A senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit public interest organization, says Epson may be engaging in "deceptive" behavior by intentionally preventing third-party ink from working in its printers. According to the complaints EFF has received, Epson is doing this through firmware updates, though it's not clear what specific models might be affected.
If true, it's easy to see why printer owners and organizations like the EFF would be miffed at Epson. Genuine printer ink is typically expensive, especially compared to what generic alternatives cost. There is a presumed quality difference between genuine ink sold by the printer manufacturer and cheap third-party generic ink, but the decision to use one or the other should be left to the consumer.
"It appears[...] that around late 2016 or early 2017, Epson began issuing firmware updates to some printer models to prevent customers from using third-party ink options," Mitchell L. Stoltz, senior staff attorney at EFF, said in an open letter. "
"Firmware updates are delivered over the Internet and change the software embedded in the printer, thereby changing the behavior of printers after they have been purchased. While firmware updates can fix bugs, add features, or improve security, they can also restrict a printer’s functionality. Essentially, the updates at issue change the way Epson printers read the chips used in refilled cartridges, third-party cartridges, and continuous ink supply systems. After being updated, affected Epson printers will only recognize and accept new Epson-brand ink cartridges," Stoltz added.
From Stoltz's vantage point, this type of behavior is potentially "misleading, deceptive, or anti-competitive" and is "to the detriment of Texas consumers." He points out Texas specifically because a resident of that state was among those who complained to the EFF about the alleged practice by Epson.
If Epson is pushing out firmware updates that block third-party ink from working in its printers, then not only are consumers forced to pay more for ink, they could be more vulnerable to hacking. The reason, according to Stoltz, is that consumers may opt not to install updated firmware if they know or think that it might prevent them from using cheaper ink. However, firmware updates can also contain security patches.
"For example, home devices infected by the Mirai malware were used to shut down large portions of the Internet’s key infrastructure in 2016.4 Firmware upgrades are a common way for manufacturers to fix these vulnerabilities. But if customers come to believe that firmware updates, without warning, might also disable their ability to use third-party ink options, they might choose to forgo updates altogether. Left un-patched, printer vulnerabilities weaken security across computers and networks connected to affected," Stoltz says.
This is not the first time we've heard of a printer manufacturer blocking third-party ink. Back in 2016, HP apologized for doing it, saying the intent was to protect consumers from counterfeit ink of questionable quality.
Epson has not yet issued a statement on the matter.
Thumbnail/Top Image Source: Flickr via TAKA@P.P.R.S