Bad Ideas: Tesla Bars Ride Sharing Drivers From Using Its Superchargers

from the pray-we-don't-alter-it-any-further dept

Tesla remains a fascinating company. Elon Musk famously likes to do things his own way, and doesn’t much care for convention. And that’s often a great recipe for innovation. At times, it leads to really awesome things like giving away all the company’s patents for anyone to use without licensing. But, sometimes it does some weird things that should make people think twice about buying into the Telsa vision — even when at first pass it may make sense. For example, a few months ago, we were concerned about the “surprise” remote range extension that Tesla gave to drivers in Florida to help them evacuate before Hurricane Irma hit. On its face, this obviously seems like a good thing. Helping people evacuate a hurricane by extending their mileage is unquestionably good.

But it did raise some concerns — about a company remotely, and without notification, updating the car you purchased from afar. Because if it can be used for “good” reasons (like giving you extra range to escape a hurricane) it might also be used at other times for bad reasons. What if, for example, Elon Musk decides he doesn’t like you. Last year, Musk famously banned famed venture capitalist Stewart Alsop from buying one of Tesla’s cars after Alsop publicly complained about a poorly staged event by Tesla. Could Musk “brick” someone’s car for displeasing him? The backlash to that would be massive, which probably keeps such a move out of the realm of likelihood, but there are still problems with the company changing your car after purchase.

Similarly, last year there were reports that Tesla was banning people from using its self-driving car technology as part of any ride-sharing project. This seemed like an anti-competitive move, as Tesla has talked about setting up its own sort of Uber using self-driving cars that people would buy (basically, you’d “rent out” your car while you weren’t using it). We thought that was a neat idea, but were troubled by the idea of contractually blocking Tesla owners from working with other vendors on such a project.

And now there’s another troubling move: Tesla is telling “commercial” drivers of its vehicles (mainly ride-sharing drivers) that they can’t use the company’s Supercharger network to charge their cars. There are perfectly legitimate, non-nefarious reasons for this. Mainly: there are apparently problems with Superchargers being overcrowded these days, and you could see why the company doesn’t want them clogged up with ride sharing drivers, effectively subsidizing their driving jobs. At the very least, the company has made it clear the policy only applies to new Tesla buyers, so it’s not a bait-and-switch situation.

But, still, there’s something troubling about the idea that the company can ban you from using its Superchargers based solely on the type of driving you’re doing. Again, that leads to questions about what other situations may arise where Tesla bans people from using its chargers in one form or another. I’m sure that many won’t think this is a big deal — and will point out that the company needed to do something to avoid congestion. But we should be concerned about how this is subtly changing our relationship to the products we (thought we) own, and the control that companies have over our usage, post-purchase.

I don’t think Tesla is doing anything nefarious here, and there are plenty of seemingly good reasons for why the company chose this path. But we should be quite careful and thoughtful about how we move into a world where the company that sells you something retains an astounding amount of control over how and even if you are allowed use it, based on how much it likes or dislikes you or your profession. Because sooner or later, these issues are going to get bigger and more problematic — and it might help if we really thought about them now, before things get messy.

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Comments on “Bad Ideas: Tesla Bars Ride Sharing Drivers From Using Its Superchargers”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

considering that many (if not all ) gas/petrol stations have multiple surveillance cameras pointed at both the front and rear of the vehicles filling up, those “anonymous” fuel transactions are nothing of the sort.

Stable, focused, full HD images of (mostly) static car plates and their drivers are perfect for ANPR/ALPR

I.T. Guy says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah but all those private video systems dont tie into a central database to be plucked by any gov entity like the forcing of a CC at supercharger stations. And sometimes I wear my hair longer, sometimes it’s buzzed, sometimes I have a full beard and other times I do not. So tracking me through various private video systems would literally be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Plate readers? Potato. has nothing to do with the topic here.

“considering that many (if not all)” I live in western pa and most gas stations out here do not, or if they do they are 90’s tech with inches of dust on them.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Last year, Musk famously banned famed venture capitalist Stewart Alsop from buying one of Tesla’s cars after Alsop publicly complained about a poorly staged event by Tesla.”

More proof that if you like someone you are willing to give them a pass. I read a lot of people that extol the virtues of Musk while ignoring this dictatorial control he likes to have.

Musk is an intelligent person, but he is NOT a good guy. Like Gates, Soros, Jobs, and many others like them… they sold their soul for the world.

“I don’t think Tesla is doing anything nefarious here,”

The first sign of reasoning yourself into a double standard. I notice the first thing people like to do with famous well liked folks is to give work off the innocent until proven guilty model, but if you don’t like them… then you work off the guilty until proven innocent model.

Musk has already proven he might be nuts through many of his crazy quotes. Or in short… once he is done engineering a solution, he should let someone else administrate them.

Dan J. (profile) says:

Who owns the Superchargers?

I don’t have an issue with this one. Tesla isn’t controlling what you can do with the car you bought. They’re controlling what you can do with THEIR Superchargers. Big difference. The other issue – giving extended range – I find much more troubling. First, it’s completely absurd that they can update your car without asking your permission. Second, the fact that they’re artificially limiting the range is equally absurd.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Re: Who owns the Superchargers?

The range was limited by contract when they purchased the car. Tesla did not get enough 60KwH battery pack orders and put the 75KwH packs in the cars, then the computer only used the first 60KwH. While you might not like it, the owner was well aware of the battery pack and under normal conditions would be able to buy the upgrade at their leisure.

Yes it’s a bit unsettling to some people, but this is a case where the owner was at least made aware and given the option to upgrade at a later time.

Dan J. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Who owns the Superchargers?

Yep. You’re absolutely right and I’m well aware of it. What Tesla did absolutely should NOT be illegal. But that doesn’t change the fact that Tesla artificially limited what the vehicle was capable of doing for no good reason in my book. They couldn’t get get enough 60KwH batteries? Guess what, customer, you got lucky and got extra range due to our problems with our supply chain! That would be the decent thing to do. What Tesla chose to do instead was scummy and reflects poorly on them in my view, even if they were allowed to do it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Who owns the Superchargers?

The trick of course is to buy the cheaper product and then “unlock” its full potential.

It was a lot of fun doing this when building computers decades ago, as many processors were “hotroddable” far beyond their listed speed, and at first all you had to do was move jumpers or dipswitches on the MB, until Intel got wise to that underground community and started implementing countermeasures … and then counter-counter-countermeasures.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Who owns the Superchargers?

I disagree with your assertion that it shouldn’t be illegal.

Anything that tries to undermine individual property rights of physical goods shouldn’t be permitted.

I have a very deep hostility to companies attempting to mold consumer behavior (as opposed to consumers molding company behavior).

bdwaters says:

Re: Re: Re: Who owns the Superchargers?

For no good reason? There was a very good reason. Telsa honored the lower price order of a 60KwH battery but installed a 75KwH battery. People who ordered a 75KwH battery had to pay something like $8,000 more. Tesla then gave the 60KwH owner the option to also pay the $8000 to upgrade. So all buyers paid a fair price for the battery they received. Actually the 60KwH owner got a better deal. They had the option to upgrade and had a larger battery which provides slightly better performance and longer battery life (due to the inability to max charge). Tesla is in the business of making money. Tesla’s decision maximizes potential revenue while being entirely fair to the buyer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Who owns the Superchargers?

Telsa honored the lower price order of a 60KwH battery but installed a 75KwH battery. People who ordered a 75KwH battery had to pay something like $8,000 more. Tesla then gave the 60KwH owner the option to also pay the $8000 to upgrade. So all buyers paid a fair price for the battery they received.

By definition, the 75 kWh people did not pay a fair price for their battery. Because the exact same battery was sold to others for $8000 less.

bdwaters says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Who owns the Superchargers?

When one guy buys an airline ticket for $300, they expect to sit in coach. If someone else pays $1000 for an airline ticket, they get to sit in first class. Both bought the exact same thing, and airline ticket. Take a minute to think about it, Mr. Coward, and you’ll eventually understand the logic.

Christenson says:

Re: Who owns the Superchargers?

The supercharger dispenses a certain amount of “juice”. What I do with that “juice”, once it is in my car, should be up to me alone. Can you imagine the electric company saying you can’t, say, run christmas lights, with the electricity you bought?

I am an advocate for a market, with sellers effectively common carriers (no arbitrary discrimination between buyers — you set a price, you set conditions, and if you want to limit the number of giveaways, OK). Might be called the “doctrine of first sale” — preconditions for a transaction, but not post-conditions.

I propose simply limiting an individual to one supercharge per week, OK, but don’t tell that individual not to be driving a taxi with that supercharge.

And as to this battery capacity thing: Remember, batteries operate on a curve…and if you are warranteeing a certain life from a battery pack, there’s a definite cost in additional replacements before the end of life for letting it operate closer to its short-term limits.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Who owns the Superchargers?

There is often a different in things like warranty and other benefits between private and commercial use cars.

Since the chargers are (a) owned by Tesla, and not the consumers and (b) represent a benefit of ownership provided at the cost of Tesla alone it’s pretty much up to them to make the rules.

As someone else pointed out, there is also no benefit for Tesla to be paying the power to run Uber cars, especially considering all the legal wrangling going on. Why would one side feed the other side?

I think in this a case where Techdirt is in such a rush to damn a company for something that the real story is entirely and completely missed.

rorybaust (profile) says:

the first time is never nefarious after that its all down hill

At a time when the US government has shown its willingness to gut all but the most basic of consumer protections one has to worry if small steps like this are only the beginning and since the government does not have your back ( a large donation to the your political party of choice may alter your individual circumstances ) and don’t think the courts will have your back either as the current administration has shown a propensity to want to appoint clearly unsuitable candidates that are there for life.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hotrod a Tesla - go to jail?

Owners could of course simply hack their cars computer firmware to “jail-break” it, but like many software products (most notoriously games) would Tesla respond by instituting some kind of “always on” internet/cellphone-based DRM?

I wonder how long it will be before Tesla starts using the DMCA to throw “hotrodders” (and any other non-government approved modders) in jail. The whole trend toward “licensed not owned” that started in the software industry and expanded to a vast array of other products is troubling, as is the DMCA’s prohibition on the owner of any product containing copyrighted code to “circumvent a technological measure” to fix problems and improve performance of things that have traditionally been legally maintained and modded by owners in the past.

It just seems like we’re creeping into an age in which we basically no longer own our possessions or even our bodies.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Re: Hotrod a Tesla - go to jail?

Tesla kinda has cell based DRM already, every car connects to the 3/4g network and gets updates this way.

As for people customizing them, yep, they do, you’re totally allowed to hotrod your Tesla. The only thing they do is cut it off from the cell network and block access to super chargers.

There is a whole community of Tesla Hackers poking at the software. Tesla sometimes sends them messages to stop hacking the car, but still, the only thing they can legally do is disconnect the cell (their side only), and lock you out of super chargers.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

This is more a symptom of changing technology

Tesla plans on selling services like private supercharger bays. This is a needed step for selling that kind of service. They also have the option of selling bays on the freeways. Those bay’s will cost a LOT more money for commercial accounts then for individual drivers. Why?

Most bay’s are located in shopping areas, leased from those shopping areas. Commercial accounts often do not buy anything when they are at the bay and use the same bay several times a day. This quickly adds up in costs that Tesla and the shopping centers are subsidizing.

In short they don’t want to do that anymore, and they are also attempting to provide an alternative as they have sold a private supercharger at least once already. I am sure they will change the lease contracts on renewal to allow for (Paying) commercial users because lets be frank, it costs about $5 for a fill-up.

Anonymous Coward says:

So, "common carrier" and "net neutrality", but different for the "Supercharger"?

Umm, okay, but for reasons Masnick alludes to of limited capacity.

After all, ISP networks don’t have limits on capacity, right? So should be forced to carry all traffic, and light users should effectively subsidize heavy users.

I’m glad you’re consistently inconsistent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So, "common carrier" and "net neutrality", but different for the "Supercharger"?

BTW: Tesla is so far behind on promised production that it “may” collapse: like other “high-tech” including Uber and Netflix, only thing that props them up is free numbers from the Federal Reserve via “venture capitalists”. And gov’t subsidies. Take away those — or add changeout / disposing of exhausted batteries, LOOMING problem — and Tesla collapses.

It’s not that electric cars aren’t NEAT (would suit my uses GREAT), it’s that they’ll never be economically viable.

ANON says:

Re: Re: So, "common carrier" and "net neutrality", but different for the "Supercharger"?

Except that the use of chargers costs Tesla real money, while the running cost of a network are the approximately the same whether it is carrying real data or not.

Not mentioned in this article – isn’t it the case that except for the Model 3, charging on Tesla chargers is free? (And they haven’t delivered a lot of 3’s yet). So basically they are saying “Whoa, we sold you a personal vehicle with free charging, not something you intended to drive all day and make money at our expense.” Yes, it’s sort of retroactively changing the rules, but it kind of make sense. There’s a big differnce between 30-mile commutes and driving all day long.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: So, "common carrier" and "net neutrality", but different for the "Supercharger"?

Then they should put a cap to it.

In the end, the result for Tesla is whether you are driving all day long, or someone else is doing it because you’re earning money.

Capping is compatible with Supercharger Neutrality, discriminating between traffics, isn’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

But limiting / controlling is okay if a "free service"?

“But we should be quite careful and thoughtful about how we move into a world where the company that sells you something **retains an astounding amount of control over how and even if you are allowed use it, based on how much it likes or dislikes you or your profession.**”

Interesting that you qualify that worry with “sells you something”. Oh, I suppose it’s a natural phrase, but in light of your assertions that Google, Facebook, and Twitter have a “First Amendment Right” to control on their “platforms” the speech of “natural” persons, to limit / restrict / deny service for any or no reason, as usual, I think your specification that it’s only worrying with those corporations which “sell” a product is significant.

Scote (profile) says:

Uber and Lyft are not "ridesharing"

“Bad Ideas: Tesla Bars Ride Sharing Drivers From Using Its Superchargers”

Uber and Lyft are part time jobs that require the use of your car, like being a pizza delivery driver. It’s not “sharing”.

Picking up casual commuters so you can use the carpool lane is ride sharing. So is picking up a paying passenger who wants to go in a direction you happen to being going. Uber and Lyft, not so much.

So, why should commercial drivers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, get to put their fuel expenses on Tesla?

ReasonNotDesire says:

Why should Tesla GIVE away power to Uber or Lyft?

Here is an opportunity for counties, cities, states worldwide to dip into the ride sharing economy and earn some income to pay for the infrastructure these additional vehicles on our roads bring.

Why should Tesla or any state, county, city, et. GIVE away power to Uber or Lyft which already aren’t paying a whole gambit of costs associated with the industry?

I say Uber pay up, pay the full cost of this ride sharing economy and STOP creating your own subsidies on the backs of others… If the economics require subsidies – in this case free power – then the business model is broken from the get go.

jlr says:

Two issues to back dooring encryption.

1: Any company the complies with the “back door” requirements will demand full indemnity from the demanding authority – Federal, State, County, Municipality, etc.
a: The encryption will be broken – by definition the hackers will spend tons of effort to break it.
b: Once broken the original manufacturer will be required to re-engineer a new encryption with a new back door – expensive.
Once re-created the software must be distributed to the entire user base – expensive.
Then the clock starts again.
This chaise the tail scenario will continues until the “entity” finally realizes that a “back door” is not worth the time, expense nor hassle.

2: Encryption is not a secret, there are MANY ways to build an encryption software, and they ALL are designed from some mathematical algorithm.
Most if not all are already in the hands of mathematicians in most if not all nations. What is to prevent some software maven from creating a encryption software application with out a back door – nothing. Once built and offered to the populous anyone can buy and use it. Proof – PGP! There is really no way to prevent this from happening.

So much for Back Door!

Agammamon says:

> Mainly: there are apparently problems with Superchargers being overcrowded these days, and you could see why the company doesn’t want them clogged up with ride sharing drivers

. . .

I’m sure that many won’t think this is a big deal — and will point out that the company needed to do something to avoid congestion.

Yeah, imagine that. In a finite world we might need a way to ration things.

Good news though – we discovered a way to do that *several millennia* ago. Its called ‘charge money for it’. Then you can manage your supply and demand curves. But that’s *old* and Musk didn’t invent it and it doesn’t get his name in the papers in a good way so he can use that PR image to snatch more easy cash out of the hands of the government.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Given cake makers are banning their cakes from being used in some types of weddings, this would not shock me at all.

Soon there will be religious rules for everything. Going to the supermarket that’s Jewish will only sell Kosher food. Going to the bank you will find your blocked from some products because Christians are not allowed to earn or pay interest.

Soon you will discover that one night stands are illegal since the state feels you need to be married to have relations. (Under the guise of a baby license)

Next thing you know you have to follow all the religious rules of all the religions since the Pastafarians have a problem with you eating noodles with out meatballs, but the Hindu don’t want to sell you meat.

Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously says:

Also a chance

Tesla’s charging stations are now known to be less reliable. This might make it interesting for other companies to start their own charging stations and actually compete on customer service and/or price with Tesla. This mechanism is known as free market dynamics (and is one of the basic dogmatic beliefs of the USA population).

Only when Tesla blocks for other companies from charging the cars Tesla sold, will it be time for Net Neutrality/Common Carrier claims.

Anonymous Coward says:

At less than 100K units a years

The business model for the cars is far from proven. There is some consideration here to be given to the fact that charger stations at this time, are probably not contributing much black ink to the company.

The expense for the charger network is probably largely subsidized at this point. So it is is reasonable to expect that that they want as many different people to use them as possible, and not just use them to subsidize the business models of a few gig-economy fraudsters.

Tesla is paying out a ton of money to create a new market space, which (for the moment) they are probably loosing money on. Once that marketspace is established, these restrictions will almost surely go away.

People who think this is a problem don’t understand gaggle of financial rapists that every new business and product has to dodge before it becomes accepted in the market. It is easy to be a critic when you’ve never built anything.

Musk gets it. He is putting the money he made in technology, back into technology. Which is different from most of the other players. They take the money, and just play the margins to stay on top. Musk never stops trying to shoot the moon. It is extraordinarily admirable.

It isn’t the rules you play with. It is the reason you play with those rules.

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