Comment Of The Day: “‘Ick Or Ethics’ Ethics Quiz: The Self-Repossessing Car”

There were many enlightening responses to the ethics quiz involving Ford’s patent application for devices that would allow a deadbeat car purchaser’s automobile to progressively punish its owner and eventually repossess itself.

This one is through the auspices of Ethics Alarms vet Neil Dorr, whose Comment of the Day followed the post, “‘Ick Or Ethics’ Ethics Quiz: The Self-Repossessing Car”….


To my eyes, this extends far beyond normal penalties for a non-payment or breach of contract, especially since they get increasingly punitive and paternalistic. In most cases, if you stop making payments on a car they send you increasingly-nasty letters before finally hauling it away in the middle of the night. None of it includes the “tsk tsk” finger-wagging demonstrated here. Limiting you to “emergency use only” (whose emergency?) “Geofencing”? That’s what we do to dogs and cattle by way electronic collars (which often prove ineffective). “Annoying sounds”? Like the ones they play outside of convenience stores here to discourage vagrancy? Then, a final “lockout” where your allowed the privilege of looking at your car, shading some driveway, and providing them free storage (at least until they call it home) without use. Talk about cruel and unusual.

Also, it specifically denotes active tracking on their part. Anyone not dwelling among rocks in the last 20 years has gotten used to the idea that all of us carry around passive homing and listening devices with us everyone, convinced that the intrusions are limited (and therefore mostly harmless) in nature. Conversely, this sends the message “We know everywhere you go, everything you do, everyone you do it with, and we get to decide how much of it matters.” One small step toward honesty, perhaps, but one giant leap backward for mankind.

More could be written (and I’m tempted), but words published online anymore only provide learning fodder for a ChatAI or writing algorithm somewhere. Thanksbutnothanks.

2 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “‘Ick Or Ethics’ Ethics Quiz: The Self-Repossessing Car”

  1. Yes, well said.

    I will just add one thought to this and the original discussion. If implemented, do we think there is any chance that this program will actually be conducted by humans? I doubt it — at least not until the company loses several lawsuits and has to pony up some damages.

    I’d be willing to be that this process would be computerized and automated from the beginning. Of course, the problem with that is that you really cannot program in any judgment or flexibility into these systems. Computer systems have hiccups, payments get misapplied or lost, stuff happens. And, if you call the company you will have to be fairly skilled and quite persistent to persuade their telephone system to let you talk to a human being.

    IT departments tend to program these systems assuming that they know just what is needed and what the customers want. The problem is that the programmers are not the end users and they often have no real grasp of how the end users will be using their system. As well, I don’t think many companies allow for much debugging or after the fact error corrections — or possibly even adequate testing. I think they assume it’s going to be done right the first time (which, if it happened, might be the first time in the history of computer science).


    Our company is currently going through a rollout of a rewrite of our core, absolutely essential and critical key application, that every one of us use and that has to work right about 99.97% of the time. Without this software working right, basically our entire company nationwide would have to shut down. Did I mention that it’s kind of important?

    Well, our district was part of a test of this software last year — I documented dozens of errors, problems, look and feel issues, etc. and wrote a series of emails to my managers and the district manager, who passed it up the line. Late in the season, we were told that some people from corporate — including one of the software devs — were going to visit our district and visit several of the offices including mine. They got to one of the offices and, from what I was told later, talked about other issues rather than the software. Then the ‘didn’t have time’ to visit our office, even though I had almost certainly used this software more than anyone else in the district. My co-workers thought they were afraid to come see me — I cannot prove them wrong.

    I’ve gone into this length to illustrate some typical problems with new programs. For us to think that automated auto repo software would work right out of the box — that’s just crazy talk. And unlike my situation, messing with people’s cars can potentially get them injured or even killed.

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