2x63: Give You The Key

Stuart Langridge, Jono Bacon, and special guest Jorge Castro present Bad Voltage, in which the nature of purchasing goods is discussed.

There seem to have recently been various examples of companies selling a thing and then exerting control over it after they’ve sold it. Sonos speakers have “recycle mode”, HP printer cartridges in their “Instant Ink” programme stop working if you unsubscribe, and farmers buy 30-year-old tractors rather than new ones because they’re still fixable in the field. But are these actually examples of a trend for the worse, or is this not actually the problem that it’s being painted as? Is this just how capitalism works, and is this how we want it to work? We’ll dive into this, from a few different perspectives, and see where we end up…

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I have to admit that it’s really exhausting, in 2020, to imagine that the response to “company got money from a multi-millionaire, campaigned for years to add users, dodged around paying taxes, made their product more addictive, and buys up competitors to limit competition” is to pretend there’s a fair market that can make decisions based on anything users care about and blame the users for the company’s bad behavior. That’s especially true when the addictive system has experimented with manipulating its users.
The free software networks (that aren’t populated exclusively by white supremacists) are much better experiences, but they don’t have a chance against a behemoth of a company that’s OK with treating people as experimental subjects without permission.
The DRM world is similar, and increasingly a problem, but that’s definitely a problem that free software/culture can help resolve. After all, Sonos or HP can’t hold our social circles hostage or manipulate our opinions of them.

I think the HP InstantInk guy just tried to farm some cheap social media points, maybe to cover up his mistake. As Jono said InstantInk is an optional convenience program in which they will send you ink cartridges to your home before your printer runs out. It’s not even just “hold your credit card in front of the printer”, you have to go through a full ordering procedure, choose one of five packages, enter your address etc.

Maybe his partner bought the printer and set everything up, but it’s completely clear someone who had all his data did join the program on purpose. The error message was most likely displayed because HP wants to keep people from sharing the ink cartridges provided through this program with non-enrolled printers, violating the terms of this exact program. But other cartridges would have still worked.

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No!

One prerequisite for a free market is that consumers can compare and understand their choices. And unlike you three, plus members of this community, rarely does anyone understand the gizmos they are buying.

The regulations should require manufacturers to clearly expose behaviours of the device. Like nutritional info on food. There should be label that says what the manufacturer can do once you buy the device, in a simple format.

So you are fully aware you are buying a fridge that tracks your mayonnaise consumption. And if you’re ok with that then great (@jonobacon will have to hide his mayonnaise in random jars).

And if manufacturers felt everyone knowing they could remotely brick your fridge would be bad for sales then maybe they will make a fridge that can not be remotely controlled. Or not because people don’t care but at least they know.

And if you’re ok with only three years of security updates, after which the Australian Marmite syndicate will hack your fridge and flood the American market, then great. But maybe exposing that risk will make manufacturers consider making better fridge software - or at least update for longer.

The purpose of consumer regulation should be to educate the consumer.

In case @jeremy wants to weigh-in on this discussion here’s a starting point just for him: You spoke, we didn’t listen: Ubiquiti says UniFi routers will beam performance data back to mothership automatically

I’m surprised HP and not Epson was covered here. Epson have a “waste tank” on their inkjets which is basically a sponge when it cleans itself. When a counter says it is full the printer bricks itself, they do not sell a replacement sponge. They even explicitly document that they do this for the error code on their site.
You can buy the sponges on eBay but you then need a firmware hack too.

Et tu Elon? https://www.theregister.co.uk/2020/02/10/ai_roundup_070220/

I wrote up a blog post on “Right to Repair” Here:

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These two things are, sadly, not the same. The prevailing view seems to be that, except for certain tightly-regulated industries such as consumer finance, it’s the consumer’s job to compare and understand their choices, and the vendors don’t have to make it easy for them; they just have to make it possible. Maybe this should be different, but currently it ain’t. :frowning:

I guess it varies by country, but where I am there is quite a bit minimum required information and standard presentation and calculation. Other examples that come to mind are spec sheets glued to car windows at the dealership, EnerGuide labels on appliances, R-value for insulation, octane levels for gasoline, obviously anything financial such as investments and real-estate must use a common methodolgy to present their figures, and the list goes on.

Some might come from self-regulation with in the industry, all the better. Though often that’s just done to pre-empt government regulation so at least the threat of state regulation needs to be there.

Of course the consumer still has to make the comparison and there’s no shortage of induhviduals who won’t bother. They’ll just choose the shinest or newest or whatever their favourite influencer is flogging.

But I would still be in favour of regulation that required the manufacturers to present the after-purchase behaviour and on-going support for IoT devices (or any intelligent, programmable, and especially connected device - including things routers, eReaders, etc.). At minimum no one can plead ignorance, and hopefully it will force some manufacturers to be more responsible if their level responsibility is exposed and directly comparable to other manufacturers.

I do like shiny.

And cheese.

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