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Ink war: HP exercises vigilante justice via firmware update

Hewlett PackardJustice and consumer advocates should take care at last, what the industry is doing to their customers via update features. In some cases such as the recent one from HP, it was even illegal.

With changes of a few bytes from a printer firmware, the IT giant Hewlett-Packard (HP) has just destroyed millions values of its customers: an automatic update ensures that certain ink cartridges of other manufacturers of the printers are no longer acceptable. The customer has paid both, cartridges and printer are both his property. But that does not bother the group at all.

The way how HP treats the property of its customers and the following of the property rights is disregarded, arrogant and presumptuous. HP spreads the following message for even mocking their victims: For giving the best support to their customers, the safety of their products will get continuously improved. Since the end of 2015 we have introduced in the printer models OfficeJet OfficeJet Pro and Officejet Pro X new features that secure the communication between the ink cartridge and the printer and protect HP's intellectual property. These printers could be operated with refilled or remanufactured ink cartridges with an original HP security chip; other ink cartridges may or may not work. In some cases, these are "features" have been installed as part of a firmware update. The group leaves unanswered the question of which law gives HP the right to implement these features, i.e. the shutdown of third-party cartridges have been installed.

This means that Office Jet Pro devices no longer print with special replica cartridges from far East, as well as cartridges refilled and stocked with China chips. Refill and cartridges vendors that use HP chips, are, however, not barred. For example the cartridges from Pelikan will continue to work in the HP printers.

Cat and mouse game

The repartee between the printer manufacturers and providers of alternative cartridges began even before the first cartridges chips: back then it was patented plastic cones, partition walls or integrated light-emitting diodes. Since the cartridges are equipped with a chip - officially, it should save the ink level, reverse-engineering experts build the chips of each new generation of cartridges. It takes several months for the alternative inks provider can use the replica in their cheap cartridges. The printer manufacturers responded first with new types of cartridges and better encryption, which work only with new types of printers.

Since printers and especially multifunction devices are getting smarter, manufacturers such as HP, Canon and Samsung to analyze differences between the original and replica chips and adapt the software to their devices so that they can identify and lock out replicas. Initially it worked only with newly produced batches. With cloud and mobile printing multi function devices, however, are always connected to the Internet and can install updates automatically.

A firmware update that locks out foreign chips, HP has not released for the first time. By 2015 blocked updated Office Jets cartridges Ninestar. At that time the cartridge manufacturer replied with a modified chip, which the printer accepted again. Insider are suggesting now to not allow offered firmware updates and have also warned from updates for Epson, Lexmark and Samsung devices.

For printers and multi-function devices with wireless or Ethernet connection, the automatic firmware update can usually disable via the web front-end. To call it, just enter the printer's IP address in the URL line of a browser. Otherwise you will find the option in the adjustment or the printer administrator menu.

One reason for the continuous ink-war between printer manufacturers and suppliers of alternative inks is subsidizing discount printers and multi-function devices with overpriced ink cartridges. Some manufacturers such as Brother and Epson have with some printer series (Ink Benefit, EcoTank) abandoned this form of financing and selling expensive printers, which however included ink for thousands of pages and can be refilled as low with original ink that replacement inks worth barely.

War on the backs of customers

In plain language, that's nothing different, that HP will fight its war with their mostly Asian competitors on the back of their customers and violated their rights. Who wants to go against product falsifications or patent infringing copies, requires judicial orders to let them seize and destroy. HP but simply enters the printer of its customers via network, modifies the software and thus makes the cartridges, which they are believing that they are illegal, useless. This is a new form of vigilantism by firmware update. The competitor itself or commercial wholesalers, but the customer also not as usual have the damage. This is a novelty.

It is time that the judiciary takes care of such machinations. The intentional change of a computer system is punishable as computer sabotage pursuant to § 303b paragraph 1 point 3 of the Criminal Code in Germany. Other countries have a similar right situation. All such update functions fulfill this offense. Decriminalization they can therefore only stay if they are justified by a consent of the owner.

Making HP liable

This is no different than the syringe a doctor gives: The syringe is a bodily injury and only covered that we agree on the basis of thorough information. Nobody would sign immediately upon entering the practice, that the doctor now and for all eternity can do what he wants, without any responsibility and assumes the risk of any side effects. And no judge would let go by such as consent for a medical intervention. The IT industry, but feels to do it exactly according to the motto: Where no plaintiff, there no judge.

And it's time that worry the consumer centers to these shenanigans. You can warn companies that approve such conditions by their customers to stop and if necessary sue to refrain from such contractual clauses. Individual consumers can hardly. Because the damage may be low for individual consumers, in the sum of thousands affected in one small country alone, it goes into millions and the company should be held liable.


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