We’ve talked about manufacturers limiting their customers’ ability to work on their own machines and devices before. They use all sorts of excuses, ranging from copyright to deep concern for their customers’ safety, when it’s really a deep desire for their customers’ money. Farmers have pushed back by trying to circumvent the measures used to lock them out. An entity called iFixit is working steadily on finding ways to fix everything and share them with the public. There have been small victories along the way.
Now there’s a new atrocity showing itself. The people manufacturing the ventilators essential to saving lives are trying to make it impossible to repair and re-use them. In this time when we’re supposed to all be in this together, they’re in it for themselves. This is what happens when we let them excuse themselves by saying that their only responsibility is to their shareholders.
Medical care providers are fighting back by hacking ventilators to get them working again. A few quotes from the article at Motherboard:
As COVID-19 surges, hospitals and independent biomedical technicians have turned to a global grey-market for hardware and software to circumvent manufacturer repair locks and keep life-saving ventilators running.
You can’t just take the working parts from different machines to make a working ventilator.
… a functional monitor swapped from a machine with a broken breathing unit to one with a broken monitor but a functioning breathing unit won’t work if the software isn’t synced.
These fixers have taken a page from the John Deere tractor owners who had to hack their machines to get their work done.
This grey-market, international supply chain is essentially identical to one used by farmers to repair John Deere tractors without the company’s authorization and has emerged because of the same need to fix a device without a manufacturer’s permission.
It’s getting harder.
… newer medical devices have more advanced anti-repair technologies built into them. Newer ventilators connect to proprietary servers owned by manufacturers to verify that the person accessing it is authorized by the company to do so.
There’s a lot more in the Motherboard article, both infuriating and encouraging. Go ahead.