from the question-of-power dept
The problems with DRM for videos, music, ebooks and games are well known. Despite those issues for the purchasers of digital goods, companies love DRM because it gives them control over how their products are used -- something that has been much harder to achieve in the analog world. The risk is that as digital technologies begin to permeate traditional physical products, they will bring with them new forms of DRM, as this post by Karsten Gerloff about Zoe, one of Renault's electric cars, makes clear:
When you buy a Renault Zoe, the battery isn't included. Instead, you sign a rental contract for the battery with the car maker. In a Zoe owner's forum, user Franko30 reports that the contract contains a clause giving Renault the right to prevent your battery from charging at the end of the rental period. According to an article in Der Spiegel, the company may also do this when you fall behind on paying the rent for the battery.
He goes on to point out the ways in which such DRM capabilities can and probably will be abused:
This means that Renault has some way of remotely controlling the battery charging process. According to the Spiegel article, the Zoe (and most or all other electric cars) collect reams of data on how you use them, and send this data off to the manufacturer without your knowledge. This data tells the company where you are going, when, and how fast, where you charge the battery, and many other things besides. We already knew that Tesla was doing this with its cars since the company's very public spat with a journalist who reviewed one of their cars for the New York Times. Seeing the same thing in a mass market manufacturer like Renault makes clear just how dangerous this trend is.
This could be the manufacturer, shutting down your car as you fall behind on the battery rent because you just lost your job, meaning that it becomes harder for you to find work. It could be the government, compelling the manufacturer to do its bidding. In his forum post, Franko30 predicts that at some point, governments may simply ask car manufacturers to block charging near controversial political events (e.g. a G8 summit), in order to prevent you from participating in demonstrations. Or it could be any random criminal out there, gaining access to this mechanism by bribing a Renault employee.
Gerloff notes that one way to avoid these problems is to choose electric cars that put the user in control, and that means those built with free software. Of course, as President of the Free Software Foundation Europe, he would say that, but he's right. The trouble is, it's hard enough buying a smartphone running entirely on free software; an electric car based on fully-hackable open code, with all that this implies for road safety, is almost certainly never going to happen.