Pluralistic: VW wouldn't locate kidnapped child because his mother didn't pay for find-my-car subscription (28 Feb 2023)

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A blue vintage VW beetle speeds down a highway; a crying baby is pressed against the back driver's-side window. In the sky overhead is the red glaring eye of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, emblazoned with the VW logo. The eye is projecting a beam of red light that has enveloped the car.

VW wouldn't help find kidnapped child because his mother wasn't paying for find-my-car subscription (permalink)

The masked car-thieves who stole a Volkswagen SUV in Lake County, IL didn't know that there was a two-year-old child in the back seat – but that's no excuse. A violent car-theft has the potential to hurt or kill people, after all.

Likewise, the VW execs who decided to nonconsensually track the location of every driver and sell that data to shady brokers – but to deny car owners access to that data unless they paid for a "find my car" subscription – didn't foresee that their cheap, bumbling subcontractors would refuse the local sheriff's pleas to locate the car with the kidnapped toddler.

And yet, here we are. Like most (all?) major car makers, Volkswagen has filled its vehicles with surveillance gear, and has a hot side-hustle as a funnel for the data-brokerage industry.

After the masked man jumped out of a stolen BMW and leapt into the VW SUV to steal it, the child's mother – who had been occupied bringing her other child inside her home – tried to save her two year old, who was still in the back seat. The thief "battered" her and drove off. She called 911.

The local sheriff called Volkswagen and begged them to track the car. VW refused, citing the fact that the mother had not paid for the $150 find-my-car subscription after the free trial period expired. Eventually, VW relented and called back with the location data – but not until after the stolen car had been found and the child had been retrieved.

Now that this idiotic story is in the news, VW is appropriately contrite. An anonymous company spokesman blamed the incident on "a serious breach" of company policy and threw their subcontractor under the (micro)bus, blaming it on them.

This is truly the worst of all worlds: Volkswagen is a company that has internal capacity to build innovative IT systems. Once upon a time, they had the in-house tech talent to build the "cheat device" behind Dieselgate, the means by which they turned millions of diesel vehicles into rolling gas-chambers, emitting lethal quantities of NOX.

But on the other hand, VW doesn't have the internal capacity to operate Car-Net, it's unimaginatively-named, $150/year location surveillance system. That gets subbed out to a contractor who can't be relied on to locate a literal kidnapped child.

The IT adventures that car companies get up to give farce a bad name. Ferraris have "anti-tampering" kill-switches that immobilize cars if they suspect a third-party mechanic is working on them. When one of these tripped during a child-seat installation in an underground parking garage, the $500k car locked its transmission and refused to unlock it – and the car was so far underground that its cellular modem couldn't receive the unlock code, permanently stranding it:

BMW, meanwhile, is eagerly building out "innovations" like subscription steering-wheel heaters:

Big Car has loaded our rides up with so much surveillance gear that they were able to run scare ads opposing Massachusetts's Right to Repair ballot initiative, warning Bay Staters that if third parties could access the data in their cars, it would lead to their literal murders:

In short: the automotive sector has filled our cars with surveillance gear, but that data is only reliably available to commercial data-brokers and hackers who breach Big Cars' massive data repositories. Big Car has the IT capacity to fill our cars with cheat devices – but not the capacity to operate an efficient surveillance system to use in real emergencies. Big Car says that giving you control over your car will result in your murder – but when a child's life is on the line, they can't give you access to your own car's location.

(Image: Cryteria, CC BY 3.0; Upsilon Andromedae, CC BY 2.0; modified)

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Colophon (permalink)

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