Lying Cars, Cheating Printers

What if cars lied like printers?

All this began with cars that did not consume on the road what their manufacturer claimed they consumed on the test benches. Or was it before ? It all started with printers that were not printing any longer overnight. Or was it not rather a car booking application with driver that showed ghost cars on its screens?

Does that tell you anything? This reminds you of some stories but you may not see the link between cars, printers and booking applications? Let me explain that. The link is that your computer is lying to you. Sorry, computers are lying to us and today they are everywhere.

Computers are lying to us and today they are everywhere.

The cars that faked the emission test and their consumption was what we discovered some time ago and which was first called #Volkswagengate and then turned into #dieselgate because other manufacturers Automobiles also seemed to practice this kind of trickery. For those who have forgotten it, it started with a little too scrupulous journalists who were surprised that the theoretical consumption of certain models is so far from actual consumption. Many of us noticed that cars consumed more than what was written on the commercial brochures. Until now, the explanation we have been given is that the tests are standardized, that they reproduce only imperfectly the real conditions. They can therefore not be taken for cash, but they can be used to compare one model to another, all vehicles undergoing the same test. The word intruder in this sentence is « undergoing ». Indeed, some models do not undergo the test at all but are prepared, adapt and adapt very well. This is what these journalists ended up discovering, helped by an employee who had painful consciousness because the secret was well hidden deep inside the code, at the bottom of the software that controls the performance parameters of the car.

After the scandal and the search for guilty, what we forgot to tell us is that this software is not so strange, nor incongruous, it is even part of the normal package, which is not normal This is how far it has been pushed.

Let’s go back, we know that in all modern cars the ignition is controlled by an electronic device. If in the early days one could be satisfied with this term, it is now necessary to realize that it is indeed a computer that manages the ignition, therefore consumption and performance. Moreover, this computer on certain models will offer us a « sports » mode or an « economic » mode. The progress does not stop there, since by controlling and comparing the speed of the wheels, the computer will be able to detect that we are losing control of the car, which slips. He will then act on a number of parameters to help us restore the situation. Now let’s recall what happens on a test bench, the driving wheels are turning and the others are of course motionless, placed on the ground that does not advance. Therefore, by the anti-skid module ALL cars detect that they are passing a test. If the technician passing the test does not need or can not disable the anti-skid system, it means that the car is doing it for him. If it does this, why stop in such a good way, since it also knows how to propose a sports mode, an economic mode, it remains to implement the mode « anti pollution test ».

The point is not to frighten or accuse everyone, but just to show that once a computer controls a car, implementing this cheating system with pollution requires almost no effort . All rooms are available. In order not to have it, you have to be able to check what is under the hood. We will come back.

From zombie to ghost

After the zombie car, which operates without control of its driver, the ghost car. It is this time on the side of Uber that the spotlights are pointed. For a number of reasons, the screens in the Uber application showed their users a number of vehicles that did not exist, or hidden others that were there.

On the one hand, it was to discourage certain users and to encourage others. To discourage to call on a Uber driver, if the application had detected that this person was part of the forces of order or something of that kind. This is as easy as using the GPS position of his phone and checking that he or she spends his or her days in a building that houses the above-mentioned services. But this could go further, since with access to the user’s profile and a number of personal details that his phone could reveal, it becomes possible to know a lot about each client and discriminate some, Present them as some drivers or not at all. The other side of the cheating is that we also had to encourage customers by showing them more vehicles available than what is really available. This gives the feeling of having more choices, that it will be easy and fast to have a driver available when in reality this one is further or does not exist.

From ghost to brain death

From the ghost car, we now move to the diagnosed brain-dead printer

It is a relatively old and well known problem, although nothing has really been done to solve it. Some printers, after a few years of good and faithful services, refuse to print and instead display an error code. Everything finished one day by wear, it astonishes nobody and this usually results in the replacement of the thing. Indeed, the price of a new printer is often very reasonable for the basic models, some going to be cheaper than the pack of ink cartridges they contain. This is what should alert the consumer, he believes to buy a printer when in fact he subscribes to a regular replacement of his cartridges with a manufacturer, who seeks by all means to ensure the exclusivity of this market.

Several questions arise. The failure on the one hand and the ink cartridges on the other. First of all the famous breakdown, after consulting forums of very experienced users can prove to be a big lie. An internal counter keeps track of the number of pages printed and arrives at a preset limit, blocks the printer and declares it to be inoperative. Then just download a small program, which once run will reset this counter and the printer will start working again as on the first day. We then talk about scheduled obsolescence but the term is reductive and too kind with the fraudsters, it is indeed cheating that should be spoken. All mechanical devices carry a programmed obsolescence, because it is impossible to create a mechanical device that is not usable. So engineers make calculations of lifetime, wear and resistance that make it possible to estimate how long the device will be usable. The programmed obsolescence is more than a derivative of a calculation of lifetime or use, and it would be better to talk about scam at the lifespan. For ink cartridges we have the same problem of total lack of control by the user and transparency of operation. Some declare themselves empty while they still contain ink, again there is a program to unlock the device. Others are declared improper or cause malfunction because they have not been recognized as coming from the manufacturer. A nice way to get a monopoly, lock the use of consumables by code.

All liars

Cars lie, phones lie and printers too. Not in the same way at the moment but assuming that the cars are taken for printers.

Since the car has known since when it is rolling and how many kilometers it has traveled, it warns us that it is soon the moment of revision. But who tells us that it will not also break down after a few years? The cost of a car is not that of a printer and if the breakdown was too brutal it would put too much emphasis on the deceit. But it is possible to degrade its performance, gradually, so that it goes unnoticed and is attributed to normal wear and tear. It can also over-consume, pollute, have trouble starting and many other small problems that are all under the control of the computer that handles the ignition and other performance parameters of the vehicle.

Digital Trust

Faced with this, there is little we can do to restore confidence in the digital devices that are now part of our daily lives. You have to know how they are built. In time, private or public laboratories were in charge of awarding labels, such as Norme Française (NF) for France or now European to validate that the product went through a number of tests. This is no longer sufficient, because we have just seen that the product could adapt to the test and cheat. What we need is to know what « turns » in our computers, to be able to access its code and that experts can validate that this code respects the rules of the game. But we are still far …

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