HP Apologizes For Bricking Third-Party Printer Cartridges, Will Restore Functionality With New Firmware

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) definitely has a lot of pull in the tech industry. Within 24 hours, the EFF’s public call-out of HP’s decision to brick third-party ink cartridges in customers’ printers has generated a sincere apology.

HP Inc. Chief Operating Officer Jon Flaxman issued the apology in a blog posting, but not before explaining the company’s reasoning for bringing the ban hammer down on the ink cartridges in the first place. “We updated a cartridge authentication procedure in select models of HP office inkjet printers to ensure the best consumer experience and protect them from counterfeit and third-party ink cartridges that do not contain an original HP security chip and that infringe on our IP,” said Flaxman.

hp officejet printer

“When ink cartridges are cloned or counterfeited, the customer is exposed to quality and potential security risks, compromising the printing experience.”

It’s not clear what security risks an ink cartridge could possibly pose, but that’s HP’s story and it’s sticking to it. But after that little disclaimer, Flaxman got to the heart of the matter — making things right with customers:

We should have done a better job of communicating about the authentication procedure to customers, and we apologize. Although only a small number of customers have been affected, one customer who has a poor experience is one too many.

Flaxman does note that while third-party ink cartridges with cloned chips were sidelined by the firmware update, those that use reprogrammed, genuine HP chips weren’t affected (and won’t be hindered by future firmware updates). In addition, HP will provide a new, optional firmware update for its OfficeJet printers that will remove the ink cartridge bricking “feature” within the next few weeks.

However, don’t get too excited; this appears to be a one-time “get out of jail free card” from HP. It still plans to use what it calls a “dynamic security feature” in the future to “protect the quality of our customer experience, maintain the integrity of our printing systems, and protect our IP including authentication methods that may prevent some third-party supplies from working.”

hp ink

In other words, HP only appears to be capitulating now because it never informed customers that it would wreck the functionality of their printers with a firmware update. However, now that its true intentions have been fully disclosed, HP feels like it has firmer ground to stand on by blocking third-party ink cartridges on its printers from this point forward.

Flaxman ends his blog post, stating, “We commit to improving our communication so that customers understand our concerns about cloned and counterfeit supplies. Again, to our loyal customers who were affected, we apologize.”

While the EFF is likely happy to hear that HP has apologized for its actions, the company’s remedy doesn’t go far enough for the non-profit consumer advocacy group. In fact, the EFF implored HP to “publicly commit that you will never again use your software update process to distribute anti-features that work against your customers' interests.”

Given Flaxman’s comments on the matter, that probably won’t happen anytime soon.