After Volkswagen, You May Be Asking: What Other Products Are Rigged?

As cars are increasingly powered by software, is more Volkswagen-style cheating possible?

By Alain StephensSeptember 24, 2015 12:35 pm

It looks like Volkswagen might be losing quite a bit of money amid their scandal and subsequent vehicle recall.

The company is saying it’ll cost about $7.3 billion to cover the costs. Stocks earlier this week plunged by nearly 20 percent, and just yesterday Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn stepped down –all thanks to software installed on diesel vehicles that were able to dodge emissions tests.

But with more technology being integrated into vehicles, homes, and personal devices are scandals like these just the tip of the iceberg? Here to talk with us is Digital Savant Omar Gallaga of the Austin American-Statesman.

“What surprises about the VW thing is how intentional and nefarious it was,” Gallaga says.

He says the VW software was sensitive enough to detect when it was being tested for emissions and could control its output to comply with federal regulations, but when a regular owner was driving, it would revert to higher (and illegal) levels of emission. This speaks to a larger trend of smart devices, everything from phones to thermostats to cars.

“All this stuff is going to be controlled by software, even remotely, so you’re going to see more and more glitches and updates that may cause problems.”

Smart cars and smart homes mean software will run more aspects of our lives, including something as essential as a baby monitor, which could expose us to greater threats.

“That’s the thing you were depending on to watch your kid overnight,” and it can suffer an unexplained outage or even external hacking, Gallaga says.

We’ve all gotten used to the idea that software updates come with wonky issues but some suspect that these problems may be designed. Gallaga says some skeptics claim that companies plan these operational malfunctions. For example, some say their iPhones start to slow down only after a new phone is released.

“What scares us is that these companies are doing it on purpose,” Gallaga says. “I don’t think Apple does it on purpose but what if they did?”