The InkJet Model Comes for the Automobile

Posted on Jul 12, 2022

In a moment that feels as though it is straight out of a Philip K Dick novel, BMW has rolled out the ability to subscribed to heated seats in select markets. You can purchase this feature for $180 a year, $300 for three years, or $415 for “unlimited” usage.

Premium trim options are obviously not new to the car market. The innovation here seems to be that car manufacturers are getting in on microtransactions. If this feature can be turned on and off via a subscription, it means that the hardware is already installed and a software lock controls whether you can send an electric current through a heating element.

This business strategy is, of course, is not entirely new. For years HP used software locks to prevent the usage of third-party inks so that the company could force users to pay for their products, which often cost more and, crucially, keeps the money in HP’s hands. HP was eventually shamed into a non-apology.

This form of rentism not even necessarily new in the automotive world. John Deere tractors, a cousin of the automobile, are infamous for their software locks that prevent farmers from operating on their own equipment and forcing them to spend time and money hauling tractors to John Deere certified retailers, instead of letting farmers repair their equipment themselves.

This reality has been a long time coming for consumer vehicles, but there is something so rapacious about its arrival that it feels there should be monumental pushback. The right to repair movement has gained major grounds on fighting back against vendor lock-in, but we are at a point where we need to codify a right to actually own the things we buy. The software licensing model is going to get someone killed—the proliferation of software features in cars already has.

It feels inevitable that microtransactions and software locks would come for motor vehicles, so I will leave you with Cory Doctorow’s first law, “*Anytime someone puts a lock on something you own, against your wishes, and doesn’t give you the key, they’re not doing it for your benefit.*” (Doctorow 2015).

Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free - Not the first place Doctorow’s law appeared but its more fully re-stated in this text.

Unauthorized Bread - A story about resisting the software locks on things we buy.

Last month New York state passed a right to repair law.

Fair Repair Act has been introduced in the House

Biden Executive Order on Right to Repair


Doctorow, Cory. Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age. San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2015.

Gault, Matthew, and Jason Koebler. “John Deere Hit With Class Action Lawsuit for Alleged Tractor Repair Monopoly.” Vice, January 13, 2022. Accessed July 13, 2022.…

Gitlin, Jonathan M. “No, BMW Is Not Making Heated Seats a Subscription for US Cars.” Ars Technica. Last modified July 12, 2022. Accessed July 13, 2022.…

Vincent, James. “BMW Starts Selling Heated Seat Subscriptions for $18 a Month.” The Verge. Last modified July 12, 2022. Accessed July 13, 2022.…

“A Man Died in a Burning Tesla Because Its Futuristic Doors Wouldn’t Open, Lawsuit Alleges.” Washington Post, n.d. Accessed July 13, 2022.…

“HP ‘apologizes’ for Blocking Third-Party Ink Cartridges in Its Printers, Fix on the Way.” TechSpot. Accessed July 13, 2022.…

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