A hacker named Sick Codes has demonstrated a way to jailbreak John Deere tractors, which could allow farmers the opportunity to self-repair their equipment, Gizmodo reported. According to Gizmodo, as farming and agriculture continue to automate, John Deere has found a sneaky digitally gate keep diagnosis of faulty tractor parts to ensure that farmers are forced to turn to the company’s own repair services.
In July of 2021, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission unanimously voted to ramp up law enforcement against repair restrictions that prevent small businesses, workers, consumers, and even government entities from fixing their own products. This decision essentially puts the “right-to-repair” in place.
The FTC’s statements came days after the White House endorsed similar rules in an executive order on economic competition. That part of the executive order specifically states that the FTC will exercise rule making authority regarding several areas, including “unfair anti competition and surveillance practices on third-party repair or self-repair of items, as imposed by powerful manufacturers that prevent farmers from repairing their own equipment.”
Wired reported that SickCodes is an Australian who lives in Asia who presented at DefCon in 2021 about tractor application programming interfaces and operating system bugs. After he made his research public, tractor companies, including John Deere, started fixing some of the flaws.
In short, when John Deere did that, it caused problems for the farmers who now had even less control over their farm equipment than they had before. It harmed their ability to engage in right-to-repair.
According to Wired, this year, Sick Codes says that while he is primarily concerned about world food security and exposure that comes from vulnerable farming equipment, he also sees the important value in letting farmers control their own equipment.
The 2021 executive order directed the Federal Trade Commission to increase enforcement efforts over practices like voiding warranties for outside repair, Wired reported. That, combined with New York State passing its own right-to-repair law and creative activist pressure has generated unprecedented momentum for the movement.
In March of 2022, John Deere posted a news release titled: “John Deere Expands Access to Self-Repair Resources”. In it, John Deere announced that it will enhance the capabilities of existing diagnostic tools and expand their availability. In 2023, the company will roll out an enhanced customer solution that include a mobile device interface, and the ability to download secure software updates directly to embedded controllers on select John Deere equipment with 4G connections.
In addition, John Deere wrote, that in May it would expand its offerings by giving customers and independent repair shops in the U.S. the ability to purchase Customer Service ADVISOR directly through the JohnDeereStore.com.
Wired reported that this change would, essentially, put the farmers in control of downloads on their equipment themselves, rather than have John Deere unilaterally apply the patches remotely or force farmers to bring products to authorized dealerships.
The FTC has the right to go after companies that are standing in the way of consumers being able to exercise their right-to-repair products that they own and paid for. Perhaps this is a reason why John Deere made some changes.