DRM: June 2009 Archives


June 26, 2009

Panasonic is improving their cameras to prevent you from installing third-party battery packs:
Panasonic Digital Cameras now include a technology that can identify a genuine Panasonic battery. For the protection of our customers Panasonic developed this technology after it was discovered that some aftermarket 3rd party batteries do not meet the rigid safety standards Panasonic uses.

Some of these aftermarket batteries are not equipped with internal protective devices to guard against overcharging, internal heating and short circuit. If these aftermarket battery packs were used, it could lead to an accident causing damage to your camera or personal injury.

Panasonic's Digital Camera firmware has been updated on this website to detect these aftermarket 3rd party batteries so such serious safety issues can be avoided.

Protecting the customer is basically the standard rationale that manufacturers use for this kind of lockin technology. However, one can't help noticing that the third party batteries are dramatically cheaper than the Panasonic standard batteries, so I think you could be forgiven for thinking that they might have a bit of another interest here. [See Rescorla, Savage, Shacham and Spies from the CRYPTO 2008 Rump Session for another example of this.] And of course, if you want whatever bug fixes, improvements, etc. Panasonic added to the new firmware, you have to take the DRM as well.

A few questions seem worth asking:

  • Does Panasonic consider any third party batteries safe or can you only use Panasonic brand?
  • Does Panasonic give you some mechanism for overriding the the firmware and using a "dangerous" battery if you want to?

If the answer to these questions is "yes", then this looks like a genuine case of consumer protection. Otherwise, you should at least suspect monopoly maintenance.

UPDATE: Fixed citation. I had the wrong rump session talk.