Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Volkswagen paradox

Here's another way to look at the former VW CEO's Rebekah Brooks-style claim that people at the top of his organisation had no idea about the systemic wrongdoing being perpetrated at more junior levels. Belle Waring finds this unbelievable, too, although following a directive from above must have meant that loads of people further down the corporate food-chain had to know, too, but all kept schtum for years, which is also pretty hard to believe:
I think cheating on this scale required, not just massive amounts of fraud, but a massive amount of complicity. No one at a lower level in the organization would take on the risk of freelancing a scheme of this nature. The benefits coming to you would be attenuated, and the danger would be great. This means that (minimally, some) people at the very top of the organization had to know about the software. Software powerful enough to determine when the car was being tested is complex and requires input from many sensors. This means (minimally, not a small number of) people had to know about the software. The person writing the proprietary code governing the steering wheel’s performance would have to be involved at least enough to have been told, “create an alert when the wheel hasn’t been moved in 2 minutes but the engine is running hard.” But it has always been my belief that, by and large, complex, dangerous conspiracies involving many people simply don’t happen. 

Read the whole thing here (the NYT piece which Belle references, is also good, highlighting the digital rights management angle on what was going on in VW's sealed black boxes).