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Buyer Beware: A Look at how Ownership has Changed in Modern Times

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The late Mitch Hedberg once joked about the process of buying a donut.

“I bought a donut, and they gave me a receipt for the donut. I don’t need a receipt for a donut. I’ll just give you the money, you give me the donut. End of transaction.”

That process isn’t so simple anymore. Today we have things like mobile apps, loyalty cards, and advanced buying to contend with, and that’s just for a donut. Don’t get me started on what it takes to buy a coffee these days. The good news is, once a transaction is complete there is no debating a simple truth. You own both of those items.

Unfortunately, if you add technology or software into the purchasing process everything gets thrown for a loop. The iTunes agreement, for example, is 20,000 words long. If you’re counting at home, and I am, that makes it longer than Macbeth by William Shakespeare. According to the browser plugin “Terms of Service, Didn’t Read,” AKA TOSDR, a service that can boil down a book’s worth of copy into snackable points that users can actually understand, “I have read and agree to the Terms is the biggest lie on the web.”

The long and the short of it? Usually you don’t own what you buy. You’re leasing it. It puts a lot of limitations on what you can and cannot do with your own products today. This was a major point of conversation at SXSW, and was discussed in detail during the Internet of Things you Don’t Own panel.

“In the past, when we’ve purchased a book, we could do whatever we wanted with it. We could read it. We could loan it to a friend. We could even sell it back to a second hand store. If you were to buy a digital version of the same book, you aren’t legally allowed to do that.”

The control companies have over their consumers goes even beyond that. Apple’s iCloud has the ability to delete your files at any time without notice. YouTube is able to keep your videos even after you delete them. At one point, Keurig coffee makers could recognize when you attempted to use a non Keurig coffee and refuse to make it. There are even some cars that can recognize the speed limit signs and force you to comply. It begs the question. Do we own our products or do they own us?

“If you can’t speed in your car, you don’t own it.”

That was just one of the many points made during SXSW. From an “own versus lease” standpoint, John Deere is known in the community as being one of the biggest offenders.

“Today a new tractor from John Deere includes a dozen computer controlled based components to make it work.”  

Wired magazine did a long tail piece on the topic of both John Deere and General Motors. According to them, “It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it.”

“In a particularly spectacular display of corporate delusion, 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.”

That’s a strong opinion, but it’s one that matches up with many issues farmers across the country have faced. There have been many documented issues of crop growers being unable to plant or harvest because machines they pay money for aren’t working as intended.

“Kerry Adams, a family farmer in Santa Maria, California, recently bought two transplanter machines for north of $100,000 apiece. They broke down soon afterward, and he had to fly a factory technician out to fix them.

“Because manufacturers have copyrighted the service manuals, local mechanics can’t fix modern equipment. And today’s equipment — packed with sensors and electronics — is too complex to repair without them. That’s a problem for farmers, who can’t afford to pay the dealer’s high maintenance fees for fickle equipment.”

Eventually he gave up on trying to fix them because the cost was too high. Now he has two six figure machines he can’t use that are taking up space on his farm. While this topic has concerned those on this side of the debate, there are those on that stand on its opposite. One SXSW attendee, a software writer, presented an alternate point of view.

“It amazes me that people are losing sleep over this. I have nightmares from the other direction.”

He then discussed how a tiny, seemingly insignificant change in a bit of code could conceivably cause an entire device to not only fail, but fail dangerously. By opening the source and granting access to everyone, even those who aren’t trained could manipulate how a device works. What happens if the deletion of a single piece of script causes a phone to explode on an airplane? It wouldn’t be the first time a device suffered such failure on an airline.

Still, humans have tinkered with things they’ve owned throughout time, and mechanical changes always posed risks as well. Why should this be any different? A thoughtful question at a time when the buying process is under such scrutiny.

With DicksonOne, not only do you own your devices but you also own your data, even though the software is provided as a service. Our touchscreen models can even be used as standalone data loggers without added software or with our desktop software DicksonWare. DicksonWare is a one time purchase as opposed to a monthly fee, though the feature set differs.

As a company, our goal is to work with every customer to provide the solution that best works for them. Whether that include installation, mapping, validation, purchase or troubleshooting, that means that no transaction ever has a true end date. When every point matters you have to be there for your customers no matter the transaction; no receipt required.

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