Column: Subscriptions for car features drive people to insecure software

Column: Subscriptions for car features drive people to insecure software

Car manufacturers have discovered subscriptions. Hopefully, that won’t drive users to install unsafe software.

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Android Automotive, subscriptions and insecure software

Bizarre car news this week: BMW has unveiled a new subscription system. You buy a new car with all the trimmings, but to be able to use the built-in seat heating you have to take out a subscription of 19 euros per month.

So the technology is just in the car you bought with your hard-earned money, but there is a blockage that you can only remove by docking monthly. For 11 euros per month you can get steering wheel heating and a high beam assistant costs 9 euros per month. For a one-off 150 euros, the electric car makes an engine sound through speakers.

Tesla started this trend. By taking out a subscription, your car can drive independently, provided you live in a country where this is possible. It’s such a success that other manufacturers are copying it. Not with a service that requires complicated software, but with things that are simply processed in the car.

Black Mirror

We can laugh now that BMW does something so crazy, but other manufacturers will undoubtedly follow. Why wouldn’t they? Why earn money from your customer once when selling a car, when you can collect money every month for years.

That idea seems to be popping up in all sectors. Three years ago I already wrote

in this column series about the bizarre amount of subscriptions that is offered, but since then it has only grown and cars are the next step.

You could easily make a Black Mirror episode where you continue this trend in a slightly bizarre way. That your car suddenly can no longer stop, because your subscription to the brakes has expired. And if we take smartphones as an example, then of course the microtransactions follow after subscriptions. For example, that you can warm your buttocks in the car for a few euros for an hour. Or that your car parks itself for a one-time fee.

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Android Automotive

More and more cars are switching to Android Automotive, a version of Android that takes over your car’s software. Not only as a screen to play music or to navigate (Android Auto), but you can control the entire system of the car – from the air conditioning to the heated seats. If car manufacturers want to offer subscriptions in a simple way, Android is of course ideal for that.

But what many Android smartphone users struggle with is paying for something that can also be done for free. It is very easy on Android to find a free alternative for most paid things, because you are not dependent on one app store and you can disable all kinds of protections. With the joy of malware makers, of course.

Why shouldn’t it be the same with car software? It will be a bit more difficult than on smartphones, but there are always ways. People would rather install insecure, free software than pay for something they think they are entitled to. That can cause a lot of damage on an Android smartphone, but even more in a car.

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