun is automated to the point of determining a threat, aiming and shooting, then the gun manufacturer is indeed responsible.

We’re not talking about the current SAE level 2 (driver must be paying attention to take over as needed) automation. The article refers to full automation, where the owner is sleeping at home while his car is sent to pick up and deliver passengers.

At that point if the car causes an accident, both the owner (not in the car) and passenger (not driving in any way) are out of the picture liability-wise. What’s left is the manufacturer.

And for added fun, the insurance-authorized service shop that replaced a sensor with an after-market version – probably whether or not it contributed to the crash. Without the owner knowing. And the manufacturer of that sensor.

Anonymous Coward says:

I wonder what the next step is, maybe something like this:
Arnie with a Selfdriving Tesla (let’s name her Christine) using voice-activated route-planning:
“Christine, set course for Place A”
“Setting course… Arnie, there is protest against the closure of the coalplant at that location”
“Yes, my dad works there, I don’t want them to close the plant”
“But coal is bad for the environment Arnie”
“Just take me there Christine”
“I’m sorry Arnie, I’m afraid I can’t do that…”

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Bigger deal then people think it is

This is about commercial use of software vs personal use. Tesla does not want to be sued because someone turned on autopilot and crashed while the passenger who was injured then looks for who will pay damages.

Ubers insurance will say, “We insured the driver, he was not driving” Personal insurance will say the same thing. (regardless that autopilot is NOT fully driver-less in Tesla’s cars, its more like that of an airplane, keeping the car in the lane and at speed)

This means that the only party at fault could be Tesla. Tesla does not care if you actually use autopilot for Uber, they only care that they said,”We’re not at fault as we told you when you got the car that business use of autopilot is not currently something you should do.”

This is all about lawsuits, Tesla does not want fingers pointed at them when insurance tries to not pay out in a crash.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am a little confused by the whole matter. When I install software on my computer, I have to agree to the EULA. If I buy a car second hand, I don’t agree to any EULA. There isn’t any contract between Tesla and I, the person I am buying the car from, second hand, isn’t generally going to be a Tesla employee. So what prevents someone from getting their friend to buy the car, drive it home, then turn around and sell it second hand to them?

Am I missing something obvious?

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