The great emissions-beating software scandal is still in full swing, with Volkswagen stating that eleven million of its vehicles have installed software that helps it beat environmental testing procedures in order to release as much as 40% more harmful emissions than the law allows. Now, Audi has admitted that 2.1 million of its cars have the same type of software installed, and other auto makers are expected to fess up with some actual numbers very soon. Sadly, news has also come out that not only was VW warned back in 2007 that they can’t do this–even though they clearly did–the EU was also told about this issue two years ago and yet did nothing.
While the political and financial sectors handle this slovenly man-made crisis, there’s a whole other branch of experts watching this unfold in order to see how the scandal changes the way we do business, and that’s individuals with a bent on consumer law and protection. To date, the owners of more than 13 million cars have been unwittingly polluting the environment beyond even the allowable harm that cars cause, and that doesn’t sit well with people charged with protecting consumers’ rights.
The result is a call for greater transparency in the way our goods and products are manufactured and in the way they run, which for some products will include understanding the code in the software that makes it work. If consumers are being honest with themselves, how many can truly say they know how their modern-era cars work, or what software powers their drop-in pod coffee maker that has DRM-encryption on its pods? Do most consumers know what drives the products currently available in the IoT space, or are they blindly using devices and gadgets that seemingly work on the sly?
According to an article for Network World, one of the main culprits isn’t even related to proprietary software or a desire to skirt the testing system, but instead has more to do with copyright concerns than how your smartphone can talk to your light bulb without anyone knowing. This veil of secrecy is typically more about making sure others don’t write similar code–and therefore produce competing products that are just as effective but cheaper now that programmers didn’t have to be paid write new code–than keeping consumers or government regulators in the dark.
Fortunately, if there is good to come from a software scandal that stands to cause serious, lasting harm to the planet, it’s that open-source software is looking better and better for the transparency it provides. In an age when consumers no longer make purchases blindly and don’t have the wherewithal to understand the mechanisms of their purchases, unsealing the vault surrounding so many manufactured goods stands to prevent this type of scandal in the future.