Tesla Remotely Extended The Range Of Drivers In Florida For Free… And That's NOT A Good Thing
from the think-about-the-implications dept
In the lead up to Hurricane Irma hitting Florida over the weekend, Tesla did something kind of interesting: it gave a “free” upgrade to a bunch of Tesla drivers in Florida, extending the range of those vehicles, to make it easier for them to evacuate the state. Now, as an initial response, this may seem praiseworthy. The company did something (at no cost to car-owners) to help them evacuate from a serious danger zone. In a complete vacuum, that sounds like a good idea. But there are a variety of problems with it when put back into context.
The first thing you need to understand is that while Tesla sells different version of its Model S, with different ranges, the range is actually entirely software-dependent. That is, it uses the same batteries in different cars — it just limits how much they’ll charge via software. Thus, spend more on a “nicer” model and more of the battery is used. So all that happened here was that Tesla “upgraded” these cars with an over the air update. In some ways, this feels kind of neat — it means that a Tesla owner could “purchase” an upgrade to extend the range of the car. But it should also be somewhat terrifying.
In some areas, this has lead to discussions about the possibility of hacking the software on the cheaper version to unlock the greater battery power — and I, for one, can’t wait to see the CFAA lawsuit that eventually comes out of that should it ever happen (at least some people are hacking into the Tesla’s battery management system, but just to determine how much capacity is really available).
But this brings us back to the same old discussion of whether or not you really own what you’ve bought. When a company can automagically update the physical product you bought from them, it at least raises some serious questions. Yes, in this case, it’s being used for a good purpose: to hopefully make it easier for Tesla owners to get the hell out of Florida. But it works the other way too, as law professor Elizabeth Jo points out:
This sounds great until you realize the power to brick a car useful to corporations and the police: https://t.co/rbcfBr1HsF
— Elizabeth Joh (@elizabeth_joh) September 10, 2017
And, of course, there’s the possibility that one of these over-the-air updates goes wrong in disastrous ways:
"oops sorry we bricked all the Teslas in the vicinity of the hurricane. Please accept our condolences and a year of free credit monitoring"
— Pwn All The Things (@pwnallthethings) September 10, 2017
So, yes, without any context, merely upgrading the cars’ range sure sounds like a good thing. But when you begin to think about it in the context of who actually owns the car you bought, it gets a lot scarier.