Online Updates to Your Car’s Operating System

The maker of electric cars Tesla has announced that it will be upgrading the computer systems in their cars over the air, i.e. by wireless connection built into the car. This will be a mandatory upgrade, no doubt to avoid liability if any defect being cured by the upgrade caused damage to someone who had not yet installed it.

Is this a problem, at least potentially? Are car owners going to run into digital rights management (DRM) and technical protection measure (TPM) problems? As one commentator asked, if Apple complains about Ford’s driver/car interface, will Ford have to remove features from your car that you have become used to? Will the terms of use of your car be ‘upgrade, or you can’t drive to work today’? Your electronic system could lock down the hood so you really can’t repair your car any more.

Will we need to amend the Copyright Act again (!) to avoid abuse of this kind of right, now that we can’t avoid technical protection measures?

Is there a risk of fake patches being sent out – a new form of malware that could drive you off the road?

I don’t suppose one would be able to amend the purchase contract when one buys a car, to avoid the operation of this process. One’s only protection may be to buy increasingly out-of-date cars (or rely on a bicycle…)


  1. Interesting article John. I like your point about mandatory upgrades. I use a PS3 (playstation) at home for all our family gaming and movie needs, and note that when Sony wants you to install a sofware update, that may take 20 minutes to download and install, the OS makes you do it on the spot, regardless of how useless the update is or how long it prevents you from watching the movie you are trying to load. Given this sort of corporate behavior, your conjecture about locking the hood may not be far off.