What Are We Buying?

There was a piece this morning about how Samsung appears to be blocking Windows updates on its laptops. The folks over at The Next Web are reporting on a security researcher’s findings during his investigation of Samsung’s softwareupdater. That updater installs another app:

Automatic Updates 'Restart Required' in Window...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The app, conspicuously named Disable_Windowsupdate.exe, is installed automatically without the owner’s knowledge. According to a support representative, it’s there to stop the computer from automatically downloading drivers from Windows Update that could be incompatible with the system or cause features to break.

Unfortunately for Samsung it also appears to change the user’s update settings and disables Windows Update entirely. Once installed, the app even disables Windows Update after the user re-enables it.

As anyone who has ever owned a Windows computer knows, no updates means security risks and other issues.  Which raises a question – who owns the device?  When you buy a house, you’re free to make whatever changes you want – paint it, knock down a wall, or add on.  When you rent, your options are far fewer in number and you might not be allowed to make any structural changes at all.  In my mind, Samsung is behaving like a landlord – you’re a tenant, don’t change our building’s structure.

They’re not alone in this.  Think about your iPhone – your ability to make changes to the device are pretty limited.  Even Andriod phones carry bloatware from manufacturers and carriers that can’t be removed unless you void your warranty and gain root access.  As Wired reported John Deere—the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker —told the Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of modern tractors, farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

I’m sure you have other examples, but it raises the question of who owns what we buy?  At what point does the notion of ownership become outdated?  You might not realize it but you may not own your music, your electronic books, or even your car from a legal perspective.  So what are we buying?

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

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