Libertarians believe private property is sacrosanct. But ownership has never been absolute. In some countries ownership of land includes what lies beneath; in others it does not. Servitudes may detract from absolute ownership and so on. The situation is becoming similar with consumer goods it seems. And the writer from the Economist is bemoaning the loss of absolute ownership. Should we too?
In the digital age ownership has become more slippery. Just ask Tesla drivers, who have learned that Elon Musk forbids them from using their electric vehicles to work for ride-hailing firms, such as Uber. Or owners of John Deere tractors, who are “recommended” not to tinker with the software that controls them (see article). Since the advent of smartphones, consumers have been forced to accept that they do not control the software in their devices; they are only licensed to use it. But as a digital leash is wrapped ever more tightly around more devices, such as cars, thermostats and even sex toys, who owns and who controls which objects is becoming a problem. Buyers should be aware that some of their most basic property rights are under threat.