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Restart Podcast Ep 31: Software obsolescence with Ross Anderson

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Dave and Ugo interview Professor Ross Anderson, an expert on Security Engineering at Cambridge University, on the topic of software obsolescence.

First, we discuss how devices connected to the Internet need to be constantly updated to remain secure. Anderson tells us about the approach of vendors to software: it is costly to maintain it and hence they only provide updates for the latest devices, expecting us to get new devices regularly if we want to be safe.

Then, we talk about the frustration that many users experience around repair. Dave tells us about his experience at Restart Parties, where many people feel helpless or uninformed when it comes to software updates and issues of memory or functioning after doing such upgrades. “I feel like every time I do an update something will go wrong”, says Savita at a Restart Party.

We also point out the environmental implications of software updates. We discuss their effects on the durability of the products we buy. Also, we debate over consumers’ awareness of software obsolescence, and how “the software problem” should be noticed when we make purchases: how will having software on our fridge affect its durability? Anderson suggests that appliances that do not need a connection to the internet could be sold with a “dumb switch” to maintain their core functionality when connection to the network fails.

Finally, we discuss who should take responsibility for software obsolescence. Ugo asks about the role of the European Union in the matter, and then they all emphasise the importance of citizen action. Anderson talks about the many levels of action for everyone: from a more conscious purchasing, to actually influencing policymaking.

He ends up calling companies to action: “What you got to do is you got to keep shipping patches for Android, not for 3 years, not for 5 years but for 10 years. Then we’ll believe, Mr. Google, that you actually do care about sustainability.”

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