Am I Being Paranoid?

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


Quite a long time ago, I took all my music CDs which I had purchased over the years and downloaded them onto my laptop. Not all of them of course, disco lost its appeal somehow, but after a few decades, I had a lot of really great music to digitize. Later, I started purchasing my music directly from Apple, for 99 cents a song. At least I thought I was purchasing it, certainly I paid real money. (iTunes was very good at culling the songs I had downloaded for free from Napster – fair enough.)

But apparently Apple and I weren’t on the same page. At some point my music started getting outsourced to the cloud, and I lost the files I’d bought and thought I owned. I’d bought Joe Cocker’s legendary performance of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ at Woodstock, but the cloud gave me a completely different studio version with the same name. A lot of the music I’d bought, in fact, are live performances, but I don’t get to listen to them anymore, I get whatever version of the song Apple’s algorithm feels like spitting out. On the plus side, because these companies like to keep track of everything I do, we’ve been able to fix the problem and restore my original library.

But it raises the question: How can I lose access to something that I own? To me it didn’t seem any different than having been robbed.

I asked my kids about this, and my son pointed me to a video about this whole issue in the world of subscription-based services, and it’s not just the digital stuff. The video pointed out that if a farmer buys a John Deere tractor today, he (or she) is strictly forbidden from maintaining or modifying that tractor in any way. If something goes wrong, he needs to go to the app, request a maintenance specialist, and wait for them to arrive. You’re not allowed to fix the tractor you bought, and the weather waits on no repairman. On top of that, when John Deere stops supporting the software for that tractor, the farmer has to buy a new one. Which seems to raise the same question: Does the farmer own that tractor, or did he just buy permission to use it for an unspecified period of time in accordance with John Deere’s rules?

So now I’m thinking about this construction company that I supposedly run. We now have various ‘apps’ insinuating themselves throughout all our core processes, literally everything we do. We don’t have control over the cost, the content or the support. We pay what the software company wants us to pay, for as long as they care to support the software that is becoming our company’s oxygen.

So here’s the question: Ten years from now, will our shareholders still ‘own’ EllisDon, or will they merely have some kind of licence to operate its software (and therefore the business), in accordance with their rules, for the time being?

This really seems to put the value of our in-house software and AI solutions into clear view, but I’m still having trouble sleeping nights. I can’t escape this nagging feeling that they are out to get me.

Just asking…..