back to article What a cheep shot: Bird sorry after legal eagles fire DMCA takedown at scooter unlock blog

Bird has apologized for sending a legal threat to a blogger who outlined how its scooters-for-hire – those electric gizmos littering city streets – can have their motherboards replaced to unlock them from their app, and driven away. Back in December, journalist Cory Doctorow received a takedown request [PDF] for a blog post on …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    YaY!

    love the things, not enough to ever have paid for one. Great motor, battery. Now I "own" it legally. Ha!

  2. tcmonkey

    Ahh, HackADay, I remember thee, from the days when your content was actually worth reading, as opposed to being inundated with articles about noob x connecting arduino x into RPi z and flashing LEDS a, b and c. Seems like a long time ago.

    On topic, if you leave a bunch of valuable devices lying around without securing them properly you can hardly be surprised when they go missing, this would just make the job slightly easier. I'm not saying that stealing them is acceptable, but it's a city - what did you expect?

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Windows

      if you leave a bunch of valuable devices lying around

      Not helped by illegal deployment of devices in a public place. Though in Ireland there is theft by finding. If you find something you must hand it over the Garda (Irish Police). Eventually if not claimed you might get to keep it.

      So, no you can't just put them on your cart and take them home.

  3. J. Cook Silver badge
    Boffin

    Boing Boing's forum has a thread for this latest missive; as one might expect, it's full of the more flighty people, punning around.

    https://bbs.boingboing.net/t/bird-scooter-tried-to-censor-my-boing-boing-post-with-a-legal-threat-thats-so-stupid-its-a-whole-new-kind-of-wrong/

  4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    They really should be teaching the Streisand effect in law schools these days.

    Both Google & Bing have this all over their news clusters as 3rd hit if you search for bird scooter. A lot more people will have heard of this now than those who only read it in Boing Boing. If Bird were depending on buying impounded scooters cheap from auctions (cheaper than paying storage fees and maybe also cheaper than running their own recovery operation) they'll find they're facing more competitive bids now.

    1. Dog Eatdog

      Can't the local authorities still come after Bird for the storage fees?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm worried that, alas, you're going to be wrong, and the Straisand effect is going to boost that scooter company profile. I can think of a couple of examples, where dirty tricks of a business (large business, mind you), actually coincided with increasing profits.

    3. NXM

      Streisand effect

      Noooooo! Teaching it would remove all the larfs we've had, and hope to get more of in future. Let the ignorant carry on in their misguided ways so the rest of us can get a bit of a smile in these dark days.

    4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: If Bird were depending on buying impounded scooters . .

      . . . then they would be terminally stupid. It is not economically viable to re-purchase your own fleet on a regular basis.

      Personally, I don't get why Bird lets their hardware go missing in the first place. They should have thought about that problem before shoveling the scooters into the streets.

      1. cybersaur

        Re: If Bird were depending on buying impounded scooters . .

        All of the scooters littering city streets are already essentially pwned. Physical access to hardware is tough to defend against. Nothing some mylar or aluminum foil and time can't take care of if any enterprising people want some scooters. Faraday cages are their worst enemy.

    5. Velv Silver badge
      Joke

      A bit like “winding down the window” in a car, “dialling” on a phone, and 3D printed Save icons, very soon people will have no idea who Barbra Streisand was

  5. JohnFen Silver badge

    Even if you couldn't replace the board

    I would think that the parts involved -- even just the motors and batteries -- would be worth more than $30.

    1. bish

      Re: Even if you couldn't replace the board

      It's the board that costs $30. The scooters themselves are being auctioned off, so prices inevitably vary - but you're absolutely right that many appear to be going for a lot less than the combined cost of the components. I have no use for an electric scooter, but it could be a great way to pick up some cheap batteries and motors with which to build something else, assuming you aren't outbid by someone who actually values them as scooters.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Even if you couldn't replace the board

        well, if one were to get two scooters off an auction, with FOUR wheels (presumably?!) and two motors = good starting point for great, disruptive technologies! Now, if one could get a re-boarded, one careful owner, electric chair to go with that...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Even if you couldn't replace the board

          "one careful owner, electric chair to go with that"

          Eh? You are proposing a mobile electric chair that, presumably, drives into public squares to show off public executions and then drives back to base when it needs recharging?

          1. Alistair Silver badge
            Windows

            Re: Even if you couldn't replace the board

            "one careful owner, electric chair to go with that"

            .... something to chase down the ambient stupid and dispose of it when and where needed?

          2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Even if you couldn't replace the board

            Edison would have loved that.

      2. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Even if you couldn't replace the board

        "It's the board that costs $30."

        Yes, my mistake!

  6. Nick Kew Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Pics?

    This story carries a headline pic of a keyboard with some litter on it. Adding nothing to the story - in normal Reg tradition.

    But surely this is a case where we really should have a relevant pic! For those of us who have never heard of "bird scooters" - but have seen a few variants on the "Boris Bike" without always knowing whether they were municipal or private sector - it could give some clue what you're actually talking about!

    (Googling finds pics, and they appear to make Boris Bikes look advanced and luxurious by comparison).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pics?

      Boris or Khan bikes use docking stations so 98% of them are not left littering the streets.

      OFO and those annoying orange wheeled things are regularly run over by lorries for being left in the road

  7. The Nazz Silver badge

    Guano

    Bird shit.

  8. olpol

    Linda Kwak Sr. Corporate Counsel Bird Rides Inc.

    Nominative determinism?

  9. doublelayer Silver badge

    Legal question

    "With the information out there that people can basically steal existing scooters for $30 and a bit of effort, it remains to be seen whether people will stop throwing them in lakes and trashing them in favor of a more illegal approach of repurposing them."

    I feel little sympathy for this company as they don't seem to have much of a problem leaving them in people's way, but doesn't the "throwing them in lakes" method of using them also count as illegal, as you are destroying someone else's property? For someone who is considering only those alternatives, at least steal the thing; it's less wasteful.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Legal question

      Stealing is a criminal offence. Hiring a scooter is legal. Leaving it somewhere it is certain to be impounded is certainly naughty - ask a proper lawyer (not the internet) about possible legal consequences. Bird should know whose smart phone hired the scooter and their terms and conditions should include passing the impound costs back to the hirer, but if that happens it has not made the news. Getting a scooter impounded with the intent to buy one at auction sounds naughty and may cause the local government more costs than they are likely to get back from auction. If they had a clue they should be able to pass the excess costs back to Bird.

      Other companies set up legal hiring and drop-off points for their vehicles. Hopefully Bird will come to see the value in this.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Legal question

        Does anybody happen to have a $30 board that would replace the tracker unit in a Car2Go?

        Always fancied a free smart car - especially one that you can park anywhere for free.

        ...asking for a friend ...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Legal question

        As they are scooters and quite lightweight, how would you know who has left it in the inconvenient place? It could have just been picked up and carried.

        The boris bikes needed to be returned to a lockable location (I believe, never seen one myself)

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: Legal question

          The boris bikes needed to be returned to a lockable location (I believe, never seen one myself)

          They did, but the latest wave of hire-by-app bikes, Ofo, Mobike, etc, could just be left anywhere. I say could rather than can, because here in Cambridge Ofo first restricted the areas where you could leave their bikes to (roughly) the town centre only and is now giving up. This might be connected with the fact that just about every member of the HTTR(*) community(**) around town has an Ofo bike with the lock mechanism removed.

          (*) High Tattoo/Teeth Ratio.

          (**) Or for the less politically correct: thieving scrotes.

      3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: Legal question

        Littering is an offense too - it's not just the scooter companies that are the problem, it's us too - dumping them after we've used them.

    2. bish

      Re: Legal question

      I took "more illegal" to mean that the vandalism approach is illegal, but theft is, uh, more illegal. I believe the law bears this out, with (broadly) harsher punishments for theft than vandalism (ymmv).

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    they soon found out when Doctorow reached out to colleagues at the EFF

    and here's a problem, if he'd been ANY non-connected blogger, this would be his end, as not many ordinary folk would take the hard, expensive and very long-lasting route of going to court.

    p.s. this is not to criticize that he's connected to the right places, good for him and good for the cause, it's just to point out that such threatening actions are, in general, highly effective. How many identical letters were actually sent by these "disruptive technology" geniuses to other sites (question asked, never answered) and crucially, how many recipients meekly (sensibly) complied with them?

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: they soon found out when Doctorow reached out to colleagues at the EFF

      "if he'd been ANY non-connected blogger, this would be his end, as not many ordinary folk would take the hard, expensive and very long-lasting route of going to court."

      He never went to court, all the did that someone else couldn't do was to get a lawyer to write a letter for him for free. Given how many inaccuracies the original nasty-gram contained I don't thing even a non lawyer would be that scared. It's just a company trying to throw it's weight around, nothing that would stand up in court (well, it might in the US money==justice system I suppose).

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: they soon found out when Doctorow reached out to colleagues at the EFF

        "all the did that someone else couldn't do was to get a lawyer to write a letter for him for free."

        This. And in the US, if all you need is a stern letter bearing a lawyer's letterhead, this can be done cheaply enough that pretty much anyone can afford it. If there's a legal assistance service in your area, this might even be as cheap as free.

        If you need to go to court, of course, then you're talking big bucks.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: they soon found out when Doctorow reached out to colleagues at the EFF

          And in the US, if all you need is a stern letter bearing a lawyer's letterhead, this can be done cheaply enough that pretty much anyone can afford it. If there's a legal assistance service in your area, this might even be as cheap as free.

          Yep. My neighbor is a lawyer (among other pursuits) and she once wrote a stern letter of that sort for me, for a $1 retainer.

          That's how these things often go. There's a quick round of bidding to see if one party will just fold immediately. Then if everyone stays in, things might start getting expensive.

  11. Arachnoid

    Dumping

    Could not Bird be prosecuted for dumping after all I could leave a pile of crap on the pavement with a for hire sign in a similar manner?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dumping

      "If you can not put your toys back in their proper place when you're done with them, I'll take them away from you." So said my Mum, and likely other parents as well.

      My town is considering some sort of scooter pilot program/ regulations and I think they should just tell would-be operators that no action will be taken against anyone who finds a scooter in the sidewalk (or someplace else it should not be), takes it, cuts it up, and sells it for scrap (or otherwise seeks to make use of free "abandonware" left in public places).

  12. DrXym Silver badge

    Who remembers the cue cat?

    The cue cat was a barcode reader that was given away below cost with the expectation people would order stuff from magazines. Instead people hacked it for their own purposes, bankrupting the company and its dumb idea.

    This has shades of that. Especially if they're so laissez faire to leave these things laying around the place. They could possibly mitigate against this attack by pouring epoxy into the case that houses the board and using non standard screws. At least that way anyone expecting a cheap scooter has a lot more work on their hands to make it work.

    Of course, thieves might not be interested in the scooter anyway, so much as for the parts it contains - battery, motor, wheels etc.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      "They could possibly mitigate against this attack by pouring epoxy into the case that houses the board and using non standard screws. At least that way anyone expecting a cheap scooter has a lot more work on their hands to make it work.

      So would any official repair shop - not that Bird appears to want to maintain its fleet. It has obviously sourced the mopeds at the lowest possible cost and, when they break, they just replace them.

      From a business point a view, that may constitute a sane decision - repairing the things would cost more in time and components than just replacing them.

      From an ecological point of view, it is utter madness and wasteful in the extreme. There should be a law against doing that.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Who remembers the cue cat?

      They could possibly mitigate against this attack by pouring epoxy into the case that houses the board and using non standard screws. At least that way anyone expecting a cheap scooter has a lot more work on their hands to make it work.

      I don't think this is cost-effective. What Hackaday reader doesn't have a set of security-screw bits? Anything more exotic would be prohibitively expensive for Bird. And if the case is filled with resin, just chuck the case with the board and fit a new case.

      Seems to me the asymmetry here still favors the attackers (people who want to repurpose a Bird unit).

      There was a recent call on Hackaday for a powerwall built from Bird scooter batteries...

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: Who remembers the cue cat?

        "I don't think this is cost-effective. What Hackaday reader doesn't have a set of security-screw bits? [...] And if the case is filled with resin, just chuck the case with the board and fit a new case."

        Have a look at how the board is housed - https://boingboing.net/2018/05/25/drinkbot-anyone.html. Pour epoxy into that thing and some special screws for good measure and you've easily created 10x as much effort for an attack. Someone would have to hacksaw the box off, drill out sheared heads, splice wires and replace it with another unit. Nothing will stop a determined attack but it would definitely put off casual attempts.

        Personally I don't understand how this business stands to make any money and I don't care if they get hacked or not. It's just an easy and cheap way to mitigate an attack and I wonder why they never bothered.

  13. Christoph Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "It's safe to assume that Bird's lawyers didn't know much about Doctorow or Boing Boing beforehand

    Very safe. If they had the slightest clue, then just about the last person they should have attacked like this is Cory Doctorow.

  14. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    FAIL

    Will it really worry Bird?

    Obviously Bird won't want people nicking their scooters and using them without paying but the actual impact could be pretty small.

    The hire rate is a $1 flat fee and $0.15 or $0.20 a minute. At a scooter cost of $400 each; Bird will have recovered that so long as it sees 30 hours of use before someone walks away with it or throws it in a canal.

    The biggest risk to Bird would seem to be if everyone who prefers to ride a scooter has one and isn't paying hire charges. It's not really worth stealing a scooter, other than for shits and giggles, if it cannot be used. I would guess telling people how easy it is to mod them is what got Bird's back up.

    And now Bird have ensured everyone knows their scooters are worth nicking. And, knowing Bird have probably recovered the cost of the scooter, some may consider it, pretty much, a victimless crime.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Will it really worry Bird?

      More like 36 hours for replacing the scooter, but I'm sure that the investors in Bird would like to get some money out of the scheme before replacing a scooter.

  15. imanidiot Silver badge

    I doubt they'll be that cheap

    Due to all this media attention I doubt the auctioned scooters will be all that cheap, as it'll attract many more people with little sense of value that might otherwise have thought this job would be too difficult for them and stayed away.

    1. sisk Silver badge

      Re: I doubt they'll be that cheap

      I dunno. I just found one on EBay for $150. I don't think I'm gonna buy it though. I just looked it up out of curiosity.

      Then again, my daily commute is only about 3 miles each way, so it might actually be worth my while to pick one of these up and save on gas.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: I doubt they'll be that cheap

        $150 bucks for an impounded scooter at auction, probably sight unseen or only for a short period, with no warranty or guarantee it will even work (and probably one that has been abused a lot before it got impounded) doesn't really sound like a great deal to me.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: I doubt they'll be that cheap

          $150 for a second-hand scooter that cost around $30 new, sold by J Random Ebayer? Sounds like an excellent deal! For the seller, I mean.

          Seriously, if you want these at anything like a reasonable price, go to a municipal auction. Bring cash, and decide ahead of time how much you're willing to pay. Be willing to walk away if the units are in poor shape.

          1. sisk Silver badge

            Re: I doubt they'll be that cheap

            Seriously, if you want these at anything like a reasonable price, go to a municipal auction. Bring cash, and decide ahead of time how much you're willing to pay. Be willing to walk away if the units are in poor shape.

            That would be good advice if there was even the slightest chance of one of these showing up at a municipal auction anywhere in a several hundred mile radius from me. Unfortunately, I live in the boonies.

            Also, I believe the article mentioned that they're $400 new. Though admittedly Bird is probably getting them for significantly less than that.

  16. sisk Silver badge

    I find it hard to believe that any lawyer with experience in copyright litigation, especially any copyrights involving IT, wouldn't recognize Cory Doctorow's name and know to be damn sure they've got their ducks in a row before picking that fight. Based on that I think Bird is kinda skimping on legal services.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Based on that I think Bird is kinda skimping on legal services.

      Probably more on people who know how to use a search engine - it isn't exactly hard to find what Cory Doctorow does for a living.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Eh, I can see how this happens. Someone higher up in management who doesn't have a clue is aimlessly searching for mentions of the company online. They run across the Boing Boing post and fire an email at Legal. Legal looks at it, rolls their eyes, tells a paralegal to send a DMCA takedown notice without even checking who wrote the post.

      Since DMCA notices are effectively free to the issuer, plenty of firms send them out on the flimsiest of pretexts (often the entire process is automated) as an initial salvo.

      It'd be interesting to change the economics - say, to amend the DMCA so that each takedown notice must be filed with the Library of Congress at a fee that starts at $10 and is adjusted annually for inflation. Oh, the howls from Hollywood! It'll never happen, of course. (And I admit it has an unfair asymmetry anyway, because it's generally much cheaper for attackers to copy protected content to many sites.)

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