Pluralistic: Tesla's Dieselgate (28 July 2023)

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A scene out of an 11th century tome on demon-summoning called 'Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros. Anno 1057. Noli me tangere.' It depicts a demon tormenting two unlucky would-be demon-summoners who have dug up a grave in a graveyard. One summoner is held aloft by his hair, screaming; the other screams from inside the grave he is digging up. The scene has been altered to remove the demon's prominent, urinating penis, to add in a Tesla supercharger, and a red Tesla Model S nosing into the scene.

Tesla's Dieselgate (permalink)

Elon Musk lies a lot. He lies about being a "utopian socialist." He lies about being a "free speech absolutist." He lies about which companies he founded:

He lies about being the "chief engineer" of those companies:

He lies about really stupid stuff, like claiming that comsats that share the same spectrum will deliver steady broadband speeds as they add more users who each get a narrower slice of that spectrum:

The fundamental laws of physics don't care about this bullshit, but people do. The comsat lie convinced a bunch of people that pulling fiber to all our homes is literally impossible – as though the electrical and phone lines that come to our homes now were installed by an ancient, lost civilization. Pulling new cabling isn't a mysterious art, like embalming pharaohs. We do it all the time. One of the poorest places in America installed universal fiber with a mule named "Ole Bub":

Previous tech barons had "reality distortion fields," but Musk just blithely contradicts himself and pretends he isn't doing so, like a budget Steve Jobs. There's an entire site devoted to cataloging Musk's public lies:

But while Musk lacks the charm of earlier Silicon Valley grifters, he's much better than they ever were at running a long con. For years, he's been promising "full self driving…next year."

He's hasn't delivered, but he keeps claiming he has, making Teslas some of the deadliest cars on the road:

Tesla is a giant shell-game masquerading as a car company. The important thing about Tesla isn't its cars, it's Tesla's business arrangement, the Tesla-Financial Complex:

Once you start unpacking Tesla's balance sheets, you start to realize how much the company depends on government subsidies and tax-breaks, combined with selling carbon credits that make huge, planet-destroying SUVs possible, under the pretense that this is somehow good for the environment:

But even with all those financial shenanigans, Tesla's got an absurdly high valuation, soaring at times to 1600x its profitability:

That valuation represents a bet on Tesla's ability to extract ever-higher rents from its customers. Take Tesla's batteries: you pay for the battery when you buy your car, but you don't own that battery. You have to rent the right to use its full capacity, with Tesla reserving the right to reduce how far you go on a charge based on your willingness to pay:

That's just one of the many rent-a-features that Tesla drivers have to shell out for. You don't own your car at all: when you sell it as a used vehicle, Tesla strips out these features you paid for and makes the next driver pay again, reducing the value of your used car and transfering it to Tesla's shareholders:

To maintain this rent-extraction racket, Tesla uses DRM that makes it a felony to alter your own car's software without Tesla's permission. This is the root of all autoenshittification:

This is technofeudalism. Whereas capitalists seek profits (income from selling things), feudalists seek rents (income from owning the things other people use). If Tesla were a capitalist enterprise, then entrepreneurs could enter the market and sell mods that let you unlock the functionality in your own car:

But because Tesla is a feudal enterprise, capitalists must first secure permission from the lord, Elon Musk, who decides which companies are allowed to compete with him, and how.

Once a company owns the right to decide which software you can run, there's no limit to the ways it can extract rent from you. Blocking you from changing your device's software lets a company run overt scams on you. For example, they can block you from getting your car independently repaired with third-party parts.

But they can also screw you in sneaky ways. Once a device has DRM on it, Section 1201 of the DMCA makes it a felony to bypass that DRM, even for legitimate purposes. That means that your DRM-locked device can spy on you, and because no one is allowed to explore how that surveillance works, the manufacturer can be incredibly sloppy with all the personal info they gather:

All kinds of hidden anti-features can lurk in your DRM-locked car, protected from discovery, analysis and criticism by the illegality of bypassing the DRM. For example, Teslas have a hidden feature that lets them lock out their owners and summon a repo man to drive them away if you have a dispute about a late payment:

DRM is a gun on the mantlepiece in Act I, and by Act III, it goes off, revealing some kind of ugly and often dangerous scam. Remember Dieselgate? Volkswagen created a line of demon-haunted cars: if they thought they were being scrutinized (by regulators measuring their emissions), they switched into a mode that traded performance for low emissions. But when they believed themselves to be unobserved, they reversed this, emitting deadly levels of NOX but delivering superior mileage.

The conversion of the VW diesel fleet into mobile gas-chambers wouldn't have been possible without DRM. DRM adds a layer of serious criminal jeopardy to anyone attempting to reverse-engineer and study any device, from a phone to a car. DRM let Apple claim to be a champion of its users' privacy even as it spied on them from asshole to appetite:

Now, Tesla is having its own Dieselgate scandal. A stunning investigation by Steve Stecklow and Norihiko Shirouzu for Reuters reveals how Tesla was able to create its own demon-haunted car, which systematically deceived drivers about its driving range, and the increasingly desperate measures the company turned to as customers discovered the ruse:

The root of the deception is very simple: Tesla mis-sells its cars by falsely claiming ranges that those cars can't attain. Every person who ever bought a Tesla was defrauded.

But this fraud would be easy to detect. If you bought a Tesla rated for 353 miles on a charge, but the dashboard range predictor told you that your fully charged car could only go 150 miles, you'd immediately figure something was up. So your Tesla tells another lie: the range predictor tells you that you can go 353 miles.

But again, if the car continued to tell you it has 203 miles of range when it was about to run out of charge, you'd figure something was up pretty quick – like, the first time your car ran out of battery while the dashboard cheerily informed you that you had 203 miles of range left.

So Teslas tell a third lie: when the battery charge reached about 50%, the fake range is replaced with the real one. That way, drivers aren't getting mass-stranded by the roadside, and the scam can continue.

But there's a new problem: drivers whose cars are rated for 353 miles but can't go anything like that far on a full charge naturally assume that something is wrong with their cars, so they start calling Tesla service and asking to have the car checked over.

This creates a problem for Tesla: those service calls can cost the company $1,000, and of course, there's nothing wrong with the car. It's performing exactly as designed. So Tesla created its boldest fraud yet: a boiler-room full of anti-salespeople charged with convincing people that their cars weren't broken.

This new unit – the "diversion team" – was headquartered in a Nevada satellite office, which was equipped with a metal xylophone that would be rung in triumph every time a Tesla owner was successfully conned into thinking that their car wasn't defrauding them.

When a Tesla owner called this boiler room, the diverter would run remote diagnostics on their car, then pronounce it fine, and chide the driver for having energy-hungry driving habits (shades of Steve Jobs's "You're holding it wrong"):

The drivers who called the Diversion Team weren't just lied to, they were also punished. The Tesla app was silently altered so that anyone who filed a complaint about their car's range was no longer able to book a service appointment for any reason. If their car malfunctioned, they'd have to request a callback, which could take several days.

Meanwhile, the diverters on the diversion team were instructed not to inform drivers if the remote diagnostics they performed detected any other defects in the cars.

The diversion team had a 750 complaint/week quota: to juke this stat, diverters would close the case for any driver who failed to answer the phone when they were eventually called back. The center received 2,000+ calls every week. Diverters were ordered to keep calls to five minutes or less.

Eventually, diverters were ordered to cease performing any remote diagnostics on drivers' cars: a source told Reuters that "Thousands of customers were told there is nothing wrong with their car" without any diagnostics being performed.

Predicting EV range is an inexact science as many factors can affect battery life, notably whether a journey is uphill or downhill. Every EV automaker has to come up with a figure that represents some kind of best guess under a mix of conditions. But while other manufacturers err on the side of caution, Tesla has the most inaccurate mileage estimates in the industry, double the industry average.

Other countries' regulators have taken note. In Korea, Tesla was fined millions and Elon Musk was personally required to state that he had deceived Tesla buyers. The Korean regulator found that the true range of Teslas under normal winter conditions was less than half of the claimed range.

Now, many companies have been run by malignant narcissists who lied compulsively – think of Thomas Edison, archnemesis of Nikola Tesla himself. The difference here isn't merely that Musk is a deeply unfit monster of a human being – but rather, that DRM allows him to defraud his customers behind a state-enforced opaque veil. The digital computers at the heart of a Tesla aren't just demons haunting the car, changing its performance based on whether it believes it is being observed – they also allow Musk to invoke the power of the US government to felonize anyone who tries to peer into the black box where he commits his frauds.

(Image: Steve Jurvetson, CC BY 2.0, modified)

Hey look at this (permalink)

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Washington Post embarasses itself with wifi FUD

#15yrsago Super Man and the Bugout reading: what if Superman had been a nice Jewish boy from Toronto

#15yrsago Law prof and cop agree: never ever ever ever ever ever ever talk to the cops about a crime, even if you’re innocent

#15yrsago Canadian band staples CC-licensed CDs to phone-poles with anti-Canadian-DMCA messages

#15yrsago UK tech-czar’s ridiculous, fatuous podcast interview — hilarious gag interview

#15yrsago Uni of Nottingham: Grad students researching terrorism aren’t allowed to look at terrorist documents on US anti-terror gov’t sites

#10yrsago Researcher wins NSA cyber-security prize, says freedom is incompatible with the NSA “in its current form”

#10yrsago Bank forecloses on wrong house, changes locks, steals tons of stuff, won’t compensate owner in full

#10yrsago Canadian Tories distribute fake Braille flyers about disabled initiative

#10yrsago At VW’s request, English court censors Usenix Security presentation on keyless entry systems for luxury cars

#10yrsago Bribery: pro-NSA Congressional voters got twice the defense industry campaign contributions

#10yrsago NSA college recruiting ad, 1976

#10yrsago NV court marshal sexually assaults woman, then arrests her for complaining while judge looks on

#10yrsago Zero tolerance schools and cops: kids are not perps

#10yrsago Notes from the ducking stool: wget as evidence of guilt at the Manning trial

#10yrsago Who is America at war with? Sorry, that’s classified

#5yrsago Disneyland will raise park employees’ minimum wage to $15

#5yrsago Ghanaian parliament erupts into giggles as MPs learn about towns called “Vagina is Wise,” “Penis is a Fool” and “Testicles are Sad”

#5yrsago The future of “fake news”: Pepsi gets Facebook to censor jokes about plastic in its Kurkure corn puffs

#5yrsago Universal basic income vs jobs guarantees: which one will make us happier?

#5yrsago The housing market in America’s most expensive cities is imploding

#5yrsago Voice assistants suck, but they suck worse if you have an “accent”

#5yrsago The ACLU showed that Amazon’s facial recognition system thinks members of Congress are felons, so now Congress is taking action

#5yrsago Four Thieves Vinegar Collective: DIY epipens were just the start, now it’s home bioreactors to thwart Big Pharma’s price-gouging

#5yrsago Android’s keyboard will no longer autocomplete “sit” with “on my face” thanks to me

#5yrsago The Russian equivalent to Alexa is a “good girl” but not too friendly, and is totally OK with wife-beating

#5yrsago Calgary malls caught secretly using facial recognition to characterise shoppers’ age and gender

#5yrsago The Cyberdeck: a homebrew, 3D printed cyberspace deck

#5yrsago Trumpian Ontario premier Doug Ford will gut Toronto’s city council to punish his Tory rivals

#5yrsago James Comey: A freak of nature with the power to cloud liberals’ minds

#1yrago Peter Thiel's evil, but he's not an "evil genius": How to criticize self-mythologizing villains

#1yrago Your computer is tormented by a wicked god: Bootkits are why we can't have nice things

#1yrago Dashcam repo: Cruising the streets with a license plate camera to win debt-collector bounties

#1yrago "War Against All Puerto Ricans"

Colophon (permalink)

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