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You are here: Home Bulletins 2012 spring The right to repair

The right to repair

by Libby Reinish Contributions Published on Oct 12, 2012 04:02 PM

by Alison Chaiken, she-devel.com

Familiar battles over privacy, security and (alas!) DRM will pop-up next in the automotive space. To date, software innovation in the automotive arena has been slow due to conservatism motivated by over-riding safety concerns plus the high expense and long lifecycle of products. Now the advent of wireless connectivity in vehicles has dragged them into the 21st century, where standards such as 1991's Controller Area Network 2.0 bus protocol are showing their age. The CAN protocol has little security, as befits a hardwired network optimized for robustness and low cost that is accessed only by trusted individuals. Wireless exploits against CAN by an academic collaboration show the urgent need for the adoption of best practices exemplified by the Internet Protocol. Unfortunately, calls instead for security-by-obscurity in vehicles are already being voiced.

The Right to Repair movement is an example of a new natural ally for free software. Right to Repair "would require automakers to provide the same service information and tools to independent auto and maintenance shops, as well as to consumers, that the automaker dealership service centers receive." In Massachusetts, the State Senate has approved the bill although the auto industry "worries that the proposed legislation threatens intellectual property (sic) rights, and could compromise online security of the data, putting consumers at risk." The advent of issues like Right to Repair presents free software with the opportunity to address the concerns of a new audience of stakeholders like auto mechanics whose level of interest in traditional desktop software may be low.

In April, Jason Wacha of MontaVista Software and Claus-Peter Wiedemann of Bearing Point gave an important presentation called "Motivations and Challenges for the Use of FOSS in the Automotive Industry" at the FSF-Europe Free Software Legal and Licensing Workshop. The authors argue that the GPLv3 "Requirement to deliver certificates/keys which normally protect car infrastructure from being tampered with" prevents use of GPLv3 in vehicles since it "has no exception for safety-critical operations." The controversy of Secure Boot vs Restricted Boot on new consumer electronic devices is pertinent, as is the discussion initiated by Karen Sandler of the GNOME Foundation about how to manage source code for safety-critical devices.

The Defective by Design campaign in its 2011 "Holiday Buying Guide" called out the problems with the MyFord Touch software created by Microsoft. Now with the shipment of the Chevy Volt and three new models running the "Cadillac User Experience," buyers have the opportunity to purchase a car that is still locked, but at least is running a lot of familiar software underneath, like the kernel Linux and the X11 client-server. General Motors' website now features a corresponding Offer of Source. Ford Motor Company, meanwhile, is backing the OpenXC Platform which "runs on a combination of the Arduino and Android platforms," meaning support not only for free software, but free hardware designs. Internationally, the 160+-member GENIVI Alliance is trying to get wide-spread adoption of an In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) free software development platform. Here 'infotainment' (a somewhat outdated term) refers to applications like driver-drowsiness detection and instrument-cluster software as well as the more traditional navigation and music programs.

Government regulatory bodies are growing interested in the safety implications of new vehicular software. Notably, the US National Highway Transportation Safety Agency has advocated mandatory Event Data Recorders; that raise obvious privacy concerns; has proposed an in-vehicle mobile-phone ban that would limit device use models; and considered mandatory backup cameras that would show video within two seconds of power-on, which is a real challenge for underlying operating systems.

Both opportunity and peril for free software abound in the rapidly evolving automotive sector. By listening carefully, with open minds, to the very real safety and security concerns of sympathetic parties within the industry, advocates can engage new allies and have a positive impact on the environmentally and economically critical transportation sector.

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