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Cellular Repo Man 253

Posted by kdawson
from the new-low-for-crippleware dept.
LateNiteTV sends in news of a "kill pill" from LM Ericsson AB that a wireless carrier could use to remotely disable a subsidized netbook if the customer doesn't pay the monthly bill or cancels their credit card. "...the Swedish company that makes many of the modems that go into laptops announced Tuesday that its new modem will deal with [the nonpayment] issue by including a feature that's virtually a wireless repo man. If the carrier has the stomach to do so, it can send a signal that completely disables the computer, making it impossible to turn on. ... Laptop makers that use Ericsson modules include LG Electronics Inc., Dell Inc., Toshiba Corp., and Lenovo." The feature could also be used to lock thieves out of the data on a stolen laptop.
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Cellular Repo Man

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  • by DrMrLordX (559371) on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @07:00PM (#27409439)

    We have had several used car lots around here that will basically do the same thing: if you don't make your weekly or monthly payments, they send a signal to a device attached to the starter and the car won't start.

    At least with the car, eventually you pay it off so that little cloud is no longer hanging over your head unless some idiot at the lot mistakes you for being in non-payment and kills your starter. With one of these notebooks, you'll always have that threat looming that your notebook will shut down if someone steals your only CC and you have to cancel it or what not at the wrong time in the billing cycle.

    One would hope nobody involved would be so draconian but you never know.

  • by wed128 (722152) <> on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @07:00PM (#27409443)

    A theif could easily take out the hard drive and read it using another device, no? you are locking a theif out of a laptop, not the data within.

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @07:02PM (#27409477)
    Don't sell hardware by tying it to a subscription! You want to provide financing, fine. But stop trying to convince people that a $500 computer should be free, but it makes sense to spend $100/month for a communications link.
  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @07:04PM (#27409523)
    ...But you assume that most thieves actually know something about computers. A lot couldn't care less about the data, they just want to sell the nice hardware. Sure, some actually know a thing about computers, but your typical thief doesn't really care about the HD, they just want to sell it to a pawn shop or a streetcorner for some quick cash.
  • I predict (Score:5, Insightful)

    by taustin (171655) on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @07:16PM (#27409677) Homepage Journal

    that within 5 minutes of the sale of the first such laptop, there will be 1,080,456 web sites with detailed, step by step instructions (with screen shots) on how to disable the feature, and at least ten times as many with instructions on how to physically remove the wireless moden.

    And ten seconds after that, every single one of them will be slashdotted.

  • I stand corrected (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @07:16PM (#27409681) Journal

    Never underestimate the depths of motherfuckertude people will sink to in order to get that dollar.

  • by Lehk228 (705449) on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @07:21PM (#27409721) Journal
    wouldn't it be easier to encrypt the drive and have the wireless kill system hold the key?
  • by sehlat (180760) on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @07:27PM (#27409787)

    The RIAA/MPAA will be requiring such a capability as part of any "three-strikes" legislation. That will include felony charges for tampering with the hardware that makes the kill switch possible.

  • by causality (777677) on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @07:33PM (#27409821)

    How much fun will it be when the wireless carrier fires Crazy Stu, the wacky UNIX sysadmin with the penchant for conspiracy theories and bad dental health. When HR comes around to fire Stu, he leaves his timebomb in place. The one that fires out the kill message to hundreds - nay - thousands of customers - and disables their leased laptops all at once. What a day that will be.

    I hope it does not come to that, but should that happen anyway, in a way I would be grateful. It is unfortunate that things like that often have to happen before people are willing to question whether what they were doing was a good idea. My opinion is that anything which is needlessly centralized and open to this sort of vulnerability is a bad idea, especially when there are already established ways to deal with the problem this intends to solve. I consider the likelihood of such an exploit occurring to be irrelevant; there would be no such possibility at all if this were the correct solution.

    We are talking about financers and lenders, or those who do something similar by using long-term contracts to subsidize what would otherwise be an up-front cost. It's a form of credit because it takes time to become profitable and it depends on the other party not defaulting. If such people want to extend credit to those who are bad risks, that is the original problem and an improved "repo man" does nothing to solve it. It only addresses the symptoms of the original problem.

    For people who default on a loan or a contract, this pseudo-solution is essentially an alternative to taking them to court. It means that the lender can just remotely disable the equipment that was not paid for without having to use any sort of due process. It is thus an extra-legal power that did not previously exist, and is rightfully called a power grab. The entire point of the court system is that both sides can make their case. If the money required to bring a lawsuit against a large corporation already makes this difficult for the average person to pursue, taking the courts entirely out of the equation makes it impossible. This is not a good precedent. If this catches on, it will become increasingly difficult to buy a cell phone or perhaps a laptop without agreeing to allow it.

    It's amazing to me that we will do almost anything, come up with nearly any clever solution, go to any effort, to avoid directly addressing the actual cause of our problems. It's as though we feel threatened by the prospect, or inadequate at having failed to realize its simplicity. This is why we live in a superficial society. This is also why there are so many bad precedents which seem inevitable although they did not need to be that way at all.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @07:51PM (#27410073)

    Devil's advocate here:

    Usually I see cars outfitted with these devices (either remotely disabled, or requiring the car's driver to enter a PIN every week to month until payments are done) sold by used car dealers who are dealing with people with frighteningly bad credit histories.

    I do not like the devices either, but if it means someone is able to purchase a vehicle to drive to work and back (who otherwise would be turned away due to poor credit) to keep a job, that is one less indigent off the tax rolls.

  • by internewt (640704) on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @07:53PM (#27410129) Journal

    Just curious... why? It seems to be what the market demands.

    Don't get me wrong - I would jump at the chance to get a non-subsidized phone/data plan, but I am more angry at the ignorant masses than at the companies fulfilling their desires.

    In markets like mobile telecoms there are only a few big players, so the market gets offered what the players want to offer, not necessarily what the customers want. Obviously collusion is illegal, but "singing from the same hymn sheet" isn't.

    The utter cluelessness of most customers when it comes to computers and tech in general doesn't help much either. I guess this could be viewed as "what the market demands" though.

    I'm sure it's a bit of both, plus some more.

  • by tepples (727027) <> on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @08:08PM (#27410309) Homepage Journal

    And what happens after the required "lease" runs out?

    New contracts eliminate the purchase portion of the lease-purchase agreement, stating that the hardware is not the customer's when the contract runs out. Instead, the customer returns the hardware to the cell phone company for a refund on his deposit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @08:15PM (#27410375)

    I have no problems with this as long as there are SEVERE penalties for the used car people for mistakenly shutting off a car on an account that is paid up to date.

    In my state, preventing use of legally owned property (like an automobile) is a felony and carries the same penalty as theft of that property. If the used car people can shut someone's car off and then say "sorry we made a mistake" and get away with it and not go to prison then I would have MAJOR issues with this practice.

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Tuesday March 31, 2009 @08:20PM (#27410415) Homepage Journal
    True, but then the people they fence them to might be a bit more clued up and/or have connections.
  • by gillbates (106458) on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @12:00AM (#27411999) Homepage Journal

    Not that I'd buy one of these, but suppose, for example, that I do. And suppose, furthermore, that because of some screwup with my bank, or human error (oops, transposed two CC digits!), my bill doesn't get paid.

    I'm charging clients $100 an *hour*. If you disable my laptop for even a single 8 hour day, you owe *me* money.

    Did they think of that? Did it occur to them that if this functionality *accidentally* gets tripped, the lawsuit could easily erase not just the profit on the modem and the service, but the laptop as well?

    Or, to put it another way: why would someone sell a laptop (on contract) to someone who can't afford a cellphone?

  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @05:36AM (#27413573)

    Here in Texas a 20 mile bike ride is not the way to start out the work day, unless you are in the shower business.

    All you need is a place to shower at work and a locker room. If you're planning on a 20 mile bike ride to work, then those five minutes for taking a shower and changing into your work clothes shouldn't be a problem.

  • by knarf (34928) on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @06:04AM (#27413673) Homepage

    Funny that. I live in rural Sweden, hilly country studded with trees and frosty in wintertime. I do my shopping in a village about 15 km to the south of here. I have a daughter I bring to 'dagis' (playschool) every day. On a bike. The shopping goes in the trailer, the daughter in the seat on the back. To blindly state that 'you would not last a day on a bike in that scenario' just shows that you are so blindsided by having access to a car that for you that car is the ONLY means of transport. No matter that elsewhere on this planet billions of people get by without having access to cars.

    Try it for a change. I realise that the US is not the best country for cyclists but then again neither is Sweden. Still, it is possible, and by using that bike instead of a car you not only save a lot of money and birds and bees and trees and lives but you also get that workout which you now have to pay the fitness center or sports school for. Not to mention the good example you'll give your two kids. Raise them on cars and they'll become just like you - car-dependent. Raise them on bikes and they'll become aware themselves.

Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at the moment. -- Robert Benchley