VW’s fraudulent software points to need for copylefted free software

Recently it was announced that Volkswagen had since at least 2009 “cheated to make nearly half a million diesel cars appear cleaner-burning than they are” (source, local copy of original article text, article as originally seen).

The US government has it in their power to negotiate terms here. They could choose to negotiate that VW release its car software under the GNU GPL version 3 or later and give VW owners a chance to inspect and improve the software themselves, rather than leave the tools for more fraud in the hands of known fraudsters. VW could also choose to release the software under the same terms without being pressured into doing this; this will help them rehabilitate the “broken trust of [their] customers and the public” VW CEO Martin Winterkorn referred to. In fact this will help give them a leg up above their competition in the short and long-term.

In normal use, the VW diesel cars burned fuel in a way that allowed far more pollutants to enter the air. When tested, the same car would burn fuel far more cleanly in order to pass environmental tests:

During normal driving situations, the controls are turned off, allowing the cars to spew as much as 40 times as much pollution as allowed under the Clean Air Act, the EPA said. Such pollutants are linked to a range of health problems, including asthma attacks, other respiratory diseases, and premature death.

This is obviously fraudulent but how many people were adversely affected or killed by VW’s choice?

“I don’t suppose we’ll never know how many people died—asthmatics, for example—because Volkswagen designed its ‘clean diesel’ vehicles—all 482,000 of them sold in the U.S. since 2009—to burn dirty except when they were being tested,” wrote UCLA public policy professor Mark Kleiman at The Reality-Based Community blog on Friday.

Situations like these point to the need for strongly copylefted free software—software users have permission to run, inspect, share, and modify—in all the computers they own, such as software licensed under the GNU General Public License. VW being caught is the exception and this is hardly surprising; proprietary software is often malware. This would naturally include software in their vehicles. It’s critical that derivative programs must convey the same freedoms to its users so the consumer protection of software freedom is carried on.

Copyleft—a means of protecting the freedoms of free software for derivative works—is why mere “open source” is inadequate to the task. Any call for “open source” would purposefully fail to distinguish between copyleft and non-copyleft licenses. The open source movement was built to be silent on software freedom. A non-copyleft license would allow proprietary derivatives. If VW owners get more proprietary software as a result of this, they might get more fraudulence when they’re in a bargaining position to demand and expect justice and fairness. All computer owners deserve software freedom to help them avoid fraud and make their software run safely all the time, not just when being inspected. And don’t buy into any proprietor-friendly excuses of VW’s hands being tied by upstream program providers or regulatory restrictions—people’s lives are at stake and it’s important to prioritize what people need to live safely, ethically, and not pollute their environment unnecessarily.

Update (2015-09-25): ExtremeTech.com reports that more information is coming to light which brings suspicion on more automakers—Audi, Porsche, BMW. It seems that comparable fraud and environmental damage are coming from BMW vehicles (“the BMW X3 2.0-liter diesel model spitting out 11 times more nitrogen oxide than the current level set by the European Union”). Basically, if your car has a computer in it, that computer probably runs on nonfree software. You, the car’s owner, deserve the right to run, inspect, share, and modify the software at any time for any reason. But only the proprietor does, hence the name “proprietary software”.

Related articles:

  • Wired magazine on a remotely-exploitable Jeep Cherokee as well as mention of exploits for Ford Escape and a Toyota Prius dating back to 2013, and word of a recall for the same Chrysler exploit and a lengthy list of vehicles with vulnerable software.
  • Tesla’s Model S software apparently allowed “shut[ting] the car down when it was driving“. Tesla claims to have fixed this in an “over-the-air update to Model S owners”, but without the ability to inspect the software only the untrustworthy proprietor can say what else the software allows (either pre- or post-“update”).
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF): Researchers Could Have Uncovered Volkswagen’s Emissions Cheat If Not Hindered by the DMCA. Fleeting exemptions to the DMCA are mostly a waste of time[1, 2] since they quickly render whatever is done under them unreproducible using the same methods the original researchers used under the exemption. One could even convincingly argue such exemptions were designed to discourage filing for exemptions, possibly with a long-term goal of changing the DMCA to remove exemptions if exemption applications prove sufficiently unpopular. But one exemption the EFF filed for was recently objected to by the EPA—an exemption that would let people tinker with their car’s software. It’s worth noting that “the EPA is asking the Copyright Office to leave copyright law in place as a barrier to a wide range of activities that are perfectly legal under environmental regulations: ecomodding that actually improves emissions and fuel economy, modification of vehicles for off-road racing, or activities that have nothing to do with pollution” and cars that predate computerization could be modded to not obey ecological regulation, but the US has a long history of being reacting to this by inspections and fines. So there’s no reason to stop computerized car owners from fully modifying the cars they own. And the EFF is right when it concludes, “When you entrust your health, safety, or privacy to a device, the law shouldn’t punish you for trying to understand how that device works and whether it is trustworthy.”.

Coca-Cola’s Fanta history is no “mistake”, corporations have propped up fascists for a long time

Sure, the following clip from the 2014-03-09 “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” was funny:

but this was no “mistake”, hardly “unintended”. Coca-Cola’s Fanta ad is the result of telling the truth about its ugly history. Furthermore, this ugliness is hardly new.

Corporations have long propped up governments that serve their interests including backing fascism. One of the best documentaries available, “The Corporation” reminds us:

See/download “The Corporation” in its entirety and get the 2-disc DVD which has lots of interview extras and commentary that are well worth your time.

What makes digital inclusion good or bad?

As Google and area projects aim to bring high-speed Internet access to more people through new networks, society should ask the question Richard Stallman poses in this talk: What makes digital inclusion good or bad?

Quoting the description provided by the Free Software Foundation’s Audio-Video archive:

Activities directed at “including” more people in the use of digital technology are predicated on the assumption that such inclusion is invariably a good thing. It appears so, when judged solely by immediate practical convenience. However, if we also judge in terms of human rights, whether digital inclusion is good or bad depends on what kind of digital world we are to be included in. If we wish to work towards digital inclusion as a goal, it behooves us to make sure it is the good kind.

Here’s a recording of a talk he gave on this subject on October 19, 2011 at Sciences Po in Paris, France. This recording is licensed under the CreativeCommons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 license.

More deep wisdom from Eben Moglen

Some years ago, I went to the Free Software Foundation’s annual member meeting. It was well worth the trip, but Eben Moglen’s talk was worth the price of admission.

I have become interested in his talks over the years, and I intend to bring them to a wider audience. Here’s one recent talk from the HOPE 2012 conference (and the transcript is available as welllocal copy). This recording is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Undercut the CRB, broadcast liberated music instead

One area of copyright licensing I’ve found a lot of copyright reports get wrong is music licensing. Consider this quote from techdirt.com’s “Senator Wyden Introduces Bill To Bring Some Sanity To Webcasting Royalty Rates“:

We were just talking about how incredibly broken the system is for establishing webcasting rates, in part because the law itself explicitly says that the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) Judges should look to prevent disruptive innovation and preserve “prevailing industry practices.” In practice this has meant that basic webcasting rates, established by CRB judges, are usually somewhat insane and impossibly out of touch with reality. It’s only gotten worse over time — and the last round ended up being so crazy that everyone basically agreed to ignore those rates and set their own. And while those rates were lower than what the judges wanted to set, they’re still ridiculously high, significantly limiting the amount of webcasting available today. Even the leaders in the field, like Pandora, admit that with current rates, it’s basically impossible for the company to ever make a profit.

You’d think that this statement covers all webcasting of all music; one just can’t set up their own broadcasting station and avoid paying for major label tracks.

techdirt.com’s reportage doesn’t explain organizations like Magnatune, a label which licenses all of their tracks to share, or Musopen which describes itself as “a non-profit dedicated to providing copyright free music content” (such as the Musopen lossless DVD). Every year there are more labels providing music in a variety of genres, all licensed to share in any medium.

The wealth of viable alternatives to major label tracks make me lose sympathy with those who want to become another corporate repeater station and complain about Copyright Royalty Board rates shutting them out. The time is now to establish something better that helps more artists struggling to be heard, artists who offer their work to you under amenable terms.

We know that this model works in the marketplace—Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) started in a comparable way, providing a repertoire of music for American radio stations to play under better terms than the competition from ASCAP, a competing royalty/licensing organization which had been around for 20 years. BMI undercut the competition from ASCAP at a time when ASCAP demanded “a fixed percentage of each station’s revenue, regardless of how much music the station played from ASCAP’s repertoire”.

Labor issues at Apple and Apple’s suppliers

This list was originally featured on another post.

If you needed a complete list of reasons why you shouldn’t do business with Apple, Richard Stallman tracks such reasons.

  • Apple’s Rotten Core mistreated workers from Apple’s own employees to the workers of upstream suppliers with “aggressive anti-union strategy”.
  • Blood on the Trackpads discusses Mike Daisey’s monologue “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” wherein Daisey poses as an investor, travels to the “Special Economic Zone” of Shenzhen, China, and gains access to Foxconn workers who are eager to share their stories. One story was about an “employee [who] mangled his hand in a factory accident and was fired instead of compensated” and another where “[s]everal workers speak of an employee who died after working a 32-hour shift”. Daisey had exaggerated some of the points in his stories. Sadly for human rights sake, not everything Daisey said was an exaggeration. It is telling that many Westerners are so concerned with Daisey’s exaggerations than with the suffering of Chinese laborers.
  • Three Strikes Against Apple about Apple’s response circa the time of the multiple Foxconn suicides of 2011.
  • On 2012-06-29, Democracy Now! reported

    A labor rights group says it has uncovered “deplorable” conditions at plants in China that supply products to tech company Apple. The New York-based group China Labor Watch says a four-month investigation of 10 Apple suppliers revealed widespread abuses, including harmful working conditions and excessive overtime. The report found conditions in factories that produce cases for Apple products appeared particularly bad, with workers being exposed to loud noise and toxic chemicals. While the uproar over Apple’s suppliers has focused largely on factories owned by the manufacturer Foxconn, the group said it found violations in virtually all of Apple’s suppliers and said some companies mistreated workers more severely than Foxconn.
    Democracy Now! 2012-06-29

    China Labor Watch‘s report is available in English in HTML or as a PDF (local copy), and in Chinese as a PDF (local copy). The press release for the report is also online. There is coverage of China Labor Watch’s report in the mainstream news (1, 2, 3).

  • Apple’s American Workforce and the Service Economy by Matt Vidal

    Last year [2011], the article (Local copy) reports, “each Apple store employee — that includes non-sales staff like technicians and people stocking shelves — brought in $473,000.” Yet, many of these employees are paid just $25,000 per year.
    Matt Vidal
    link to referenced article added

  • Richard Stallman’s reasons not to do business with Apple
  • Transcript of Democracy Now! episode where some of the discussion had to do with the human cost of Apple’s computers

    AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about specifics and also go general. Jim Steele, the story of corporations tell a very major story about the United States, corporations like Apple and Boeing. Apple doesn’t manufacture one product in the United States?

    JAMES STEELE: That’s correct. That’s correct. I think some of the parts—some of the parts are made here, but basically the essential products aren’t. And we made the point in the book [The Betrayal of the American Dream]—we actually wrote about this before a lot of the news surfaced this year—that what was significant about what Apple has done is not just their working conditions in China, which were horrendous by the subcontractors over there, but what they did, they completely closed down manufacturing in this country after really less than a generation. The historic pattern in this country was a product would be invented here, a company would go into business, they would start making it. Up and down the line, you had a broad-based workforce for that product, from folks on the factory floor to the designers, to the salesmen, so on, to the stockholders who might be part of that company. But ultimately, you had this broad-based situation. Apple originally had some manufacturing in this country but very quickly, in less than a generation, just closed that down and shipped most things to China and other countries. And it’s just part of that pattern where jobs that once middle-class people had in this country are now gone.

Another reason not to do business with any proprietor—you don’t really control your computer. On September 11, 2012 TorrentFreak reported that Apple called Craig Donnelly, developer of a program that lets users more conveniently control a proprietary file-sharing application, to tell him that Apple accidentally approved his program for distribution on their app store. This wasn’t surprising because Apple has a history of rejecting file-sharing programs for distribution from their app store. Apple told Donnelly that they would later pull Donnelly’s application. TorrentFreak predicts users who bought the application, “will soon have it wiped from their iOS devices.”.

The lack of control over which programs you can keep on your computer is one reason why I don’t recommend using proprietary programs at all: Apple’s mistaken approval of a program for their app store should have no effect on users who installed the application from that app store. Computer owners should control their computers and decide which apps stay installed.

Obama personally oversees “kill list”

By way of DemocracyNow.org’s headlines: (link to referenced article added; local copy)

The New York Times is reporting President Obama personally oversees a “kill list” containing the names and photos of individuals targeted for assassination in the secret U.S. drone war. According to the Times, Obama signs off on every targeted killing in Yemen and Somalia and the more complex or risky strikes in Pakistan. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon said, “He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go.” Obama is also said to personally approve every addition to the expanding “kill list.” Individuals on the list include U.S. citizens, as well teenage girls as young as 17 years old. The Times quotes former White House Chief of Staff William Daley about Obama’s decision to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, in Yemen. According to Daley, Obama called the decision to strike the U.S.-born cleric “an easy one.” Since April, the United States has carried out at least 14 drone strikes in Yemen and six in Pakistan. Over the weekend, a U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed at least five people.

How many more US citizens will Obama assassinate without due process? How many more will he kill because someone related to them said something uncomfortable?

How many more innocents will die in “signature strikes”? Marcy Wheeler of EmptyWheel.net in her recent Democracy Now! interview reminds us that a signature strike “means we’re shooting drones at people whose identity we don’t actually know. We’re shooting at them because they look like terrorists from the sky, because they seem to have certain levels of security. In other words, Brennan was not telling the full truth when he said that these are targeted killings. What they are, in fact, are not targeted. We don’t know who we’re shooting at.”.

Related reading:

How many times must one repeat a lie before it becomes the truth?

Chris Dodd, current spokesperson for the American movie lobbyist organization MPAA, has been caught lying about the American movie industry’s history. This is not the first time an MPAA spokesman tried to cover up an uncomfortable truth.

To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.Voltaire

Some years ago at Roger Ebert’s “Ebertfest” (formerly Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Movie festival) I reminded Dodd’s predecessor Jack Valenti (2 MPAA bosses before Dodd) of this history in the Pine Lounge at the Illini Union in Urbana, Illinois. Valenti lectured us on how horrible “piracy” is (really, copyright infringement, not killing people on boats).

I was first in line at the mic and said why Hollywood is where it is located now. I also pointed out a better way to seek license compliance: do this how the FSF does it — private talks first with reasonable offers aimed at seeking compliance not court dates, and public mentions for the non-compliant. This is an approach that doesn’t include jailing and threats of jailing, namecalling, pushing for laws that forgo civil liberties, or suing children. Others came to the mic and added more challenging points and questions for Valenti, pointing out how his perception of fair use didn’t match that of the courts or US law, and how his organization and its members are basically encouraging that which Valenti decries.

An Ebertfest later, I learned that we made quite an impression on Ebert. Ebert held another lecture in the Pine Lounge with a different lecturer. I knew someone who went to that lecture and he told me that Ebert introduced the speaker that year by warning the audience that some people gave some objectionable feedback to his previous guest. Ebert was reportedly unpleased by the audience response at the Valenti lecture.

Ebert might have merely been expressing that he knows what side his bread is buttered on, but Valenti was lying. The alleged harm unrestricted copying and distribution caused MPAA members was (and is) a myth — while he was giving that talk at any audience that would have him (I later saw Valenti on C-SPAN giving the same spiel to another audience at a California university) MPAA members were collectively making more money year after year. It turns out that MPAA member studios have been collectively setting profit records and the MPAA costs these studios more money than Americans cost them via illicit sharing with BitTorrent. No doubt, the “piracy” cry is merely a foot-in-the-door to help the MPAA pass anti-sharing laws that impinge on our civil liberties without effective debate. Any money spent on MPAA dues is merely the cost of doing business with the US Congress; this is what it takes to get control over the public via international trade agreements and laws like the DMCA, SOPA, and now CISPA.

Valenti would go on to call those who copied Hollywood’s movies terrorists when he said “We’re fighting our own terrorist war“, another inelegant bit of speech trying to conflate 12-year-olds copying a movie with those who kill people. Also, not likely to persuade the “terrorists” parents of his perspective. Not too surprisingly really, as this is the same man who told the US Congress on April 12, 1982, “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.”.