Saturday, April 1, 2017

US farmers hacking John Deere tractors to repair them

US farmers are using Ukrainian firmware to get around what they consider a restrictive software licencing agreement that they were required to sign.

Rather than rely on and wait for authorized company representatives to make expensive phone calls, some tractor owners are calling local "technicians" who are allegedly using hacked firmware that was bought from Ukrainian sources to make the repairs.
Danny Kluthe a Nebraska hog farmer said that the issues with the John Deere license were time and money saying:to state legislators: “When crunch time comes and we break down, chances are we don’t have time to wait for a dealership employee to show up and fix it. Most all the new equipment [requires] a download [to fix].” Kevin Kenney another Nebraska farmer said: “If a farmer bought the tractor, he should be able to do whatever he wants with it. You want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic — he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can’t drive out of the shop. Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorize the part.” This is where the cracked Ukrainian John Deere software comes into play. Both farmers are advocating right-to-repair legislation in Nebraska. This legislation would invalidate the John Deere software agreement. There are similar bills being considered in seven other states.
The company said there was no problem with customers doing their own repairs:“When a customer buys John Deere equipment, he or she owns the equipment. As the owner, he or she has the ability to maintain and repair the equipment. The customer also has the ability through operator and service manuals and other resources to enable operational, maintenance, service and diagnostics activities to repair and maintain equipment. Software modifications increase the risk that equipment will not function as designed. As a result, allowing unqualified individuals to modify equipment software can endanger machine performance, in addition to Deere customers, dealers and others, resulting in equipment that no longer complies with industry and safety/environmental regulations.”
However, Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of Repair.org a Nebraska trade organization that favors the right-to repair legislation said: “Some of our members have repeatedly attempted to buy the diagnostics that are referenced [from John Deere] and been rebuffed.” John Deere, not surprisingly is a staunch opponent of the right-to-repair legislation.
Motherboard has an extensive article on the issue. One farmer and repair mechanic in Nebraska who uses the cracked software said:"There's software out there a guy can get his hands on if he looks for it,I'm not a big business or anything, but let's say you've got a guy here who has a tractor and something goes wrong with it—the nearest dealership is 40 miles away, but you've got me or a diesel shop a mile away. The only way we can fix things is illegally, which is what's holding back free enterprise more than anything and hampers a farmer's ability to get stuff done, too."
Interestingly, the John Deere license does not allow farmers to sue for "crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment...arising from the performance or non-performance of the software" according to a Cnet article. Right-to-repair legislation would force manufacturers to allow independent repair shops and consumers access to the tools required to work on their tractors and this would include not just tractors but also phones or even a car. The same sorts of problem arises with the repair of cars with GM, for example, insisting that it owns the software in vehicles even if you own the car. You simply license the software. Companies are forcing those who buy their products to get them repaired by them often with huge profits being made and with what is in effect a monopoly over repairs. Apple is also an opponent of the legislation as they do not want just anyone to be able to get the tools to repair their electronic equipment.


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