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.