The End Of Ownership: Tesla Software Updates Giveth… And Tesla Software Updates Taketh Away…

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

A few years back, we wrote about how Tesla automagically extended the range of Teslas in Florida as a hurricane was approaching. While this sounded good, we warned that this wasn’t a good thing, when you realized it meant that what you bought could magically and secretly be changed without your permission or desire. In the Florida case, it was for a good purpose, but that wouldn’t always be the case. So, it’s little surprise that approximately half of all Techdirt readers decided to send me this story from Jalopnik of how Tesla remotely disabled its Autopilot feature on a 2nd hand Tesla Model S after it had been sold:

Tesla officially sold the car to the dealership on November 15, a date I’ve confirmed by seeing the car’s title. On November 18, Tesla seems to have conducted an “audit” of the car remotely. The result of that audit was that when the car’s software was updated to the latest version in December, the Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self Driving Capability (FSD) were removed from the car.

The Jalopnik story is very, very thorough. And, just to be clear, because this is important: Autopilot and Full Self Driving capabilities are not subscription services. It’s a one-time payment and the car is supposed to have it for life.

This is all very puzzling. Alec bought the car from a dealer based on a set of features that the dealer understood the car to have when purchased at auction. If Alec saw that the car had Autopilot and FSD when he paid for it, how, exactly, did he not pay for those features?

Those features together are worth $8,000, but as they were already on the car when he bought it, it’s hard to understand how he somehow didn’t pay for them?

I realize that these are software features, but they act like any physical feature of a car. You don’t pay a subscription for FSD or Autopilot, you pay a one-time fee, just like you would for an electromechanical cruise control system on any other car.

If you buy, say, a used Ford Ecosport (not my first choice, but you do you) that has lane keeping assist and active cruise control, and Ford somehow thinks you didn’t pay for those particular features and sends over a service tech to physically remove them from your car, I think we’d all consider that pretty wrong. We might even consider that theft. I’m not clear how what Tesla did here is any different.

The article notes that the purchaser, Alec, then even tried to find out if Tesla would remove such a feature if he wanted a cheaper sale price on a used Tesla, and the company told him it would not. What’s even worse is that Jalopnik points to other cases of this happening as well.

In an update to the original post, the dealer who sold the Tesla to Alec says that this isn’t even the first time he’s seen this kind of thing happen:

I sell dozens of Teslas a year, and sold my father in law a Model X P90D with ludicrous speed package. 60 days after the purchase of the car, Tesla removed his ludicrous speed package. Upon complaints to them they said he never paid for it. We have video evidence and multiple pictures of the vehicle with it. They even removed the line under the P90D. I am still shocked at these acts.

Tesla’s only response at the time of writing this is that the car was “incorrectly configured.” But, remember, Tesla itself sold the car to the dealer, who then resold it to Alec. And throughout this process, the car clearly showed that it had these features enabled. So, for Tesla to change that after the fact seems like it would dip into outright fraud. Indeed, I’m surprised lawsuits have not been filed.

On a related note, it also opens up a possibly sneaky business model for Tesla: if it takes back out of lease Teslas, or Teslas it’s bought back, that had these expensive features enabled, and then disables them before resale, it could double sell these features to new owners who want them. That also seems pretty crappy.

But all of this just highlights how the very concept of ownership is eroding in a world where everything can be software updated automatically. While this has some potentially cool side effects (improvements on the fly!), it can also be used to remove features you paid for, without any obvious recourse. That should concern everyone.

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Bait and Switch

So, if Tesla sells a car with a feature, the feature is enabled, they sell the car, the seller touts these features, the customer buys the car, and then the original seller revokes a feature… That sounds an awful lot like a bait and switch…

I can tell you that an $8,000 upgrade on a used car is enough for me to return it. And what sucks is, the dealer in the middle is the one stuck holding the bag since they ‘bought’ it from Tesla with an $8000 option that they can no longer sell.

Sounds like a lawsuit or two need to occur to get Tesla to shape up.


Amazing software for me

This software is the biggest software update ever. We?re raising the bar for what people have come to expect from their cars with new entertainment, gaming, music, and convenience features designed to make your car much more capable, as well as making time spent in your car more fun.

This week, Tesla owners around the world will start waking up to Version 10.0 features via an over-the-air update. Here?s a look at what?s new:

Cin?ma Tesla
Get the most out of Model S, Model X, and Model 3 center displays by connecting to your Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu or Hulu + Live TV accounts to watch your favorite shows, movies and content right from your car while parked. For our China-based customers, we?ll be launching with iQiyi and Tencent Video access, and we expect to add more global streaming and entertainment services over time. Additionally, all customers will have access to Tesla tutorial videos to learn more about their vehicle.

Smart Summon
With Smart Summon, customers who have purchased Full Self-Driving Capability or Enhanced Autopilot can enable their car to navigate a parking lot and come to them or their destination of choice, as long as their car is within their line of sight. It?s the perfect feature to use if you have an overflowing shopping cart, are dealing with a fussy child, or simply don?t want to walk to your car through the rain. Customers who have had early access to Smart Summon have told us that it adds both convenience to their trips and provides them with a unique moment of delight when their car picks them up to begin their journey. Those using Smart Summon must remain responsible for the car and monitor it and its surroundings at all times.

My website : Link


Possible this crosses the line into theft. Not much different then a service dept removing a working AC compressor during a tune up because the current owner didn’t specifically pay for the AC option when they bought the car used. Start filing theft charges against Tesla the company and specifically the person(s) that approved the feature removing update after the company audit and stuff like this will likely stop. It is one thing to have to activate lawyer banks 1-4 to defend against lawsuits from unhappy customers, it is entirely more attention getting when LEO’s show up with arrest warrants and haul folks away.


Re: Re:

mmm… the courts haven’t said anything yet. And even when they (district) have, they (appeals, supreme) have not necessarily finished speaking.

And mind, there are both state and federal venues that might apply, between diversity jurisdiction, and various federal and state laws. The expensive bit will be choosing the right court to send it to first.


Re: Re: Re:

That isn’t what conversion means in a legal sense–conversion is a civil action for their taking your physical property. IOW, it’s a civil action for theft. Vandalism, possibly. Something under the CFAA, perhaps. Some form of trespass to chattel, maybe. There’s an action out there for this, but conversion isn’t it.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re:

"No. Theft of what? This is just standard computer crime: vandalism via unauthorized remote access."

It is. Except that Tesla can easily invoke IP law as the foundation for their pseudocriminal shenanigans. Anyone remember when Sony did the same with the "OtherOS" functionality on their PS3?

In other words if you want to buy a Tesla, better make sure you jailbreak it. Needless to say that’ll invite a John Deere-like lawsuit and require you to be VERY skilled at knowing which update packages are legit and which are aimed at screwing you.

Under any normal circumstances a case where a vendor sells you goods and then swings by to cripple your property when they damn well feel like it would indeed be criminal.

Intellectual Property law has always been in fundamental conflict with actual property law and we’ll see a lot more of that conflict coming up as ever more sold goods comes to include an umbilical to the OEM by which they retain full control.


Re: Re: Re:

Anyone remember when Sony did the same with the "OtherOS" functionality on their PS3?

They didn’t, though. That stopped working when people "chose" to upgrade. The scare quotes are because networked games and new games wouldn’t work if one didn’t upgrade?but if the system were not used for gaming, one could live with that. (Fitting in with the "end of ownership" theme, Sony has no obligation to let anyone access or continue to access their network. It’s an anti-consumer move, but those are not surprising coming from Sony?even before the original Playstation they’d earned this reputation.)

To my knowledge, Sony never remotely accessed the Playstations to install that upgrade. Nor did anyone try to pursue a CFAA action. A similar action for Tesla might be if they refused to fix an out-of-warranty car until the owner let them remove the "unauthorized" features.



self driving vehicles are all about control
Like slowly cooking a frog in a pot with no lid…Tesla (et. al) are testing the waters now to see who’ll bite. Currently in these ‘self driving vehicles’ you still have a steering wheel, but eventually that will disappear -as will the gas & brake pedal.

When you’re paying for a vehicle that you can’t steer, accelerate, nor slow down, who’s actually controlling the vehicle? At that point, all you can do is request destinations and every vehicle is basically a "Johnny Cab".
No thanks.


Tacking features via VIN

One interesting potential concern in this (beyond the obvious ones discussed) is that most cars now have the features shipped with it tracked via the VIN. I can give my dealer the VIN of my car and they can tell me the exact model including every option it was bought with. Mechanics use this to work on the car.

What happens when some mechanic relies on this and thinks one of these "de-featured" Teslas still has the applicable feature and does something wrong fixing the car?


Not really the case.

My understanding of the original article was that the car in question had Autopilot enabled for demonstration purposes at the request of the original (pre-auction) dealer. Tesla was not paid for Autopilot to be enabled for the car. The car was then auctioned at some later point. Tesla was not informed of the auction else would have disabled the features which had not been purchased. The dealer who purchased the Tesla then sold it as is. When the buyer registered the vehicle, Tesla noticed that for that VIN, they had not received payment for Autopilot – so they disabled it.

This is not a bait and switch. The original dealer failed to inform Tesla that the car had been sold (auction) so that Tesla could update the features purchased.


Re: Re: Not really the case.

The dealer screwed the buyer, then tried to blame Tesla for their own mistakes/fraudulent acts (not clear which), and everyone fell for it.

…and then Tesla still modified the customer’s product without permission. As much as the MPAA might like to remotely delete copies of movies that were obtained early (somebody usually gets the physical media and posts a rip 2-3 weeks before dealers are allowed to sell), it’s not actually allowed. It’s worrying that Telsa feels they have the right to do this. They should’ve simply sued the dealer for the $10000 or whatever. That would’ve been a commercial dispute of no public interest.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Not really the case.

"My understanding of the original article was that the car in question had Autopilot enabled for demonstration purposes at the request of the original (pre-auction) dealer. Tesla was not paid for Autopilot to be enabled for the car. The car was then auctioned at some later point. Tesla was not informed of the auction else would have disabled the features which had not been purchased."

At which point the burden should lie on Tesla and the fraudulent dealer. The buyer obtained his car in good faith.

If a con man defrauds you and then sells his ill-obtained goods to a 3rd party through a legal channel then in order for you to repossess your goods you still can’t just steal it from the current owner. That’s still considered "theft".

Or in this specific case, unlawful conversion. The owner ought to have a case against Tesla for unlawfully crippling his property.
I say "ought to" because when IP law is involved, ordinary property law goes out the window.


Re: Re: Not really the case.

If a con man defrauds you and then sells his ill-obtained goods to a 3rd party through a legal channel then in order for you to repossess your goods you still can’t just steal it from the current owner. That’s still considered "theft".

Do you have a citation for that? "Theft" normally refers to taking something from the owner; if stolen property is sold, the buyer would presumably not be an "owner" because the seller had no right to transfer ownership.

It’s likely not relevant here. There’s no allegation that anyone stole anything. The dealer may have breached a contract with Tesla, but whether Tesla can legally do anything to the new (actual) owner depends on that owner’s contracts with Telsa and/or the dealer.

Jeremy Lymansays:

Dealer Update

This is a little confusing to me because in the Service Invoice the concern says "now I have Autosteer only". That’s Autopilot. Sounds like just his Full-Self Driving upgrade was removed.

Also, what is the "it disappeared" in this statement from the used car dealer?

One day, a random message popped up saying your autopilot has been upgraded after a software update. Then it disappeared. I figured it was a glitch. I already had an agreement with Alec to purchase the vehicle.
He did come and test drive it a few days later, and we both agreed it was a technical difficulty or bug that would be fixed by next software update.

If "it" is FSD then they both knew the FSD wasn’t available, or at least something was wrong with it, when the dealer sold it.

Still strange that a package was removed after Tesla Auctioned it, but slightly less nefarious timing.

Samuel Abramsays:

Ownership > Tenancy

But all of this just highlights how the very concept of ownership is eroding

which is why I still (legally) download music files instead of streaming them. If you stream something, it can go away at the whim of the proprietor. Not so for files you own. Otherwise, it’s fraud, like the case in this TechDirt article.


Re: Ownership > Tenancy

If you stream something, it can go away at the whim of the proprietor. Not so for files you own.

Not always true. Sometime the companies reach onto your computer or device and delete things you’ve paid for. It’s happened with eBooks several times.

The only way to ensure it doesn’t happen is to backup your entire library onto media that the content company can’t reach.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Ownership > Tenancy

"Sometime the companies reach onto your computer or device and delete things you’ve paid for. It’s happened with eBooks several times."


The most convenient solution is, of course, to obtain your software through piracy instead of through the platform which allows the OEM to remove or block installed software you legally purchased.

"The only way to ensure it doesn’t happen is to backup your entire library onto media that the content company can’t reach."

Which is often difficult or impossible for the average consumer since the entire point of forcing customers to install through a platform is to ensure the vendor retains control over when the software can run or the media can be played back. And when you "fix" this what you are left with is the "pirate" version.

It’s shit like this which removes all moral quandary over patronizing filesharing sites rather than legitimate outlets.


Lemon law buy-back and subsequent sale

A key missing detail is that this vehicle was apparently a ‘lemon law’ buy-back.

That might change the analysis, both morally and legally.

For me it moves the transaction away from a ‘first sale’ doctrine limit, where the manufacturer has no control after an item is sold. In this case the original sale was effectively reversed by a requirement of a state law. This was a subsequent sale, where the original window sticker and invoice might not be relevant.


Re: Lemon law buy-back and subsequent sale

It might be a different type of sale, but it’s still a legal one, where the retailer sold a car with a list of features, some of which got deactivated after the sale. You might expect defects in such a sale, but this is a case where a feature was willfully deactivated after the purchase, not a defect that existed before.

This could have been relevant if one of these features not working was the cause of the buyback. This would then be documented somewhere (though maybe not actively disclaimed), and would predate the second sale. This might void the customer’s standing to sue, but that case above doesn’t seem to match these conditions.


This is total grounds for piracy or jailbreaking.

At the point that there’s no drawback for reducing a device’s utility after a detected second-sale, there’s no drawback for just bricking it.

This also just encourages piracy and jailbreaking, and conditions the ecosystem to better facilitate both.

(Then Elon Musk and John Deere hire ICE to crack down on illegal appliance software and the next thing you know you have a 100,000 word cyberpunk thriller with nods to Neil Stephenson.)


Re: Re: Re: This is total grounds for piracy or jailbreaking.

His story Unauthorized Bread is readable online, and deals with the idea of companies being able to remotely change certain "owned" objects.

"Things were good, until the appliances started to disobey her. ? ? Right up until that moment she?d felt like she had some intuitive sense of which things were objects-with-rules and which ones were objects-without-rules, felt it so readily that she hadn?t even named the two categories until just that instant. Now that she tried to come up with a rule to explain the difference between the two, she found she couldn?t."


Re: More hedge fund click-bait

VCR’s always came in basic and upgraded models for higher prices. The ‘upgrade’ was resident in the remote control, all tape players had these upgrades, accessible with the remote only.
Also, the factory in Japan would run a predicted number of units then get gutted & rebuilt for a newer product, thus unsold units would be heavily discounted….kind of like cars.
The dealer is lying, or Tesla. You Decide?


Not the whole story?

A follow-up I read said the FSD had been turned on as a demo (as previous posters mention). It would then be the dealer/seller’s responsibility to inform the buyer this feature was not "locked in", since that temporary nature of FSD is an attribute of the car they are selling. (And price it accordingly, since car dealers are honest) Also, at some times, FSD and AutoPilot are available as a free 30-day trial. AFAIK purchased options DO follow the car from owner to owner. The bummer is the options also (it follows) die with the car – people who bought FSD and totalled their vehicle must buy it all over again; better be sure your insurance covers this.


Cars as a service

Linus Tech Tips’ WAN show had an interesting discussion as cars as a service because of this, regarding features being attached to a user, not the car. Interesting discussion. Unfortunately, I can’t find which episode to link here.

But it seems to me that until that happens, the feature set should be locked at the time of original purchase. Even then, I can see giving endless software support troublesome. It’s one thing to stop giving updates to a navigation center, no one may die from that. It’s quite another to stop updating self driving features, I would think. An interesting first-world dilemma. With corporate fleets jumping onto this bandwagon, someone in charge (private or gov.) is going to have to regulate the do and don’ts very soon.


Re: Cars as a service

Buckminster Fuller would have approved cars as a service, as most drivers are using their cars almost within that mode.
A 1982 C600 21k GVW stakebed, a 1984 MB 190D, a 1989 12 passenger church van, a 2001 GMC van, all with less than 70k miles when bought below scrap price & all use this driveway. Bucky would approve such a long service life.
Fashion drives most car sales, buying the same car underneath over and over. My 1939 LaSalle had the same suspension as the 2001 GMC, GM’s "G" platform was produced from 1969 to 1988. Trade it all for a Tesla striped of all bells and whistles? You bet, it will probably be driving past 400,000 miles.


One reason to modify buying a car in the future. I’ve already seen it with features like LoJack which combine on-car hardware with a service you need a subscription for, but with this it looks like the same care needs to be applied across the board. When you buy a car other than brand-new from a dealer, you need to get a copy of the original dealer invoice showing exactly what was part of the car when first purchased and possibly original invoices for anything that’s been added since so that you have the paperwork to prove what features you own.


Mike, you used the example of Tesla reselling the same car, and charging extra to reenable a feature which is already had. There is a huge difference though.
When you buy something, you know what features you are getting. You have the decision to pay for what you are getting or not buy it.
If a dealer bought a used car with a tow hitch, and removed the tow hitch, then sold the car, and offered to install the tow hitch for an additional price, it is the buyers choice to pay extra for it or not.
The difference is when you buy a car with certain features, can those features be removed once you pay for it.

There is another more important issue, ala the Autodesk Autocad decision. when you purchase a used Tesla, do you have to agree to the terms of service/contract with Tesla?
1) I buy a used Tesla from my friend. At that moment, Tesla is not a party to the contract. I have not agreed to any of Tesla’s terms. When I start the car, and start driving, is there a shrink-wrap type warranty or contract that I am required to agree to prior to actually driving the vehicle? Is there any notice that by driving it, I am agreeing to privity with Tesla?
2) When I buy a Tesla from Tesla, is there any terms that I must agree to which limits my ability to sell to a 3rd party? Must I agree to require the new owner to agree to the any terms or assign the contract to them?

Jeremy Lymansays:


To own a Tesla, you create a Tesla Account which allows you to manage your car, keys, and payment options. Creating that account accepts the Customer Privacy Policy and Supercharger Fair Use Policy.

I guess you could just take the card from the previous owner and not make an account. But then he’d have owner access on your car, which includes remote unlock, start, windows, etc.


Re: Re:

To own a Tesla, you create a Tesla Account

One seriously can’t buy a (Tesla) car without creating an online account? What happens if the terms change to something that the customer is no longer willing to accept? I suppose they just have to hope the new agreement doesn’t ban resale. It all sounds very dystopian.


The dystopia of corporate-to-customer GFYs

During the early aughts I ran up a bit of debt (as my lenders were eager to have me do), but with careful management / reckless wheeling and dealing I was able to get all of my debt onto a couple of low interest consolidated loans. (I assume. is a 3.0 APR low?) I was paying my monthly and all was relatively well.

Then the subprime mortgage crisis happened. And the economy tanked.

Suddenly all of my creditors decided it just wasn’t right that I taking my time paying my monthly minimums while they were only making three percent. And arbitrarily (because they could and I couldn’t stop them) they altered the contract and raised my APR to 12. Just because. What was I going to do? Borrow more money to hire a lawyer?

So yes, big companies routinely alter contracts with their customers which they have to except or get stuck in dire straits, especially if they depend on the service being rendered.

So yeah, Tesla could choose to brick their cars the way Microsoft bricks XBox Ones or Apple bricks iPhones. And there’s nothing for it.

Welcome to the new neofeudal order.

Tanner Andrewssays:

Re: The dystopia of corporate-to-customer GFYs

they altered the contract and raised my APR to 12. Just because

It strikes me as more likely that the agreements were similar to the common types of credit card agreements I have seen.

In one type, the bank may change the rates because they are keyed to something, and not always something scrutible. This is nasty, but in theory you are sort-of warned in advance.

The other type is where they may send you a new set of terms and conditions, and you "accept" by (their choice of) using the card, not objecting, being out of town when it arrives, not cutting it in two and sending it back, or not checking their website often enough. This is nasty.

Fair warning: some agreements contain arbitration provisions, which are also nasty and contain either no or very short opt-out periods. And you cannot properly quote the term "accept" because this silly markdown stuff mungs quotes.


But all of this just highlights how the very concept of ownership is eroding in a world where everything can be software updated automatically. While this has some potentially cool side effects (improvements on the fly!), it can also be used to remove features you paid for, without any obvious recourse. That should concern everyone.

Sadly, nobody in the general population seems to care.


distracting flim-flam

Of the 18,000 new car dealerships in the US, 80 are Tesla. Will the car drive that far?
The whore, the whore; this pearl-clutching click-bait news event has no comparison to the gutting of democracy that millions of accursed voters were stuck with yesterday;
Los Angeles County’s New, Better all-WiFi, all tablet, all touch-screen, a 16 inch screen, one candidate per page in 26 pica!
All in one place voting abortion. I just spent from 4pm Monday, when i received a desperate robocall from Mr Dean Logan for a thousand people to help, until 11:30 PST Tuesday.
I gave impromptu lectures to 100 voters at a time on the sidewalk from 7AM to 9PM on the joys of the NEW voting experience, should they survive in time to enter the New, Larger, all-web-based voting precinct. Dean blamed the WWW today……
Machine read a pencil & paper ballot? how 1950’s Kitsch.

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