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Canadian author Cory Doctorow Image: Pluralistic
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“Autoenshittification” allows car makers to steal your data and pick your pocket, Cory Doctorow says

Forget Formula 1, Cory Doctorow says: “The only car race that matters now is the race to turn your car into a digital extraction machine…stealing your private data as it picks your pocket.

“Your car’s digital infrastructure is a costly, dangerous nightmare – but for automakers in pursuit of postcapitalist utopia, it’s a dream they can’t give up on,” says the renowned Canadian author in a July 24th article entitled “Autoenshittification.”

“Enshittification” is the term Doctorow created in 2022 to describe what happens when an online platform like Amazon or Twitter becomes more monetized and less user-oriented the longer it lasts. These platforms started out serving users by offering features that lure them in; then serve advertisers and third parties by offering ad targeting and deals; and lastly, serve themselves and their shareholders by cheating and exploiting both advertisers and users. Doctorow calls this process “enshittification.”

Autoenshittification” is when these anti-consumer design and marketing principles are applied to vehicles being packed with digital technologies no one wants.

Taxi drivers and industry members who began transporting passengers for money in the decades before endless, intrusive government surveillance have been among the earliest and most disturbed purchasers of vehicles subject to new digital technologies.

“These digital systems are a huge problem for the car companies. They are the underlying cause of a precipitous decline in car quality. From touch-based digital door-locks to networked sensors and cameras, every digital system in your car is a source of endless repair nightmares, costly recalls and cybersecurity vulnerabilities,” Doctorow points out.

“What’s more, drivers hate all the digital bullshit, from the janky touchscreens to the shitty, wildly insecure apps. Digital systems are drivers’ most significant point of dissatisfaction with the automakers’ products.”

In “Autoenshittification,” Doctorow theorizes that Western Culture, built by Capitalism, is now sliding backward toward the Feudalistic system that impoverished most of civilization during the Middle Ages. Property owners don’t want to own or invest capital to build their own economy or enrich other citizens: they want to possess everything possible and simply rent it out to the serfs who will never own anything themselves.

“Don’t drive a cab, create Uber and extract value from every driver and rider. Better still: don’t found Uber, invest in Uber options and extract value from the people who invest in Uber. Even better, invest in derivatives of Uber options and extract value from people extracting value from people investing in Uber, who extract value from drivers and riders. Go meta,” Doctorow describes the new Feudalism.

“’Cloud Capital’ has created a new generation of rentiers, and how they have become the richest, most powerful people in human history. Doctorow provides several outrageous examples of how automobile manufacturers are taking advantage of digital technologies to squeeze money out of unsuspecting consumers:

“Car companies are on the forefront of post-capitalism, and they understand that digital is the key to rent-extraction. Remember when BMW announced that it was going to rent you the seatwarmer in your own fucking car?

“Not to be outdone, Mercedes announced that they were going to rent you your car’s accelerator pedal, charging an extra $1200/year to unlock a fully functional acceleration curve.

“This is the urinary tract infection business model: without digitization, all your car’s value flowed in a healthy stream. But once the car-makers add semiconductors, each one of those features comes out in a painful, burning dribble, with every button on that fakakta touchscreen wired directly into your credit-card…

“That means that your car can track your every movement, and sell your location data to anyone and everyone, from marketers to bounty-hunters looking to collect fees for tracking down who travel out of state for abortions to cops to foreign spies.

“Digitization supercharges financialization. It lets car-makers offer subprime auto-loans to desperate, poor people and then killswitch their cars if they miss a payment.

“Subprime lending for cars would be a terrible business without computers, but digitization makes it a great source of feudal rents. Car dealers can originate loans to people with teaser rates that quickly blow up into payments the dealer knows their customer can’t afford. Then they repo the car and rent it to another desperate person, and another, and another.

“Digitization also opens up more exotic options. Some subprime cars have secondary control systems wired into their entertainment system: miss a payment and your car radio flips to full volume and bellows an unstoppable, unmutable stream of threats. Tesla does one better: your car will lock and immobilize itself, then blare its horn and back out of its parking spot when the repo man arrives.”

Doctorow gives an apt summary of techno-feudalism in 2023:

“Digital feudalism hasn’t stopped innovating – it’s just stopped innovating good things.”

Read the full article “Autoenshittification” on Doctorow’s website, Plurastic.