EFF Calls Out HP For Self-Destructing Printers, Cartridge Sabotage, Bait-And-Switch

Hewlett-Packard came under fire earlier this month when it was revealed that it was purposefully “bricking” third-party ink cartridges in customers’ printers. Customers were unaware that such trickery was even going on until printers around the globe starting throwing up error messages at the same time on September 13th.

HP did acknowledge its actions, saying that its designed its printer firmware to “protect the printers and to protect the communication between the cartridge and the printer.” HP also stated that its actions were meant to “protect innovation and intellectual property, but also to improve the safety of products for customers.”

generic ink hp

When you have scores of customers that are upset about the digital malfeasance of a company, you can rest assured that the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will get involved. And that is just exactly what happened today. The EFF’s Cory Doctorow wrote a letter to HP CEO Dion Weisler, calling out the company for its actions.

“HP customers should be able to use the ink of their choosing in their printers for the same reason that Cuisinart customers should be able to choose whose bread goes in their toasters,” said Doctorow. “The practice of ‘tying’ is rightly decried by economists and competition regulators as an invitation to monopoly pricing and reduced competition and innovation.”

hp envy printer

Doctorow went on to add that HP’s decision to slip the time bomb feature into its printers via a supposed security update is disingenuous to say the least. “By co-opting the security update mechanism to deliver an anti-feature—that is, something that works against your customers' interests—you have introduced doubt into the patch process,” he adds.

“By giving tens of millions of your customers a reason to mistrust your updates, you've put them at risk of future infections that could compromise their business and home networks, their sensitive data, and the gadgets that share their network with their printers, from baby monitors to thermostats.”

But Doctorow didn’t stop there, he also chastised HP for distributing its third-party ink “killer” firmware in March, and then waiting all the way until September to bring mass destruction its customers:

That means that HP knew, for at least six months, that some of its customers were buying your products because they believed they were compatible with any manufacturer's ink, while you had already planted a countdown timer in their property that would take this feature away. Your customers will have replaced their existing printers, or made purchasing recommendations to friends who trusted them on this basis. They are now left with a less useful printer—and possibly a stockpile of useless third-party ink cartridges.

When all is said and done, the EFF is asking HP to not only apologize to its customers for taking these drastic measures regarding third-party ink cartridges, but to also issue a firmware update to roll back the time bomb. In addition, the EFF wants reassurances that HP won’t revisit releasing updates that are anti-consumer in the future.

It’ll be interesting to see if HP responds at all to this “call out” from the EFF. News of the third-party ink time bomb is pretty widespread at this point, and with the EFF now involved, that pressure will continue to mount for HP.