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To keep an eye on the critters and animals running around her Ohio-based animal boarding service, Jodi Clum purchased 30 cameras from the security camera company Arlo Technologies, an article from the WSJ notes. The cameras cost her “over $6,000, and Clum spent hours wiring and mounting them throughout the kennel herself.”
The model of camera she purchased is now just five years old, so she was startled to receive an email from the company that called into question her future use of these products. Among other things, the company’s email said:
- Older cameras in their “end-of-life stage” would no longer receive firmware updates.
- Free cloud storage for images generated by the device would end. Users were offered a $ 13-a-month service to continue.
After the WSJ story dug into Arlo’s effort to walk away from its cameras, the company faced criticism and has since backtracked, extending its free seven-day storage policy indefinitely. Arlo also said it will support firmware and security updates for a minimum of one year.
The incident is just the latest in which consumers who purchased connected devices find their belongings subject to end-of-life policies, in which manufacturers end support for older models or force users to upgrade or pay for ongoing support:
- Belkin’s security cameras: In 2020, Belkin shut off its Wemo NetCam products, disabling its iSecurity+ video cloud service and rendering its NetCam home security cameras useless and its customers stranded without a way to access or control remote cameras.
- Insteon’s smart homes: Smart home hub maker Insteon collapsed in April 2022, leaving thousands of customers cut off from the company’s servers and without access to many of the features of the hub they purchased. (Insteon eventually came back under new ownership, offering a $40 annual subscription to access features of the device that were previously available at no cost, according to reports.)
- PetnNet’s pet feeders: The smart pet feeder maker PetNet was another smart product that went dark, leaving its customers with non-functional devices.
Shortened Lives for Internet-Connected Devices
With the average family in the US owning 22 internet-connected devices, ranging from smart speakers to medical devices, the trend of smart products suddenly “bricking” is likely to continue. A survey (PDF) of “extended Internet of Things” (xIoT) devices by the firm Phosphorus found that more than a quarter of them were designated “end of life” by their manufacturer, meaning that the product was not entitled to continued hardware or software support or further updates.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg—an enormous iceberg,” said Ming Chow, a professor of computer science at Tufts University in a recent article. Chow explained that putting computers into everything will result in “quite a lot more waste in the future—whether wasted energy or electronic waste in landfills” as well as “more devices getting hacked.”
When repair is locked away in manufacturers’ closed ecosystems, the end of manufacturer support means the end of the equipment’s possible life. In an ideal world, manufacturers would release design files for parts, open source their software, and share other information necessary for repair when products go out of service. When they don’t, they doom their old products to the trash.
- Strong showing for state repair laws:
- Colorado passed the bipartisan Consumer Right to Repair Agricultural Equipment Act (HB23-1011) with a 44-17 vote on Tuesday, the first major right-to-repair legislation to be passed so far in 2023.
- Massachusetts is moving to pass HD 3826 and SD 793, which would require manufacturers of portable wireless devices (like cellphones and tablets) to provide users and independent repair shops with access to parts, tools, diagnostics, firmware, and manuals.
- Virtual reality teardowns: Detailed teardowns of PlayStation’s VR2 hardware were shared by Sony (compare to iFixit’s teardown here), including a custom tool used to hold the headset during disassembly and an intriguing “adaptive trigger” module in the controller that can cause resistance or actively push back against the user’s finger.
- EVs lack maintenance infrastructure: Electric vehicle startups like Rivian and Lucid using direct-to-consumer sales models may face difficulties in servicing their vehicles as they lack the established dealer networks and service centers that traditional automakers have, says Business Insider. That is alienating customers with lengthy wait times for repairs and maintenance and more limited service offerings.
- The Clean Air Act should be enforced to enable farmers and ranchers to fix their own equipment says the National Farmers Union in its petition to the US Environmental Protection Agency. The statement supports a complaint that alleged John Deere was not complying with the landmark Clean Air Act, which requires manufacturers to give “written instructions for properly maintaining and using the engine, including the emission-control system” and provide purchasers easy access to parts and repairs.
I want to point out that the Arlo designed obsolescence requires upgrading AND an ongoing subscription, not OR. Arlo’s backpedaling on the original edict only delays the extortion for a year. My Arlo Pro system is still working like it did from the very beginning. I originally chose Arlo for their 7-day non-subscription cloud storage. As a matter of principle I will not purchase another product from Arlo.
Patrick Langvardt - Reply
I would expect this to be standard practice for any device that rely's on any service in the cloud. Those cloud services are expensive to maintain as are firmware updates for security. Any device that requires cloud connectivity will have these drawbacks so fair warning.
The fundamental problem is if the hardware is a one time purchase, yet the company must continue to spend money on network bandwidth, processing power and storage space guess what! their going to unload those devices asap and force you into something that's a subscription. that's what happens when you don't control the entire ecosystem. cloud sounds cool but its not free.
Also, any cloud based company can be purchased at any time by people that might have a different business model so...
Dan Dunham - Reply