Farmers in Canada are also reduced to secretly fixing their tractors, thanks to DRM


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/03/28/harry-tuttle-vs-big-tractor.html


#2

Interesting story but I’m not sure I buy it. I certainly think the dealer should be entitled to extra money to unlock advanced features. I would also be surprised if the dealer has to come down to replace a spark plug. I work with a part time farmer and he has never had trouble with his JD tractor that required the dealer to fix with a laptop.

Maybe there is a situation where the manufacturer has overstepped but it feels like sensationalizing this doesn’t really help. I would be interested to know more details of exactly what went wrong with the tractor that it became unusable.


#3

Why would you believe that ? What has the dealer done to earn it ?


#4

FTFA:

And to your second point, FAFA:

[quote]And the little computer screen lets him know when something is wrong. Unfortunately, Alford isn’t allowed to fix it. John Deere has a digital lock on the software that runs his tractor. And it won’t give him the key.

If something goes wrong with one of his tractors Alford has to take it to an authorized John Deere dealer — the closest one is about 40 miles away — or a John Deere rep has to come visit him. Alford had an issue about a year ago; the tractor belts were loose. He waited a day for the John Deere rep.

“The tech came out and it took him a couple hours to diagnose that there was one small sensor out. And that one small sensor, I think it was a $120 part.”[/quote]


#5

I appreciate the additional link. I think it’s totally fair to be angry that you can’t diagnose trouble with your equipment or be able to replace parts yourself - this just wasn’t well explained in the original story. This information about what the problem was makes the farmer more sympathetic to me.


#6

No problem, it’s fair to be critical. I hope I did not come off too harsh. It gets to be a sore point, because it feels like we encounter the same arguments over, and over, and over again, as the principle issue gets worse at every iteration.


#7

Where did you see the mention of ‘advanced features’?

Selling a single hardware model; with various levels of software feature unlock, is certainly a common enough business model(virtually ubiquitous with ‘enterprise’ network appliances of various sorts); and I’m definitely more sympathetic to the idea that “just because we sell software via unlock codes for our firewall widget/logic analyzer/whatever, not in boxes, we should still be able to sell software” than I am to the “You’ll pay what we tell you for the privilege of having us re-bless your hardware if any of the tamper switches trip, suck it up and like it”; but I didn’t see any mention of there being advanced features, not included in the original purchase, that the farmer was cracking access to; just a need for dealer-only ‘diagnostic’ stuff if you so much as looked at the hardware funny.

Some unpleasant experiences with firmware unlock keys certainly haven’t endeared them to me; but (while I prefer to OSS it where I can), I can’t take the ‘well; but the software was burned into flash, not loaded from a CD I bought in a box, so it should be free!’ argument too seriously); but the idea that you need gear re-blessed by the vendor every time you touch it is just plain noxious. If Farmer MacGuyver is doing something that brutalizes emissions regulations or the like, he may have to have a chat with the feds; but if he wants to have a go at doing it without dealer authorization, I can’t think of any justification for the dealer being involved.


#8

The “advanced features” were not mentioned in the article but I think it’s an important part of the discussion. I am not a tractor owner but I do know a few and you will pay extra for special stuff like connecting to your seed drill level etc. Basically you pay a premium to unlock labour / time saving features that are not necessary to operate the equipment at a basic level.

I have worked with many farmers over the years (pretty much every millwright I have worked with is/was one) and they all are very handy at fixing things quickly for cheap (to a fault). These are not the massive farmers with 10,000+ acres but more part time farmers who do it because they love it. These are also not the folks who generally operate brand new tractors. I don’t know but I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the really large producers have no problem with this at all because of the scale of their operations. I bet those customers value the “tractor-as-commodity” model that this seems geared towards.

I wonder how much of this hitting the popular consciousness now is due to these more sophisticated tractors finally trickling down to the “1 or 2 tractor” farmers whose business model requires them the be the Farmer MacGuyver you mention.


#9

I wouldn’t bother with the secrecy, because if I control where the equipment is, and how it communicates, then there is no actual evidence of infringement. Unless I publish dumps, decryptions, or patches under my own name. Better to be vocal about it and say “Damn straight I jailbreak my tractor, because y’all are greedy fuckwits, and there isn’t anything you can do to prove otherwise or punish me”.

In the age of corporate/government media lockdown, people would do well to remember that:


#10

One thing to mention, at least on the US side of the issue, is that nobody I know is being the least bit secretive about what we are doing. If they want to send someone to sort us out, we are pretty far from the paved roads, but our name is on the mailbox, and on top of the big gate. The most real pushback from Deere that we have gotten is them refusing to sell us parts. That just means getting someone else to order them for us.


#11

Do any combine harvesters have spark plugs? I am surprised.

That is just disgusting. Late stage capitalism indeed. (IBM used to do that with mainframes; just a jumper to “upgrade”. And look what happened to IBM.)

Edit - I understand the idea of coded spares to make life difficult for thieves, and a central database of keys to make farm hardware traceable. But there are ways of handling that. One would be to supply equipment with something like a Yubico key which can be plugged into a port when a spare is fitted, and which can be kept securely off the vehicle at other times. Heck, if a simple Mi Band can be designed so it can’t be linked to a phone until it has been unlinked from the previous one, it isn’t rocket science. But this idea of selling stuff deliberately crippled and then charging to restore functionality seems a step too far.


#12

The medical industry has actually made great strides in treating it over the last couple of decades, although there’s still no definitive cure given the closely intertwined interactions between various systemic and psychological factors.

Wait, I’m thinking of IBD. Never mind.


#13

Unsurprising that one of the comments on the article suggested that he do exactly that.


#14

I don’t really understand why this is a thing…like now. Is it because Ag people are more DIY fix your self types? I mean in 96 if I wanted to switch out a gauge cluster in my car with one that had a tach I had to take it to the dealership…that was 20 years ago.

Let’s be realistic in terms of what a large company like John Deere, Case, Caterpillar, ect… see in terms of a customer. If you are still operating a 20 year old piece of equipment you are not a “customer”. If you think all this high tech stuff is bullshit you are not a “customer”. To a large company customers are people who are buying new machines regularly, you can say that’s wrong of them, but it’s the reality of selling a product.

In terms of being able to service your own software…well talk to your federal government then. Do you think Deere wants to roll out a new emission tier every couple of years? Do you think they get hefty fines if they are not following exactly what government(s) mandate they do? Hell I’d love to be able to edit my ECU on my 200k mile daily driver…then maybe it wouldn’t bitch at me about some variance in O2 sensor reading. But that’s the pandora’s box you open when you let it all be free to do with as you please. The vast majority of people simply don’t care, nothing would seriously change and a few would abuse the shit out of it.

All this isn’t anything new or at least it hasn’t been for 20 years. At this point it’s the cost of doing business.


#15

I bet automobile execs have wet dreams about being able to force dealer repairs only, and when the Check Engine light comes on, shut the car down until a rep can come with a laptop to unlock it.

I’m sure that they’re thinking about it, and it gives them wood.


#16

Mercedes has a feature where when it decides you have an issue, it goes into “limp home” mode. The worst thing about it is that it will not shift beyond second gear. It cannot be reset with the usual OBD2 computer. But it is cheaper to buy a grey market Mercedes diagnostic computer than it would be to take it to the dealership to reset from limp mode. Which you need to do, even if you repair the actual fault yourself.
Then there is the extra key scam. If you have the time to take all of your proof of ownership and identity to the dealership, they will order a spare key for you, at a cost of something like $300.00. Then, when it finally shows up, they offer to program it for you, for another $200.00. Once again, it is cheaper to buy a grey or black market key programmer than it is to get the dealership to use theirs to set up your key.


#17

Can you imagine Scotty trying to keep a DRM Enterprise running?

Every time he made a patch, a cube ship of lawyers would show up.


#18

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